What is it?
Last year, we ran a Design Thesis studio for final year students in the Masters of Architecture degree at the University of Melbourne. The studio was entitled Ubi Consistam and the Venice Biennale. A synopsis of the studio is as follows:
Ubi consistam comes from the Latin phrase, Da ubi consistam, et terram movebo, meaning, Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth. Ubi consistam is the place to stand firm, the one place in the world that a person belongs. The Venice Biennale is an international festival that takes place in Venice’s Giardini, Italy, alternating each year between art and architecture. It has recently been announced that the Australia pavilion, designed by Philip Cox in 1988, is to be replaced with a new design (a previous post discusses this in more detail, here).
This studio was a timely investigation into the relationship between place and identity. How can a country as complex as contemporary Australia, with its diverse climates, cultures, peoples and histories, be represented by a single building on foreign soil?
Rather than a one-size-fits-all pavilion, the studio proposed an alternative approach that empowered the students to interpret this identity through the lens of their own backgrounds, upbringing and experiences. Research into the Australian identity and students’ own Ubi consista informed highly detailed design outcomes that function successfully as an exhibition space as well as contribute a uniquely Australian voice to the Venice Biennale.
We have recently loaded this synopsis onto the Mihaly Slocombe website and are in the process of uploading a selection of the best projects that arose from the studio.
What did we learn?
This was our first design studio as its leaders rather than its participants. We fervently hope that it will not be our last. We found ourselves challenged by new lessons that arose inevitably from spending a semester with 17 students each applying their unique passion, creativity and intelligence to our brief.
We learned that starting with simple exquisse models, crafted by hand, knife and laser, is an ideal way to convey an architectural idea. If an idea can be represented in model format, it can be represented in built form.
We learned that design-based research is a magnificent tool for answering the simple questions that lie at the heart of any design. The best projects were those whose authors committed themselves to this process of research, beginning with questions only and letting the research define the parameters of the outcome.
We learned that discussion and peer review are vital to the positive progression of a project. Just as critical is the unfortunately rare ability to listen to the insights of others and absorb them meaningfully into our work – it takes a truly humble architect to not reject an idea because it is not our own, but accept it because it is good. The best architectural design processes are not linear monologues but open discussions.
We learned that the secret to good architecture is to begin with a small number of excellent ideas and allow them to inform every last detail of the project. In experiencing a building, we should always be able to understand the mind of its architect.
And finally, we learned that spending a great deal of time with students is excellent for one’s health and vitality. The sometimes hard work and heavy responsibility of teaching aside, it is easy to forget in practice why we became architects in the first place. Our students help us remember.