Educating the Reflexive Practitioner


  • Marc J. Neveu
    California Polytechnic State University
Vol. 6 No. 1 (2009)
Research Articles
December 31, 2009


"I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.”Socrates


Studio as a model of education is distinct from many other professionaldisciplines and although it can be quite rewarding on many levels it mayalso be an extremely unconstructive endeavor.1 The amount of time spent in studio typically far outweighs that spent for other courses and often atthe expense of such other courses. The dedication that students bring tothe studio is remarkable, yet much of the time spent in studio is not alwaysproductive. Students often complain of not knowing what is expected ofthem and as a result much of the time is spent thinking about what they think the professor wants to see as opposed to working through theirprojects. In an alternate scenario, students are crushed by the workload, tasks, demands or expectations of their instructors. In either case, the work is almost invariably driven by the students' own creativity and imagination; unlike law, medicine, business, or engineering for example, where the interpretation and inquiry into case studies and cadaversis much less based on the personal introspection than established traditions. This extremely personal nature of the architectural studio canmake reviews either a devastating or extremely empowering process. As seen from the perspective of the larger university community, the studio is simply not an efficient way of education. The faculty to student ratio, for example, is not in accordance with other undergraduate disciplines. But this ratio, as we all know can also be a real strength. The often hermeticnature of the studio offers latitude for students to develop theirwork in relatively safe surroundings. This environment, however, may also foster the cult of personality that develops around certain professorsthat harkens back to the very roots of education but can also lead to anentourage of disciples who have no incentive to inform the Emperor that he or she is no longer wearing any clothes.

Notwithstanding such issues, I do believe the studio holds the potentialto be an empowering learning experience. The intention of this article is to question the mode of instruction in an architectural studio. I've structured the paper in three parts. First, I will briefly describe the findingsof the study made by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancementof Teaching known as the Boyer Report.2 To develop and support the findings of the Boyer Report, I introduce the work of the educator Donald Schön. Though I see much merit in the Boyer Report, and Schön'sproposals, I argue that a more nuanced approach is required. I will recommend, therefore, in the second section of this paper that a meansof architectural education as based on the Socratic method may be amore productive approach. My reading of the Socratic method is basedprimarily on early Socratic dialogues and I will specifically use Charmidesto illustrate the issues that I believe are relevant to studio pedagogy.3 From my analysis of Charmides I will, in the third section of the essay,describe how the Socratic method is beneficial to studio pedagogy threeways: reflexive, non-propositional, and finally how Socrates' approachmay indeed be practical. This last section will be illustrated with a studentproject. It is my conjecture that the Socratic method offers insight intocurrent discussions of educational theory, namely student-centered,project-based learning.