Building technicals generally refers to the aspect that makes the building real. It is an essential component in architecture that grounds the project so it is structurally sound, efficient, economic, complies to regulations and guidelines and generally able to be constructed in the real world. This article looks at the changes that UTM has gone through throughout the years.
A long, long time ago, UTM Architecture School started off with a very technical-centric pedagogy. It is not surprising, as at the time the built environment industry had just started booming and it needs all the support staff who could manage themselves handling building technicals, construction, tender drawing submissions and all that. So schools at the time (UTM, ITM and USM) produced graduates catered towards the immediate need of the industry.
As time progresses, schools became more aware of other areas that they could focus on apart from building technicals. Towards the end of the 90s, students have ample access to the internet, opening a new world of possibilities. In UTM, students immediately ventured into theoretical architecture, experimental designs and explorative form making. The school shifted from building fully technical architecture to issue-based designs such as social housing, regionalism, sustainability and urbanism.
However, after the introduction of the 5-year B.Architecture programme, the school’s focus towards technicals diminished severely. Due to the full length programme, students found that they could still manage to pass the programme even with weaker technical competencies if they focus purely on flashy and theoretical designs. The input from the segmented practical training programme (three months in two stretches) was barely enough to fulfill the LAM Part 2 requirements.
There were plenty of complains from the industry on the technical competency of UTM graduates. Reviews and surveys were done to figure out what went wrong. Aside from finding the oversight of the 5-year programme, the School also observed that the technical competency issue is also prevalent in other graduates as well.
To address this issue, the B.Sc.Architecture (LAM Part 1) programme was redesigned from scratch. In it’s core, the Outcome Based Education (OBE) forms the primary learning structure. This allows the programme to rely less on teaching prowess of individual lecturers alone and focus on achievable learning objectives.
The table above illustrates the semester progression of the Design Studio in the new B.Sc.Architecture programme (3 years). The 1st year is more about familiarity and self-discovery at a novice level. The 2nd year is where students build upon the scaffold set in the previous year to explore and experiment to find the boundaries of their capabilities. The 3rd year is to ground those exploration into pragmatic solutions towards becoming an assistant architect.
However, instead of progressively push towards pragmatic and highly technical approach at the end of the 6th semester, the School decided to shift the heavy lifting at 5th semester. All the technical competencies suitable for LAM Part 1 are tested here rather than the final semester. This provides several advantages:
- Technical competency has to be achieved earlier, allowing for corrective actions to be taken in the following final semester;
- Final semester project (Mini-Thesis) can be more explorative where students push their envelopes knowing that they have achieved all that’s required in the semester before;
- Students will have more time to concentrate on their Thesis Report;
- Designs could venture into theoretical or experimental realm, giving flexibility for students to enter international design competitions.
As a whole, the Technical component makes 30% out of the overall Design Studio course. It addresses two Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs): The Design Solution component (CLO2) and the Communication component (CLO4). At this point, higher weightage is given to the communication part as the students should concentrate on illustrating the solution. The idea is in practice, the solution can be found in references or instructed by their supervisors, so students should focus on communicating them (which will not be taught in the office).
Technical Aspects and Evaluation
The technical aspect of an architecture can be diverse and vast. The School have outlined 6 aspects to focus on (refer table above), which will form the core technical structure that could be expanded during their LAM Part 2 stage. These aspects are dynamic and asymmetrical in nature. It could be revised to better suite future needs, changing paradigms and changes of what constitutes a technical. The weightage could also be adjusted, to give more emphasis on certain aspects while lesser on the rest to reflect immediate needs.
In the semester, the students’ progress will be monitored and evaluated using Bands (refer below). The Bands are to simplify the assessment process, as marking or grading with too many variable values can be time consuming and complex.
The evaluation allows the School to monitor every technical aspect in detail. The students themselves can monitor their own progress throughout the semester and improve on aspects that they’re weak in. This allows the students to specifically pin-point and strengthen the competencies on-the-go as opposed to a generalized, one-time, end-of-semester evaluation that was practiced before.
The competency achievements are also published publicly to the students so they may compare and learn from each other. As illustrated in the table below, Ali is weak in Vehicular Circulation & Site Planning and Fire Fighting & Regulations. It would be best for him to seek Sue for assistance in Fire Fighting, and either Joe or Jim for the other. On the other hand, Raj, Lee and/or Sue might want to find him regarding Water Supply & Sanitation or Mechanical & Electrical aspects.
In the previous programme, students are only required to produce a partial sectional detail, normally about 6-8meters width but cuts through full vertical height. The problem with this is that, students have copied and lifted off materials from books or other sources straight into their design. The limited detail size allows them to get away with it. Accidental plagiarism have been observed to occur all too often.
However, in the new B.Sc.Architecture programme, all students are required to produce a 1:100 full sectional detail that cuts through the longitudinal axis (longest cut of the building). This forces them to integrate references into their design much more thoroughly (thus avoiding direct plagiarism).
By using Autodesk Revit (or other BIM authoring software), students can produce parametric information quite quickly, such as window or door schedule in mere minutes. Having software to assist their production works allows them to concentrate more on the designing stage.
Apart from full sectional detail, students are also required to produce technical diagrams such as fire escape routes, vertical circulation, electrical supply and distribution, structural load diagrams and so on. This is to illustrate their technical understandings over the topic.
Students also have to understand the concept of a living building. For example, water is supplied from the mains, stored in the water tanks and distributed throughout the building as needed (toilet, bathrooms, kitchen, musolla+ablution, general cleaning etc). Then the used water need to be discharged through the sanitation system until transported off site.
In certain cases, students are encouraged to use computer simulations to prove their design works as advertised. Below, the student simulates wind flow over and through her design as part of the climatic response aspect.
The new system currently in use accepts that students need not exhibit supremacy across the board in one single project. Rather, the School accepts that students should concentrate on particular aspect(s) in specific semester and master it well. At the end of the day, the student have mastered the basics in 1st year, social and environmental designs in 2nd year, and eventually pragmatic and comprehensive design in 3rd year. It has to be clear that despite pushing for explorative designs, UTM have reverted back to her roots and emphasis on technical strength at Part 1 level.
It is essential for prospective students who will be joining M.Arch UTM (LAM Part 2) on what sort of technical competency expected of them, especially if they did not went through UTM’s B.Sc.Architecture. Many previous students were caught off-guard on the level of technical understanding required in M.Arch UTM.
Hopefully by sharing this article, it would shed some light on the issue of architectural technical competencies today.