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The School of Architecture, one of three departments comprising the College of Design, enrolls approximately 400 undergraduate Architecture majors. Architecture's 22 faculty members challenge traditional notions of writing through the dialogue between architecture's identity as a discipline—which requires aesthetic theorizing—and a profession which demands clear oral, written, and visual communication with clients.
Writing in the School of Architecture
The Architecture faculty generated the following list in response to the question, “What characterizes academic and professional communication in this discipline?”
The Architecture faculty participates in the WEC program as a way to improve instruction in writing, or what we may call communication, and to explore the relation between visual communication -‐ an essential communicative form in architecture -‐ and the written word. Participation in the WEC program has allowed the architecture faculty to reflect more deeply on the relationship between writing/ visual communication and architectural design and other instruction. At this point almost all faculty members embrace the program, and appreciate the rigor with which the WEC program challenges us to examine our existing practices in order to develop better instructional techniques.
The field of architecture engages the physical environment through graphic representations and verbal texts. In architectural practice, clear communication is necessary to effectively communicate with clients, with those in the construction industry and with other architects. In academia, we value the rigorous use of graphics and text to grapple with architectural issues and problems. Professional writing proposes, describes and documents designs including:
- Responding to Requests for Proposals
- Making competition drawings that include explanatory text
- Writing letters to clients, contractors, and others
- Creating design documents that described buildings in drawings and text
- Making specification documents describing materials and equipment
- Writing articles and competition texts that describe completed projects in words and images
In academia critical thinking in architecture requires students to describe, analyze and interpret designed environments. This may take the form of:
- Journals or sketchbooks that include such things as field annotations, critical analysis, and associations
- Diagrams that describe design processes
- Observation research and analysis of architectural precedents
- Research analyses and literature searches
- Essays and examinations
- Oral and graphic presentations
In these different forms of graphic and textual writing, the creative process of design may be supported by:
- Linking observations and descriptions to reflection, analysis and interpretation
- Diagramming and critiquing the design process
- Identifying and evaluation alternative design propositions
- Iterative investigations that employ different media
The purposes of such communication are very broad and in both professional and academic settings include exploration of ideas, accurate documentation of situations, analysis of places and designs, expression of poetic ideas, and persuading others through argumentation and use of evidence. Taking into consideration all of these purposes, discussion with the architecture faculty about the definition of writing in architecture revealed strong agreement that incorporating both written and graphic texts is necessary for the discipline. However faculty found that the term writing seems to exclude graphics. Therefore, the following definition, created to support the WEC activities in architecture, employs the term communication. The following definition was created to support the WEC activities in architecture:
Communication is an articulation of thinking and can be used to define, describe, narrate, analyze, persuade, question and discover. Along with written essays and academic papers, writing in architecture can take the form of diagrams, drawings, collages, renderings, models, presentation boards and oral presentations.
Writing Abilities Expected of Architecture Majors
The initial set of writing abilities that were developed by the Architecture faculty in 2010-11 included 15 items that were used in the initial rating of capstone projects. The WEC subcommittee refined this list in Fall 2011 to clearly portray the writing abilities that we expect graduates with an architecture major to hold. Subsequent writing plans combined these abilities with the list of evaluative criteria.
All students should be able to understand the (design) ideas of others, to develop their own (design) ideas, and support their own (design) ideas.
When they are exploring ideas using a dialogue of words and graphic representations we expect our students to:
- Form a thesis or proposition as a statement that is open to investigation and debate
- Generate, refine, and reform questions related to the thesis
- Search broadly to locate sources that contain information relevant to the thesis
- Identify evidence accurately and thoroughly - whether verbal or visual
- Evaluate, organize, and assemble visual and verbal evidence into a hierarchy that explains their relative significance
- Construct arguments that are substantiated with appropriate evidence
- Express poetic ideas and emotions
- Leverage multiple perspectives to support complex arguments
- Make design logic transparent to multiple audiences
- Explain why they did what they did
- Engage visual materials and verbal arguments in a dialogue that recognizes the autonomy of both lines of inquiry
- Draw inferences from the argument(s) that lead to synthesis
- Conclude with a summary or interpretation of the argument that develops, promotes, or advances the original thesis
- Discover new ideas through the process of writing
- Use language and style to persuasively address the target audience, whether clients, peers or others
- Document verbal and visual sources using consistent citation formats so that readers can locate original materials
Menu of Grading Criteria Used in Architecture Courses
During open meetings throughout the first year of the WEC program, faculty contributed to the development of a list of writing criteria that were used to evaluate student writing proficiency in key courses in the program. The 15 criteria developed were used to rate the work of students in their final year of the program, including 15 student papers and 9 presentation boards (See Appendix 3 for Report on Rating of Student Work, Summer 2011). Criteria 1 through 5, and 11 are different from the original criteria. Raters found many of the criteria difficult to use and had a number of suggestions for improvement (2, 5a, 5b, 7, 8, 9, 11 and 13), and had suggestions for additional criteria. The WEC subcommittee is planning to review the comments to see if the criteria need to be modified. Recommendations will be made to the faculty for discussion and possible improvement of the criteria.
Forming a Topic
- Demonstrates the writer’s ability to form a thesis or proposition as a statement that is open to investigation and debate.
- Develops through refinement and definition of questions related to the thesis or proposition.
- Reflects the writer’s ability to search broadly and to locate diverse sources containing information relevant to the thesis or proposition.
- Demonstrates the writer’s ability to employ evidence accurately and thoroughly —whether verbal or visual.
- A) Evaluates, organizes, and assembles visual and verbal evidence into a hierarchy that explains their relative significance; and B) Explains the relative significance of evidence.
Analysis and Interpretation
- Constructs arguments that are substantiated with appropriate evidence.
- Leverages multiple perspectives to support complex arguments.
- Engages visual materials and verbal arguments in a dialogue that recognizes the autonomy of both lines of inquiry.
- Draws inferences from the argument(s) that lead to synthesis.
- Concludes with a summary or interpretation of the argument that develops, promotes, or advances the original thesis.
- Realizes new ideas through the process of writing.
- Uses language and style to persuasively address the target audience.
- Documents verbal and visual sources using consistent citation formats so that readers can locate original materials.
Highlights from the Writing Plan
We are developing a strategic plan of action to improve writing/ visual communication that will involve all undergraduate courses based on, and updating our original course mapping. This work will be undertaken by the WEC Subcommittee that now includes the Directors of the BS and BDA programs as well as the key undergraduate faculty members who participated previously.
As a part of this plan we will continue to work with our faculty to align courses with the WEC Writing Criteria developed by the department. We will hold faculty workshops. We also will engage in a plan for faculty to work with consultants at the Center for Writing to improve writing through better teaching methods, syllabus material and such applications as assignments, and rubrics. Another part of the instructional plan will involve the assessment of writing and course assignments in individual courses to identify effective and less effective practices in one to three courses. We will evaluate these measures by assessing the number of faculty members who take advantage of these opportunities.