Memorandum from the desk of Darryl Weimer – Re: M.Arch I Curriculum Changes
Please pardon the hurried nature of this memo, there just isn’t any time to get into this at length at the moment. Anyhow, this past spring Dean Deborah Berke and now Assistant Dean Sunil Bald announced a suite of changes to the curriculum that will take partial effect for the M.Arch I class of 2020, and full effect for the following class years. I would here refer to a document of those changes, but at present I’m unable to locate one. Instead, allow me to recount what I know, what I’ve heard, and what I can only surmise.
As mentioned by the administration several times now, the curriculum had not undergone any major changes in eighteen years. Again I cannot locate any evidence of this stagnation, but common understanding is that the former Dean at YSoA kept things the way he saw fit. Now under new leadership, the school is anxious to herald a new era – after all, eighteen years is a long time without change.
I cannot recall the overarching goals or a new mission statement to accompany these changes, but presumably, change is inherently good. We don’t need to get into the fine print regarding the class-by-class changes; rather a brief glance at the headlines will tell us what we need to know:
OLD: Students will take five courses per semester during the first and second years of the program, and only three courses per semester are required in the third year.
NEW: Students will take four courses per semester for all three years.
PROS: Students are required to take fewer courses overall, thus students can dedicate more time to each individual course of study.
CONS: Students won’t enjoy the benefit of taking fewer courses while enrolled in advanced studios.
OLD: Students will be required to take two theory courses during the second year of the program.
NEW: Students will only be required to take one course on theory, now taught during the first year of the program (with the unique situation of the 2018–2019 academic year, during which the first and second year students will be combined into one joint lecture group of approximately 110–120 students. Also, Anthony Vidler will no longer teach any component of the required theory curriculum).
PROS: Good news for students who don’t like theory. Redundancies between the material covered in Professor Forster’s history course and the two theory surveys will be eliminated. A comparison between those syllabi would be helpful to identify said redundancies, but time won’t permit it just now. One fewer required class means students will have more opportunities to take electives with smaller enrollment, presumably a better environment for engaged learning. We have been assured that plenty of these electives will engage various aspects of theory for those students looking to tailor their education in such a manner.
CONS: Bad for students who like theory. Twice the students, half the time, and fewer faculty. Limited-enrollment electives mean there are fewer overall opportunities to take courses dealing with matters of theory. The student body as a whole will no longer share as robust a foundation in conversations dealing with architecture theory, the ripple effects of which may be inconsequential.
OLD: The Jim Vlock Building Project is the main component of first year, spring semester studio.
NEW: The Jim Vlock Building Project is primarily a part of Building Technology.
PROS/CONS: I have no idea how this is going to work. I invite you to draw your own conclusions.
OLD: Students will take 3–4 courses in the Visualization sequence during the first year of the program.
NEW: No more Viz.
PROS: Most people didn’t love Viz.
CONS: Viz employed five students as teaching assistants each semester.
OLD: Formal analysis has nothing to do with Viz.
NEW: Formal analysis is somehow integrating aspects of Viz.
PROS/CONS: Again, I invite you to draw your own conclusions.
Of course, there’s much more being done on a fine-grained level. Every course syllabus has been reviewed, and the conclusions of those reviews are probably somewhere. I regret being unable to go into any further detail at this juncture. However, should you have any questions, my email inbox is always open, presumably so are others. I will conclude with one suggestion: when considering the motivations behind – and impact of – the curriculum changes, it is probably natural to ask, “cui bono?” I would suggest you suppress that urge because, in fact, it’s already too late.