ISSUE 2. Teaching Architecture in Mexico. Part 1


16 Nov

Editorial Team

There is a tradition or history of teaching architecture in Mexico that can be traced thanks to the perspective given by time, however, we can affirm almost without a doubt that this has been carried out from reviewing a kind of record or catalogue of events and architectural objects part of a timeline, but with very few  studies of interpretation regarding the social contexts that made the role of stimuli for the design of such objects.

Teachers intuitively convey this way of operating the combined knowledge between history and theory, however, following Ronald Bradbury (1934) “history can be understood as the science of a language, a technique with constructive and aesthetic dimensions in time.” But theory like philosophical analysis of this type of conscience requires a deeper understanding.

These studies would result in a way to identify the current landscape of architecture education as predicted by the institutions, however, other records indicate something else, and by reviewing the objectives of the curricula of some the most important architecture schools in Mexico,  we find a strong contradiction. All of them propose to elevate architecture to a level of great social importance, however, culturally this does not happen, given the fact that from the internal dynamics this direction is not encouraged, which generates the issue that architecture is not projected into culture, and society is not understood as a stimuli for the professional exercise of architects, who continue to work under the same paradigms that they learned in the classroom memorizing the history of the discipline and theorizing little about their actions.

This is where we must highlight the importance of the work of this magazine AGENCIA, although the knowledge acquired in the architecture schools is not scarce or by no means obsolete, they tend to become insufficient when confronting these with a national reality, because they lack a thoughtful and reflective vision about making architecture, with all its implications in the  past, present and future, and the intentions that govern the decisions made since the pre-visualization, conception and execution of the living space in Mexico.

The source of this problem, not minor at all, relies in the formation itself. The following article explores various familiar but unshared scenarios and proposes viable alternatives.

Self Definition by Jørn Utzon

Over the past 10 years, obvious changes have been witnessed in all areas of society and knowledge, invalidating the maintenance of technically and theoretically identical educational programs from decades ago. The problem is enlarged in the sense that when students graduate and are confronted with the professional exercise are not conscious of their limitations and skills needed to understand their own means, in order to confront and adapt to them. They maintain a very subjective and passive way at a level that they may not be able to overcome, not only in technical matters, but with a thought that differs from the reality of those contexts that are going to have to be part of.

An important reason for this stagnation and incongruity between education and reality is the fact that the teaching of architecture has not changed in terms of the relationship between teacher and student in decades. That is; it is proposed that the teacher maintains a hegemonic upright position with little negotiation, and the student as a listener of a reserved attitude. Added to this, there is a resistance of the academic body to abandon this teaching scheme, which is being oversteered by the change in social priorities.

These dynamics have recently favored a misperception by the students and their role (mainly in private universities). It is true that they have the right as students to be heard and guided, but in turn they must consider that they are in a professional formative stage in which they cannot demand a position of command because they are paying tuition.

In the face of this fact, several institutions have chosen not to change the curriculum to a more demanding level for the fear of losing their number of students, leaving teachers in a precarious position, because on the one hand they are unable to seek improvements in their discourse and on the other hand, they are forced to consider  a resignation to avoid confrontations that will harm their work and personal interests, which is totally contradictory to the principles and objectives offered by these universities in their curricula. Consequently, the incoming and exiting profiles end up being different from those desired and demanded by society. For this reason, we decided to review the curriculums of different universities, what happens in terms of theory and technology. In this first part we will focus on the issue of theory.

1.Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico. UNAM

Teaching theory in the 2017 UNAM (largest and most important university in Mexico) Curriculum is part of the Development and Deepening Stages of the formation. This curriculum states: "This area is responsible for providing the student with the tools for the reflective and critical action for architectural work in its historical and theoretical development, through a systemic approach and the application of architectural research methods and their principles, values and social significance. Theoretical reflection in architecture poses a series of positions about the discipline, involving the construction of tools of criticism and thought about the different ways of understanding and building architecture from the beginning (training) to the end through the Lines of Professional Interest. " (1)


Objectives: (UNAM Architecture Curriculum)

• Formative, which promotes self-learning and critical reflection towards the architectural object to assess its production in a given cultural context. 

• Analytical and creative of architectural production based on economic, social, political, ideological, ethical, aesthetic, scientific and technical factors. 

• Multi and interdisciplinary, which clarifies the interdependence between the areas and their connection with the Integrated Studio in Architecture and the University. 

• Integrator of theoretical knowledge in the activity of the project as the curriculum core of the bachelor's degree and that considers the architecture as part of social history in historical science. 

• Systemic approach that links research with scientific advances and visualizes the object of study of the Integrated Architecture Studio from various angles or perspectives for the resolution of the problem raised. 

• Reflective, which clarifies the different trends that have occurred throughout history, in order to clearly locate current theoretical models. 

• Joint development of a multimedia trend environment with teachers and students for cognitive enlightenment, collaborative discussion, practice, and evaluation. (2)

These objectives would be ideal if this perspective were kept throughout. The problem is  that,  when reviewing the programs of each subject, you see that the approach is aimed at validating the architectural project and most of these goals are forgotten not only in this university but it seems everywhere else based on different conversations that AGENCIA had with different student groups (check the article by students in this issue).

