An interdisciplinary approach to architecture

IT’S been half-a-year now since the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Varsities across the globe have been forced to shut their doors, classes are conducted over video conferencing, and many who shied from adopting digital technologies are now forced to embrace this new norm.

While traditional classes have been postponed indefinitely, digital alternatives have been embraced with much fanfare. But the reality is that most institutions, including architecture schools, are still at a very early stage of working out the transition.

At a time when air fleets are grounded with no clear endpoint, the shift to online education is being forced on all universities. As such, different students are going to find themselves in very difficult circumstances in the next few months. Some may not even be able to leave their home country.

Let’s face the reality — the case of online education is fiddly for conducting architectural lessons because most design learnings require some form of residency component. In addition to that, not all academics are prepared to shift to online teaching. These are unprecedented times.

Architecture is essentially an art form that requires professional practice, personal artistic development and technical knowledge of buildings.

The pandemic, while seen as a curse to the global economy, has however, led to the exploration of new areas in various sectors resulting in a revamp of the architectural field.

For example, the isolation of individuals in the time of crisis would require the psychological input for a comfortable design environment. The building materials will be developed hand-in-hand with chemical engineers to prevent the proliferation of disease.

Public spaces such as supermarkets will need to be redesigned to minimise the distance one has to travel to collect all the things that are required. Instead of zoning by category, a subsection of related items is needed for convenience – similar to how suggestions pop up in online websites after you click to purchase the first item.

Restructuring the business and work models for business continuity while staying relevant is a challenge. The Architects Institute of America has published the Architect’s Guide to Business Continuity outlining the mitigation steps to include such as building code updates, design innovation, community and land-use planning, renovation and retrofit.

As a responsible profession at the frontline of built environment design, we should re-evaluate our role during this pandemic and identify the new responsibility in prevention, containment of this virus or any other to come, while maintaining the well-being of the occupants or users both physically and psychologically.

As the demand for viable solutions to eradicate the pandemic in various fields increase, positioning future academics and students to respond to this need will be key to a relevant architectural education.

There is an opportunity of finally breaking the geographical borders and differences of time zones to work collectively. Moving forward, a series of virtual forums focusing on reconstructing cities, buildings and communities can be expected. These forums will bring together alumni, existing students and others to build a humane and intellectual network to work on sustainable communities that are resilient, inclusive and safe.

More importantly, a review of the architectural syllabus will be needed. To build our future, it may be time to expand the architectural curriculum so that it spans across disciplines.

It’s going to be incredibly challenging, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Many things need to be done differently as the architecture evolves to cover more intensive interdisciplinary approaches.

Assistant Professor Chia Lin Lin is UCSI University’s Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Technology and Built Environment. She possesses a Master of Environmental Science, Bachelor in Architecture and BSc Housing, Building and Planning. A Board of Architects Malaysia member, her areas of interests include environmental waste and demolition waste. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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