Staring at the small pink pig in a glass jar of liquid, placed high upon a dusty wood shelf in my 9th grade science class, I tried to guess how many years it had been there (at least 15, I figured- given the amount of dust on the jar); I wondered why no one ever brought it down. We were approaching spring semester and the teacher had not yet mentioned it. Were we ever going to dissect anything in this class, I silently protested- not really wanting to, but not feeling like an accomplished student if I didn’t.
One Christmas long before, Santa had brought a Science Lab Kit for my younger brother (a 3rd grader at the time); it came with a book of instructions, a real microscope, plenty of tools, and at least one frog stored upside down in a skinny, thin, clear glass cylindrical jar secured with a white metal lid– I can still picture that frog as if it were yesterday. I wanted to know how soon he felt comfortable dissecting it; he shrugged. But the more we examined it, the more curious we grew- so one of us (I forget who) opened the jar. Ewww!!! That’s gross, I said. The poor thing looked hideous enough, but the smell was (almost) worse than dry-cleaning chemicals. We put the lid back on and decided to dissect it another day. When we did finally conduct the dissection, it was not by any methodical means; it looked like white chicken meat to me. I didn’t see what the big deal was…
Fast-forward to My Daughter’s 5th Grade Science Class (2010-2011 School Year)
I had generously volunteered my husband’s time (he has a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry) to help with a series of dissections which were scheduled for later in the school year in early Spring. When that day arrived, ‘the Chemist’ decided he would not be able to stomach such a job, reminding me that he was an organic chemist and had primarily worked with chemicals, not animals. Okayyyy, I said, trying to understand his squeamishness…?! So, I had two choices- either wimp out or be brave and go through with it, in the hopes of creating good memories to cherish.
I drove to the school with reluctance. It was a windy, humid day- unseasonably warm even for Houston. I was running late, so I missed the informational lecture given by an M.D. The lead volunteers directed me to wait in the outdoor covered area where they had set up a row of 16 long tables, each equipped with a set of sterilized instruments in steel pans, including scalpels, giant tweezers, and…one fresh, cold cow eyeball per pan.
Preparing Myself for the Inevitable Dissection
On the rollling A/V carts set up directly across from the row of tables were sets of instruction sheets, a few boxes of sterile surgical gloves, plenty of paper towels, some plastic aprons, oh…and some mints. Feeling hot, I removed my outer sweater and draped it over the stool and started to read through the 8 page instruction guide to quickly orient myself to the parts of a cow eyeball. The lens, the cornea, the pupil- you know, everything we all learned back in 5th grade health science class. Now, I’m a quick study, so I wasn’t expecting any difficulties in understanding what to do- the challenge for me was simply going through with it.
Did I mention that I had not yet eaten breakfast and had not had much water to drink. Clearly, I was not physically prepared for this event. Anxiety began to take over…with the anticipation of when the kids would be pouring out of the lecture and the spectacle would begin.
My husband had warned me earlier that some gooey black stuff was going to ooze out when I cut into it, so I was really dreading that part. Suddenly, I felt light-headed and seriously doubted if I’d be able to go through with it at all.
Perception is Everything
About that time, the lecture was over and here came the students rushing out to the tables. Some parents were wearing scrubs! Yes, Scrubs! Hallelujah, I thought. Turning to the head parent volunteer, I said, “I’m so glad there are people here who know what they’re doing!” She seemed to roll her eyes at my intimidation. As we all donned our gloves and aprons, I asked the two wearing scrubs if they were doctors- the lady said she had a degree in Biology and was a Psychologist and the gentleman said, “I learned a long time ago, it’s all about perception: you really don’t need to know what you’re doing, you just need to look like you do!” Yes, he was a doctor. Smiles all around.
I headed over to my daughter’s table, looking around to see what to do first. I flipped back to the first page, sensing the anticipation of my group. Step one: pull back the very thin (but stubborn) topmost outer layer called the cornea. There was an argument at our table about whether the girls would be allowed to use the scalpel; I emphatically declared NO, absolutely not. So, picking up the scalpel in my right hand, I reached down to pick up the eyeball with my left, praying that none of us parents (or students) would accidentally cut ourselves in the process.
And I thought x-acto blades were sharp!
Okay, this was more difficult than I’d anticipated. My strategy was to mimick the room mom on my right– as she was moving confidently ahead–when (thankfully) the biology major turned psychologist showed up at our table offering to help. I gladly handed her the scalpel and- needing some comic relief- I suddenly recalled the old Chevy Chase movie where he was pretending to be a doctor and they all stood around in the medical tent nodding to one another and shaking hands, introducing themselves to each other as “Doctor”, “Doctor,” “Doctor,” “Doctor”…).
Well, I am no doctor. And, apparently, I’m not cut out for science either. No wonder I didn’t take Chemistry beyond the baseline requirement in college!
This was gross!
But the kids were having a blast! They were in awe of what they were learning. They wanted to use the scalpel, hold various parts of the eyeball in their hands and see how squishy they were; they even thought the black gooey stuff was neat. They were not a bit intimidated by this. At other tables, the boys were ooohing and awwing at every discovery under each layer.
I thought about medical students in college who have to not only dissect a human eye, but an entire cadaver. My respect for doctors everywhere increased immensely from this experience.
So, What’s the Correlation to Architecture?
How does all this relate to the creation of construction documents? My theory: Just as doctors must dissect cadavers to learn Anatomy 101, architects could benefit from taking a few courses in hands-on construction where we actually handle wood, mix concrete, weld steel, maybe even learn basic carpentry, brick-laying, or how to install insulation.
It struck me as absurd to imagine a surgeon being expected to operate on a real live person simply based on a set of “surgical guidance” documents (the BIM model, if you will)– prepared by someone else who him/herself had never touched a cadaver in his life! Yes, that would be absurd.
Yet, this absurdity is not unlike the conditions under which we’ve been practicing architecture for the past 150 years.
Is it enough to learn construction from a book? Or merely observe others doing it? I don’t think so. Even drawing a detail cannot compare to physically touching the building materials we are depicting.
My Proposed Solution
Expand the IDP CO (Construction Observation) phase to include 6 months of on-site Construction Management. As it is, how many firms really engage in CO anyhow? Well, I suppose many more must as things are getting built quite well out there. In today’s economy, this may seem like an outlandish recommendation. But how else can we learn this stuff?
In my opinion, the architectural education could be immensely improved by incorporating some of the methods of learning used by the medical profession for years: hands-on training.
For example, rather than drawing a window head, jamb, and sill, why not be required to build a better one?
[Note: I have recently read of various schools like Rice University, Univ of Houston, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and others who seem to have vastly improved their curricula to better serve the 21st century student.]
In a new book on the market, “Building Knowledge in Architecture,” author Richard Foque writes (p. 174)”
“A fundamental paradigm shift on the levels of architectural education, entrance to the profession, and the profession itself is needed to achieve the same status as disciplines such as law, medicine, and business administration. This demands a cultural shift from individual approaches to shared knowledge, integration of education and practice, reconsidering the internship process, and establishing a research and development strategy between the academic and professional worlds. Building knowledge in architecture will concurrently establish the “scientific” status of architecture.”- “Building Knowledge in Architecture” by Richard Foque, UPA (University Press Antwerp), 2010.
So, what do you think? Should architects be required to be on-site CM’s as part of the internship and licensing process? Please post your thoughts in the comment section below…