2. Universidad Iberoamericana. Ibero

The curriculum of the Universidad Iberoamericana defines its program as follows: "The Architecture program seeks to train architects capable of projecting, building and implementing solutions to the needs of human living in the architectural and urban fields, with an interdisciplinary approach within the framework of ethics, sustainability and accessibility, to positively influence the living conditions of our society at the local, national and regional levels." (3) 


In this curriculum, theory is taught along with history in the fifth, sixth and seventh semesters. This is complicated because it is difficult to establish the relationship between the two in terms of persistencies, the cannons that remain as part of the architectural discipline. There is a class called "Philosophy of Architecture", which upon reviewing the topics seems to be the most promising because it is taught at a time when students have a greater understanding of discipline.

3. Universidad Anahuac.

Anahuac University defines the architect as follows: The architect imagines, creates and builds buildings according to the needs of people; it also implements aesthetic solutions with contemporary construction technologies to solve human habitat in all its dimensions. (4) 

At the Anahuac University theory begins to be taught in the fifth semester under the name of: “Theory and Criticism of Architecture”. It is not clear whether it has any relation to the History sequence being taught in previous semesters. But the idea of one theory class seems not enough.

In reviewing the aforementioned plans, it can be found that theory continues to be considered as a secondary or complementary role that, although taught in training stages do not seem to keep in the student's consciousness its importance. This reflects not only an independent application in terms of its historical role but lacks an approach of communion with the practical and design aspects, encouraging the figure of the architect- builder as the only one with validity and recognition. 

Theory in universities is not taught as a useful tool to strengthen the skills and design quality of its students, nor for the feedback that allows to evaluate the results obtained, which becomes a lack of critical and speculative thinking essential in a professional for the production of a design that allows to raise the disciplinary quality.

Being repetitive regarding the area of opportunity that is touched in this article is important, the reevaluation of theory in the stage of formation of an architect is the way for professionals to agree with the complex realities that they will eventually have to face. 

The following three considerations that we have previously mentioned should be recalled. The first; that a project must correspond to a two minimum layers (social and design) to the problems it needs to solve to be considered a quality project. The second; is that promoting the predominant image of architect-builder over other areas of architectural work,  leaves aside personal-professional search in harmony with true socio-cultural needs and demands, and the third; the importance of  intellectual work, cognitive tools and their abilities to ontologically consider the relationships of the parts and the whole.

In other words, there is a chronic devaluation of design and disciplinary cognitive ability, in addition to a dissociation with socio-cultural realities that affect the prospect of personal-professional improvement, because they are only based on the exercise of the execution of architectural authorship (starchitect) not agency, as the only meretricious option, which favors the stagnation that we suffer today. 

Speaking of the consequences that this dynamic has on society we can observe a contradiction, in which on the one hand the value of design objects is recognized; a taste, an esteem and even, the association of these objects with personal, economic, gender and even for the exercise of power. But on the other a non-homogeneous perception of the value of the design process, not just the manual work involved in manufacturing, for example; "pay the right price for a craft that takes months to build", but a real knowledge of the preparation, human resources, technical resources, years of education and knowledge value to translate abstract thoughts into understandable languages to make a third party, who is not the generator of the idea, be able to participate in multidisciplinary teams for its realization.

This conversation of lack a of knowledge permeates the academy, generating a vicious circle that causes any project-based discipline, including architecture, not to be considered equivalent and independent to any other area of knowledge, making it even more difficult to define it between art and technology, which makes it understandable why an architect has little agency in the society he or she inhabits.  

In order to face the future from the academy, it would be very important to create an interrelationship of subjects and courses in a horizontal communication, in which, such courses should not be confused and taught  in isolation in a hegemonic vertical dynamic of the teacher over the student or the student over the institution, but related to the disciplinary core of architecture teaching which is the design studio (or equivalent) to be consistently present in all levels of training, and in a flexible way so that the group, as well as the individual can generate their own background knowledge according to the external demands. It is important to calibrate long periods of time invested in acquiring knowledge that cannot be applied later and thus avoid the over-qualification that prevents professionals from adjusting to job offers, thus the need to revise the architecture curricula. This type of strategy could allow them to continue their professional career until the true transcendence of knowledge through practice and personal search for improvement.

A model is needed that validates project-oriented disciplines such as architecture, and that makes their participation in interdisciplinary teams operational. Unify and balance all aspects of architectural research by viewing it as a broad spectrum beyond building construction, establishing architecture as the common trunk of theoretical, technological, sustainable, constructive and administrative criteria, to enable more understandable project outcomes for the architect on the decisions he or she has made in harmony with the technologies  and techniques and their application. 

This could in the long run could change the perception of the discipline from the academy to the exterior as a way to address complex problems typical of our contemporaneity and future of humanity, by knowing, by having the ability to think speculatively to be able understand and address the multiple and socially self-gestated realities.

References: 

1.https://arquitectura.unam.mx/uploads/8/1/1/0/8110907/tomo_i__plan_de_estudios_2017_facultad_de_arquitectura.pdf

2. Ibid. p 67

3. https://ibero.mx/sites/default/files/05-arquitectura.pdf

4. https://www.anahuac.mx/mexico/2025/Lic/Folletos/Arquitectura.pdf

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