The Possibilities, Limitations
and Future Prospects of Student Architectural Organisations
Architecture is a collaborative process. College architectural programmes are designed to reflect this essential characteristic, requiring students to learn to cooperate, and often in the form of studios where they live and work together. This piece will examine student organisations as separate from clubs and societies, and defined as groups formed on a voluntary basis outside of the school, proposed as a ‘new mode of architecture’ for students to share and create. They define goals and produce results through research, exhibitions, seminars and competitions. They may appear to go against the grain in a time when most students are consumed by getting good grades for the right jobs, as these are not sponsored by nor designed to promote other private or public organizations, but operate purely out of their members’ pockets. Why would students of architecture, with schedules riddled with classes, assignments and job fairs, spend such time and money? This is an opportunity to examine some key organizations, and their values, limitations, sustainability and future. reported by student reporters Lee Jaemyeong, Park Hee-eun and Yeo Injun
Rallying Around Architecture
It's not the first time in history that students have congregated in meetings outside of school. However, initiatives that are begun as a whim are wont to dissolve, for lack of budget, time or space, and the lack of experienced management or a guiding operating system. But, in these days, social networking services have made it possible for architecture students with common concerns to communicate and interact despite traditional limitations in time and space. News of various architectural events such as exhibitions, seminars, lectures and forums are easily shared, and thus have spawned new meetings. At the same time, so-called outside activities sponsored by pre-existing institutions, such as promotional models, student reporters, design camps and workshops are also on the rise. But student organizations are unlike conventional groups, they are managed by the students themselves. Perhaps one of their most distinguishing traits is that funding is entirely student-driven, and for this reason, they can represent the unadulterated viewpoints of students and generate the corresponding outcomes.
Project Groups for Student Architecture Festivals_ The Union of Architecture University in Seoul (UAUS) is made up of the student unions of 16 architecture schools in and around Seoul. Founded in 2012, the UAUS was begun by the Student Union of Yonsei University's College of Architecture, to facilitate exchange between schools in the area. Now in its third year running, the most important event for the UAUS is the architectural exhibition, which requires the building of pavilions. For many, the occasion has come to represent the official kickoff to the school year, with a few schools selecting the team of students to represent their respective institution through competitions. Each submitted work is carefully considered by professors, associations and other organizations to winnow out the winners, with the contestants placing first to be awarded prize money and designated next year’s UAUS organizers. In its first year, the theme was ‘Home for Two College Students’ for which all submissions had to be created at life size. Although there were glitches in the operations, as it was the first attempt of its kind, the topic was true to the everyday concerns of the students themselves. The theme of the event in its second year was ‘Pedestrian Hongdae, Pedestrian Seoul’ for which the exhibits were set up in the crowded streets of Hongik University, allowing the event to transform from one for students only to be open to ordinary citizens. The exhibition’s third year theme was ‘Refocus Seoul Architecture’ and was held in Marronnier Park, Jongno-gu, making the event an officially public occasion. The aim was to promote Korean architecture’s excellence, and therefore featured reinterpretations of the works of other established Korean architects. As the exhibitions have grown from eight to sixteen schools, the event was efficiently planned, budgeted and promoted, resulting in better quality works overall. Held over the public holidays, it was so well received, that even suggestions to extend the end date were made. But with its growth, so too has the programme lost its core quality of being student-oriented. It is funded now not just by schools, but other corporations, with some of the exhibited works partially produced by outside specialists, and several of the features and proportions modified in negotiation with the local district government. In an attempt to be more open to the public, its core student identity seems more diluted each year.
Image courtesy of UAUS
UAUS allows students to enjoy an exhibition of building pavilions each year with ordinary citizens.
A Platform to Promote Regional Architectural Culture_ A to A (Area to Architecture) is an organization that began this year, created by students of national universities in regional provinces, in the interest of addressing the relative lack of architectural events in the regional provinces when compared to Seoul. The organisers seek to cultivate interest and changes in perception through the work of local students. The first theme programme broached was ‘Regionality’. Titled ‘Conversations of Students’, the groups held discussion with subjects for ‘What Is Regionality’ in March, and ‘the Need for Regionality in Architecture’ in May. Students of different regions lead the discussion, and it was an opportunity to share their honest thoughts. But physical and geographical limitations were made apparent, and efforts were made to overcome this through the use of SNS. Given the nature of SNS, however, activities are slowing down; SNS is a useful tool for promotion across time and space differences, but falls short in matters of sustainability or motivation.
Image courtesy of A to A
A to A founded this year organizes discussions with students of different regions about regionality in architecture.
