How has student life changed compared to your own student years?
I think there is an interesting balance of things that changed and things that haven’t changed at all. I have noticed that the main ambitions of students don’t change. They have the same hopes and methods. For example, all-nighters have a long history. I think it is not so much related to pressure, but also to a culture. Somehow, we inflict this upon ourselves. However, the pressure becomes an issue when it is a consequence of coinciding deadlines – organisationally we should try to avoid that.
What do you think of the term 'starchitect'?
I think that every era has its own starchitects. Stardom has happened in the past for predecessors. I remember that Rem Koolhaas visited the faculty once, this was in the previous building that burnt down in 2008. Room A was filled with people, everyone tried to squeeze in. I don’t see the harm in starchitects as an inspiration for students. Everybody needs a hero.
What do think of the endeavour to become a starchitect?
I think it is a dangerous goal, isn’t it? There are very few who reach this and the ambition often goes hand in hand with frustration. In the music industry for example, which is perhaps even tougher than the design field, ambitious students aim to become a soloist and travel the world. However, you might end up playing in the orchestra. Ultimately, it might be more fulfilling to be part of a team, instead of being the solitary figure.
What was your goal when you were a student?
To be honest, I was always puzzled by students who knew what they wanted to achieve in 5 or 10 years. I never had a long-distance goal. It is so difficult to look forward.
What has changed since you graduated?
I think there was less stress and pressure. The average study time during the 70s was 10 years. People could study forever. That changed in the 1980s when a new education system was implemented. Another difference which I have noticed over the years, is the intensity of student involvement. When I was a student in Delft, students had more influence on how the faculty was run, a democratization process which already started in the 60s. Nowadays, students are still connected, but more distanced. It probably has to do with the structure of our education system. Back then, the program was flexible and as a student you could organize your own education quite freely. Nowadays, most students follow the same path.
Was it a tough time to find a job?
Inherent to the architectural discipline is the cyclical curve in employment opportunities. When I started my study program in 1981, job opportunities were scarce. During our introduction, the dean welcomed us with the following words: “It might be better to study something else, because there are no opportunities for you.” However, that changed in the 90s, which were a golden age for architects, supported by national government policies which stimulated architecture culture. Then of course, in 2008, crisis hit. The building industry, thus architecture, was damaged quite severely.
What would you like to change within the faculty?
As designers we always seek opportunities for improvement. I have noticed that we often strive for a structure-oriented solution, designing new organizational systems. Within our faculty I believe the organizational structure is quite solid, but we could be more critical towards the actual content, both in education and research. Currently, there is a strong division in departments, the disciplines are set apart. I think our focus is sometimes too introverted. As a consequence, many departments try to do everything themselves and achieve all the goals on their own. We thus miss opportunities to collaborate and connect. I hope we can open up more to other departments and faculties in the upcoming years, while narrowing down the production of knowledge within the departments towards a stronger focus. Designing is in fact combining knowledge from different disciplines to achieve innovation; it is all about bringing different aspects together to create a whole on whatever scale, whether it is on an organisational level or a small-scale physical level. The shared perspective at this faculty is design, and the interdisciplinary characteristic of design could be explored and stimulated more, specifically within the master programs.
Speaking of structures, why did you move the office?
There was an urge to create extra space for staff, thus several departments were shifted around. Plus, I disliked the location of the student advisor rooms. During counselling hours students were obliged to wait in the corridor where people were continuously passing which to me seemed an unpleasant situation; a quiet place deemed more fitting. I must say though, it was not a sacrifice to move into this space, the older place was darker and less inviting.
What is your opinion on the internationalization of the education system?
I believe that this development has proved to be a great asset. During my years as a professor, teaching here, I have observed how well it works. Of course, a separation of students remains; there are students who benefit from the international community and students who stick to their own groups. However, in a wider perspective, our field of work has become so international, it broadens our horizons, so this transition makes sense.
How do you combine your partnership at Mecanoo and your position as dean?
My main focus now is my position as dean. I am still connected to the office, but on a less intense level. This is a full-time job; I am here every day.
Do you consider your position as dean comparable to running a design studio?
That is an interesting thought, but as I mentioned before, as a designer you are always tempted to establish new structures. That is not necessary here. We can be very positive and proud of our achievements so far; the further I travel from Delft, the more people I meet who are eager to be connected to Delft. Willem de Kooning, a famous Dutch painter, once said: “In order to stay the same, I have to change consistently.” I don’t want to convey that we should stay the same, but we must consistently reflect on implementing improvements in order to remain a place where people want to study and work.
Have you observed any other urgent issues within the faculty that you would like to address?
The work pressure of students and staff. The amount of students and specialisations have increased but the amount of staff has stayed the same. Plus, we increasingly rely on external research money to bring in temporary staff. It is necessary to attract those funds to renew and innovate, but it brings a lot of pressure. We must act on that and on the other hand, put attention towards high pressure areas, specifically in design education. Sometimes I think there might be too much education. What do you think? Do you want to see more or less?
Jan: In my case I would have preferred more guidance. During my studios, I could often speak to a tutor once a week. Two meetings a week would have been perfect.
Aimee: I have positively experienced an increase in educational time throughout my study program, since I transferred from Utrecht University where generally the master-pupil relationship was very one-sided, scarce and anonymous. I appreciate the more informal, personal and open relationship students here have with their tutors?
CK: In Singapore I was also used to teachers as media of instruction; there was hardly any dialogue or dialectic teaching.
Some people think the studio system is outdated, that it should change along with societal changes, such as digitization. Many other faculties have implemented different teaching methods over time. However, we have been teaching bouwkunde like this for over a 100 years with good results, so perhaps this tradition proves to be best suited for our field of education. We are not stuck in the master-pupil hierarchy, which can be perceived as exceptional, compared to other design universities around the world. Every method has its own plus sides and negatives. Most students here feel acknowledged and heared. However, it also gives more stress: the teacher doesn’t tell you what to do, they just ask critical questions.