Architecture schools should be concerned with experimentation that challenges the apparent self-evident certainties and accepted orthodoxies of the discipline (in its expanded definition), the underlying assumptions about what architecture is and can contain, and what it should do next. Architecture schools need to ensure that their graduates have all the professional competencies that are required for professional practice and registration. But Architecture schools should also lead the struggle to challenge the default conventions of the discipline. The architecture school should strive to point towards possible futures not yet evident within existing understandings of the discipline and wider cultural/political terrains. Architecture is about ideas. It is part of a wider cultural sphere and a way of thinking about the world in a broader sense. Knowledge and learning in architecture do not finish in the academy but require continued learning and a level of receptive agility from the architect, throughout the architect’s life. The rapidly changing economic and cultural conditions in the extended fields that architects engage with necessitate this, requiring, but also opening up possibilities for, new types of knowledge, fields of engagement and practices.
The Major Project Medals The Anne Butler Memorial Medal, endowed in honour of an outstanding emerging practitioner, is awarded to a Major Project that exemplifies the goals of Major Project. The Peter Corrigan Medal celebrates the project that is most critical, political and culturally engaged. It is awarded to a student with a strong independent vision in honour of Professor Peter Corrigan who taught successive generations of architects at RMIT for over 40 years.
The architecture student’s graduating Major Project – a capstone for the formal design degree – should not merely demonstrate the competence and skill they acquired in the course. These are base expectations on entry into the graduating semester. The graduating project is an opportunity to speculate through the work and to develop ideas that will serve as catalysts for future, lifelong investigations.
The Antonia Bruns Medal, endowed to recall Antonia’s interest in the relation between film and architecture, is awarded to a Major Project that investigates the relationship between architectural representation, association and perception.
The project should lay bare considered attitudes, brave speculations and leaps of faith, pursuing these with rigour and depth. We would hope that the projects are ambitious, brave and contain propositions relevant to their time. We would hope that students experiment – in whatever form this might take – and engage with difficult questions, contributing not merely to areas that are well explored, but to what is yet to come. Experimentation though, in the graduating project, as well as in the design studio, comes with the risk of failure. But failure can be cathartic – it is an essential possibility tied to innovation.
The Leon van Schaik 25th Anniversary Peer Assessed Major Project Award celebrates Prof. Leon van Schaik’s arrival as Head of Architecture at RMIT 28 years ago. It is decided by all Major Project voting for what they view as the most adventurous and future-embracing project of the semester.
At RMIT Architecture we understand well the ethos and importance of experimentation and we have longstanding processes to reward it, importantly through our grading and moderation processes. In the RMIT architecture programs, we call this ‘venturous ideas-led design practice’.2 ‘To be ‘venturous’ is to be brave and take risks. What we hope is happening here is that students are learning to establish their own explorations which they can constantly reconsider and navigate through future conditions that may not resemble present understandings of practice. Competencies and experimentation can happily co-exist. We aim to educate students to engage with architecture’s specific characteristics unapologetically, and to not be afraid of its complex, uncertain and liquid nature. We aim to prepare our graduates to engage in and contribute to a broader world of ideas and to eventually challenge our ability to judge with new, challenging and meaningful propositions.
Professor Vivian Mitsogianni Deputy Dean and Head, Architecture & Urban Design RMIT University
01 For an expanded version of this text see Mitsogianni, V. (2015). Failure can be cathartic! The design studio - speculating on three themes In:
Studio Futures: Changing trajectories in architectural education, Uro Publications, Melbourne, Australia, pp. 25-31 ‘Venturous’ is a term also used by RMIT Professor Leon van Schaik and Professor Richard Blythe in relation to the RMIT Design Practice PhD
model, originated over 25 years ago by van Schaik, who states ‘Design Practice Research at RMIT is a longstanding program of research into what venturous designers actually do when they design’ .