Architectural Education in Different Schools Every Week_ Founded in 2009, Architen is an association of ten university clubs around Seoul, united by the goal of looking beyond the insular community of school to the greater world. Currently, it is a gathering of more than 300 students from some twenty colleges, with an academic objective. Although it also hosts the occasional weekend exhibitions, community service events and surveys, its primary focus is on weekly meetings held in different schools to exchange and foster design skills. It offers the opportunity for people to share ideas and expand existing understandings. A key difference in this programme is that membership is open to individuals every semester, unlike other organizations that require individuals to go through their student councils. On principle, the group funds itself through individual student contributions, without outside help. It is not for exhibitions or to engage with the public, but for individual students to boost their academic credentials, and is therefore the most studious of the examples. The reason for the longevity of the group (it has been around for five years) is dedication of members to their weekly meetings in spite of their busy schedules, and fund raising for the group’s operation. But for the group to be truly meaningful, the results of its studies each week should be cumulative. Thus, it would create history and bring the organization a step closer to architecture itself.
Image courtesy of Architen
Architen focuses on academic organization, and studies various subjects every semester.
Free Workshops Led By Students_ INTERNOS is a free workshop that seeks to address the concerns of students. It is an architectural movement founded with the goal to allow students to debate architecture and its potentials in 2005, and created the slogan, ‘student architecture movement’ of its kind across the Country without neither support nor regulations from the outside. It is unique in that its organizing committee members change every single time a meeting is convened, which leads the event to take on a different colour each time. Each year, the event is held in different schools, under the guidance of various professors and architects, for the duration of a week, over which time various lectures, debates and free projects are held. Even the programmes are individually decided, and the manner in which it is presented is freely done in groups such as presentations, performances and panel discussions. This autonomy is double edged sword. For the student who is unfamiliar with such freedom, a workshop may just as easily be fruitless venture. The organization of the event should be guided under a manual, but because the committee members change every single time, it is difficult for any accurate manual to be set. At the very least, a basic manual should be written, with new managers to add new instructions at their discretion.
Image courtesy of INTERNOS
INTERNOS is a free workshop with various subjects under the guidance of professors and architects held in different schools each year.
From Possibilities to Limitations
Each organization has its potentials and limitations. But the common difficulty faced by all is financial. As they are all autonomously funded by students, without the help of any single organization, they will always experience shortages. Capital, as a means to realise artistic passion, is a necessary evil, but the moment an organization loses the ability to govern itself from outside funding, it is no longer free. The UAUS, in particular, in its pursuit of public accessibility and greatness, must reexamine its founding goals. It is worth asking whether a reinterpretation of pre-existing architects, as this year’s theme, is necessarily something that must be taken up by students. It is also of concern whether the event has given up the freshness that is the prerogative of students to succumb to the pressures from the Seoul or Jongno government to entertain citizens. It is time to ponder the themes and approaches for the exhibition, rather than focusing on funding alternatives.
Moreover, sustainability is crucial, and to that end, it is a necessary area in which to keep students interested. For meetings to occur voluntarily, the focus should be on fun, rather than obligation, and events should have independent and unique content. Song Jinsan, systems manager for INTERNOS, points out that ‘news of events and activities should be consistently spread, to spread interest, rather than pressure’. Um Junsik, president of Architen, says ‘to encourage students to actively participate, there needs to be content on the level of the student organizations that schools and corporations are unable to offer’. Furthermore, meetings should share their contacts and networks. For the nascent A to A to be self-sustaining, Architen and INTERNOS, as organizations that have survived five and ten years, must share their know-how. Participation can be boosted by highlighting the need for regional schools to join together, starting from the National Universities of the provinces. Kwon Soonhan, planning manager of A to A, argues that ‘it takes up to 10 meetings for an organization to be sustainable, and there’s plenty of potential, because as of yet, promotions to regional students have not begun, despite great interest’. Additionally, existing systems should be supplemented and modified. INTERNOS plans to write a formal manual starting next year, and Architen is organizing its portfolio to host an ‘Architect’s Night’ in celebration of its five-year anniversary.
Last but not least, an organisation must record and accumulate history. For any organisation to produce original content, it must build with the materials of its previous activities, and as a result, can eventually produce new organisations and architectural acumen. The UAUS actually does this, by announcing the winners of its competition and publishing the resulting collection each year. It is thus able to motivate, and leave its history as record. Other groups must also do likewise, by creating results, and leaving traces of its now to serve as guidelines for its future. Lee Jeewoong, founder of UAUS, confesses that he was told ‘Many people were concerned about our attempts that it would be impossible to send any meaningful messages from young students to the professional architectural world.’ As the comment suggests, student organizations are difficult to operate, but meaningful for the same reason. What students may lack in professional knowledge, they more than make up for with passion and the ability to express through a communal platform. Through these activities, students are learning to debate and derive a consensus on their own.
It’s important for architectural student organizations to become aware of their present as a process of trial and error, to finally arrive at a product they create. Both students and the architectural community may learn from the strengths and flaws of each other, and serve as the other’s referential stepping stones.