The term is certainly not unfamiliar. Though some of us may first recall Yoda and the Jedi Order, the mandatory bow to the masters before beginning a martial arts practice, or a prestigious golf tournament that concluded in Georgia last Sunday, the notion of the master holds particular clout in an architectural context. More so, it forms an integral part of our daily lives: ranging from the pedagogical structure of the “master class” to the domestic label of the “master bedroom;” from the architect’s role as “master builder” to the graduate degree that the majority of YSoA students seek, the term has a long architectural history and multiplicity of applications. There is much to be said about the word itself outside of an architectural context as well. The highly contested and everything-but-gender-neutral term sparked debates last fall at Yale, with members of the community calling for an abolition of its use as a ranking title in the University’s residential colleges.
As the symposium “Learning/Doing/Thinking: Educating Architects in the 21st Century” kicks off tonight in Hastings Hall, the relevance of the term in the face of changing models of education and practice seems questionable at best. In pedagogy, the presence of a master implies a certain counterpart. As Yoda remarks: ‘Always two there are; no more, no less. A master and an apprentice.’ This ideal situation, as romanticized as it may seem, has little, if anything, in common with the daily routine of education. Only incidentally do young architects enter into fruitful apprentice-master relationships in which both partners can mutually mature. And yet, in a pluralist world that favors non-hierarchical teamwork, masters seem anachronistic.
That some of the advanced design studios at Yale can be conceived of as master classes—however accelerated they may be—becomes evident through the cast of invited characters. This spring term came to offer advanced design studios led by Wolf D. Prix, Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher, and Greg Lynn, all of whom have been former professors leading master classes at the Angewandte in Vienna, where they overlapped for more than a decade. Perhaps more coincidental than strategic, the spirit of an entire institute has been reunited at Yale, to some extent forming a decisive part of this semester’s curriculum. Assuming a consistent presence of all members, the structure at the Angewandte allows for strong bonds to build up over several years between the professor and those students who apply to study exclusively with her or him, while the advanced design studios at Yale offer no more than a few weeks for students to absorb, practice, and follow their critic’s distinct design approach. Though this constellation has sadly come to an abrupt end with Zaha’s recent and premature death, statements from the three other professors offer perspectives on the relationship between their expertise and pedagogy, while Isabelle Song and Dante Furioso’s articles address advanced studios at Yale from the student point-of-view. Finally, with the last commencement ceremony with Robert A.M. Stern as Dean in only a few short weeks, in the center of this issue we have included an interview with our most master-like figure, with the majority of questions collected from the student body of the school.
Whether architecture wants to be mastered altogether is an entirely different question, however. Shayari de Silva, Dimitri Brand, and Katie Colford reflect on the nature of mastering, and the mechanisms that enable and distinguish one as a master at all. Even by striving for the degree, students indirectly preserve the possibility for a master to exist. Ultimately, every graduate student in architecture receives a Master’s degree, regardless of whether or not they have become one. Rather than accepting the term at face-value with its inherent hierarchy, our contributors aim to understand the idea of the “master” in a more multifaceted manner. Without trying to replace it with an alternative, this fold re-appropriates the term “master,” shedding new light on an old concept that deserves re-evaluation. There is value in ceding respect to those who develop and demonstrate dedication, conviction, passion, experience, knowledge, and rigor in the pursuit of their profession. Let’s have a more mindful conversation about masters, foregrounding knowledge over authority, expertise over hierarchy.