The KFI model of architecture education

On Friday, 11th July 2014, we were given a chance to visit Pathashaala as part of the Intern-Mentorship program by CAF

Pathashaala is a residential wing of The School KFI in Chennai. A small school located in a vast amount of land, it threw up a lot of curiosities and pleasant surprises along the visit, from the way the classrooms were to the method in which the toilets functioned. I could write a couple of posts about that, but this one is not about them.

Outside the kitchen and dining complex (excuse the photo, crappy camera)

This is a post about the education model the school follows.

If you want a more indepth look at it, be my guest.  However I’ll look at the ones which caught my eye and were explained to us during the presentation:

  • Lack of the reward, punishment, fear model – students function as small groups within a classroom and each student’s individual expression and creativity is allowed to flourish due to the low student-teacher ratio. Students are expected, and taught to be bold enough to express themselves. Not your typical 40 students to one teacher classroom where it is easy to slither into a corner and be the one student that everyone knows just vaguely about.
  • Multi-age classrooms – This has been shown to work on some Montessori systems as well; however I do not know more about this so I can’t comment on its efficacy.
  • Overall engagement by students in the community – The total number of students + teachers + staff come up to around 150, the Dunbar’s number. This means a community where almost everyone knows everyone, and is a part of everything. The students there take part in the day to day activities of the school as well. Let me tell you – the kids I saw there were some of the most confident and well rounded ones I’d seen for their age.
  • No ‘standard model’ exams – Seriously, let’s do away with them already 😛

The School seems to tackle the issues the current education system quite nicely – and in all honesty, it seemed quite an excellent place to spend your school life in!

Now the question is : Can the KFI model work for architectural education?

The funny thing is, I found quite a lot of similarities already.

  • Multi-age classrooms – Although architecture schools don’t have such a pattern, most of the senior junior interaction which takes place outside classrooms ensures healthy conversation with not just your same age group. But this is ‘supposed’ to be coming down. 
  • The Teacher-student relationship – Yeah, this one is pretty much expected when you’re in college – you’re not going to be spoon fed. The “ideal” of teachers and students learning from each other might be far off, but more often than not, you’re expected to be able to know your stuff and back it up.
  • A limited number of students – This one’s fast changing; I’ve heard my teachers reminisce about times when there would be just 20 in a batch and 100 in the college, and everyone knew everyone else. But, no longer the case with each year having 80 students now. I’m not complaining here, I probably wouldn’t be studying in my college if there weren’t 80 seats.

Do you see the irony here? The present school education system is being revolutionized by schools like KFI, whereas architecture schools, which were KFI-like in several aspects, have started to resemble our schools!

Is there a solution?

 

Can Architecture address?

So I was thinking about this based on a conversation I had with someone today; consider movies. There are films like Harry Potter, say, which captures you in its world, and makes for an engaging watch anytime you go back to it. And then there’s a movie like Inception, say, which makes you think deeper after each watching. Not a fan of inception? Try Taare Zameen Par. The movie was excellently made, and it brought into limelight the issue of a condition in a society largely unaware of it.

Can this analogy be extended to architecture? The former seems to me, about experiential, evocative spaces whose charm exists purely when they’re around you. Not that it is a particularly bad thing – but what does it speak to the context around it? To the people standing out looking in?

Don’t get me wrong here – any piece of art or architecture will send out a message – be it a crappy movie like Chennai Express (that Deepika REALLY shouldn’t speak in Tamil) – or a any old building with a high compound wall around it (that NO, you probably shouldn’t just walk in.) – because it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. But what about intentionally stating a message? Is it possible, or required for a building to speak to those around it as much as it does to those within it? Vernacular Architecture classes about Kerala architecture come to mind. The scale and grandeur of the Nair tharavadu was just as much, a display of wealth as it was about responding to context. And consider this – the gender and class stereotypes that a few traditional household spatial system encouraged and enforced seeped into the people’s minds as well. You colour your lens with what you get from home, right?

So here’s the question – as architects, should we focus on political/social/economical statements our architecture should be making? (Over and above what we put in unconsciously) Or should we focus on it as an experiential art as it is, and let the rest happen unconsciously?

 

 

2 inspiring commencement speeches worth listening to

These are two of the most inspiring speeches I’ve heard from people successful in their different careers – Steve Jobs and J.K.Rowling. Both of them begin with some reminiscing about their college lives and move on to talk about lessons learned from their lives. Jobs even manages to take a dig at Microsoft while talking about the importance of doing what you love – and Rowling talks about not fearing failure and the power of imagination to uplift not just ours, but others’ lives as well.

1. Steve Jobs stanford commencement address 2005

My favourite quote in his speech?

You have to understand that you can’t connect the dots looking forward – you can connect them only looking backward. …Believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path – and that will make all the difference.

 

2. J.K Rowling Harvard commencement 2008

She keeps the tone light almost throughout – you are guaranteed a few laughs along the way.

 

She speaks about fulfilling parents’ dreams and how  she struggled through in her initial stages after finishing college and that was my favourite part –

Poverty entails fear and stress and sometimes depression. It meets a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts that is something on which to pride yourself but poverty itself is romanticized by fools.