A Selfish Communication

Brian Dougan
Associate Professor of Architecture
American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

From within the hasty pace of academic change, the absence of certain platitudinous expertise in design education together with an emphasis in nascent design technologies has resulted in an unavoidable deficit in terms of how students work. The contemporary attack is often cold, hurried and lackluster. I am impressed by student’s many technological and sociological advantages and their fluencies in calculation and fabrication methods, but disappointed with their abilities to negotiate their own human sensitivities. My default role in most every creative academic endeavor is to teach students how-to-do whatever it is that requires doing. How-to work might be a better way to describe the role or even, how-to communicate – communicate to the immediate community, the professor and most importantly, to themselves. How to speak well about what it is they are trying to say. My role is to teach them that how they say something fundamentally effects what that something is.

I am developing an approach for teaching design students how to be drawers. It is about learning to draw and drawing to learn. In a first year drawing studio, I orchestrated a series of lessons about “seeing” in relation to coordination; a craft based approach emphasizing how one cooperates and coordinates with tools. The lessons are concerned with hand/tool coordination and with hand/eye coordination. I initially rely on blind contour exercises stressing an honest relationship between the seer and the seen. Eventually the seers are liberated from exclusive blindness to varying degrees of judgment. I have been calling this process, ‘the spectrum of judication’. Through the student’s virgin eyes, the poles of the spectrum are in diametrical opposition – immeasurable quality and calculated recognition. The intentionally gradated engagement has produced a generally high quality of product and a rather large collection of seemingly confident young drawers.