A conversation with Andreas Kourkoulas
Record of a conversation with my professor, Andreas Kourkoulas, on the present and future of architectural studies and practice in Athens and Greece of 2015.
Direct, friendly and reflective as we know him in class, he received me in his elegant studio.
A.R. What do you think is the contribution of an online database of architectural students’ projects to educational procedures?
How can it work bibliographically?
A.K.I consider any publication of academic work, in this case of students’projects, to be a substantial sample of the university’s quality.
It would be unthinkable to speak of any upgrade in the level of studies without being open to dialogue (with the public, with other architects..).
Any effort to become more extrovert professionaly, to be published and become object or conversation is of utmost importance, because in the end architecture is a social art, an art with a huge social dependance. That is why education as well has to incorporate this aspect to its procedures.
A.R. So, would you consider it healthy in terms of studio, if a student came up to you with a reference they found online?
A.K. Obviously, because this describes an absolute change of paradigm between our generations. In your case, you have the chance to carry your library with you, while we had to bear the guilt as well as disguise our influences, in order to avoid any accusation of design plagiarism. Internet has liberated us from these demons, because everyone has access to all information, and the taboo now lies openly on the table, and becomes the object of critical processing.
The critical matter is to convert the information into knowledge, which requires and feeds a critical knowing of what happens out there.
In these terms, what your generation has conquered is very important, compared to what we treated with shame, within the additional lack of access to bibliography.
The challenge is, now, to hierarchise the massive flow of information. At this point, the role of the university is not to provide with information, but with tools of critic.
It is like comparing the revolutionary transition from societies where libraries belonged to an elite and monasteries, to the massive typography that made the book an everyday object for everyone, to what is happening with the information revolution of the 21st century.
Now, from an open library we have passed to the universal library of networks.
The challenge is to administrate this flood of information, hierarchise it.
Education has to follow this transition, and give the keys to the coding and de-coding of this never-ending archive.
A.R. Speaking of directions given, do you think that in universities like ours, which have a strong tradition of following streams (of the modern movement in particular), this urge for change has become understood?
A.K. This parallel educating process by factors external to the academic ones, sets the guidelines for traditional education. Our students no longer need us to open up libraries for them- they do however need us to set them filtering mechanisms for the administration of the information they come across. The thing is, those filters differ, as do opinions and perceptions.
Universities by nature bear their history, which translates into an identity. It is this identity that filters, in each case the flow of information, but is always in question simply because its scope is infinite. Our students have opportunities to open up dialogues , by going abroad on Erasmus, contacting other students etc. Given, that the keys are long taken, the role of these local filters is very undermined, because of mobility.
Questioning a filter is just as interesting as having one, and is always part of the education process.
This has also changed importantly, because in our days the School’s filters were very firm and absolutely limited, but we can no longer close the frontiers that have been opened.
Education becomes about providing the tools that help you build up your own personal filters.
An education of culture, that is prepared to compete with other international ones dialectically, without being threatened to disappear.
There is a danger of losing our cultural peculiarities that constitute our identity- we shall defend them, but with a spirit open to change. University agendas have to be constantly re-evaluated.
For example, i consider model making to be a great tradition of our school. As a student I was taking it for granted, that this was the way of doing class. When I started travelling i realised it wasn’t so- Spain, UK did it otherwise, having invested more in digital media where we lacked experience.
It is such characteristics of our identity that we should cherish and protect, while adapting to international evolution.
Always in pursuit of peculiarity, of a tradition that is not to be thrown away.
A.R. Do you think our School is open to this dialogue? Does it have “friends”?
A.K. Our University, like many others, has a long history. At times history becomes pride, at worse cockiness. Consequently, it became phobic of international evolution. Watching the frontiers collapse, and the change in information possession, fear was spread for the competence towards such situations, which was translated into shutting everyone out by adopting an introvert strategy.
This proved to be an error, because the wave of globalisation passed over us, a sort of Pompei effect.
Instead of standing up by filtering the change and organically incorporate ourselves in the new data, we thought that by closing ourselves up we would be saved, which was futile.
This resulted in phenomena such as the great number of Greeks studying architecture abroad, and up until recently returned to the country. Our universities no longer controls the production of Greek architects.
This closure resulted also in gigantic consequences in the post-modern movement. To understand this, you just have to look at the post-modern building blocks(polykatoikia – πολυκατοικία), which coincides with the period when architects gained their legal rights to multi-level construction, did not turn out to be an upgrade for the built environment, but all the opposite- it was frustrating.
A lack of cultural background led to an anarchy in construction, which is our responsability. The power of ideas that would equip architectural practice in the 80’s was too weak, unlike other cases like the Spanish, with their critical post-moderm movements that prepared-even during the dictatorship, by means of mini-conferences- the ground for what would become an architectural super-power. This is a good example of how our defences proved to be too weak, all because of the claustrophobic spirit of academia.
In this point I must say it has been a common error of greek education, to be left out -by choice- of the conversation.
A.R. How do you see the crisis of economy and values of the last years reflected in the architectural community of Greece? Do you think this time there is a co-ordinated reaction? What have we learned?
A.K. The crisis we are still experiencing, which affected particularly the construction sector, seems to me like a case very similar to what I witnessed in the UK at the 80’s, when economy influenced what the profession of the architect would become.
I really hope our case has eventually a similar outcome. The crisis in the UK provoked a remarkable clustering of the academic society, it fed investigation. The frozen construction was seen as an opportunity for self-awareness and introspection, in order to come stronger out of the darkness.
That’s when architectural movements were born, through a thorough activity of academic life. Architecural practice had to be reborn, so teams envisioned this shift questioning all traditions. And all this was proven useful when conditions allowed for a re-initiation of constructing activities.
I would like to think that we are going through a similar phase. That there are teams that defy the problem of unemployment and form teams of investigation that will help greek architecture become more mature when the storm has passed.
A.R. What would you recommend a young architect that has recently graduated?
A.K. I would suggest courage, because the worst is now.
An absolutely darwinean theory of survival would also help, meaning an undestanding and adaptation to the new conditions. All is bound to change, the young architects who grasp the new vibes and manage to be creative should be rewarded. I would suggest introspection, looking forward to a new era.
The struggle for survival should be creative, in ways and strategies of overcoming the difficulties of the present and reaching directly the next step.
The architecture of the recent past shall be evaluated at some point, but right now what is urgent is a new perspective of architecture.
A.R. What about the students? Have you observed a change in design and psychology mentalities?
A.K.I do see a huge change, new generations are flooded with grief towards the dead-end they see coming. It is critical to foresee a perspective after the end of studies, to know you will be absorbed by labour market, rather than be unsure of the depth, or even the existence of this perspective. Grief is everywhere.
For the first time, it is no longer a choice to seek a future abroad- it is a one-way street.
A.R. However, isn’t there a bright side to this? Cant’t it be perceived as an oportunity to open up the scope of studies, when ambition is oriented in a future abroad?
A.K. That is also true. We have already had to welcome more international streams thanks to exchange programmes, so the range of tendencies is open.
Moreover, if we want to see things from a positive point of view, perhaps this pressure might be fruitful in the end. People who survive this crisis, the difficult survival conditions, will be the tough ones who will lead us out of this gloomy phase.
Immigrance can be seen not as an obligatory task, but as a creative opportunity, for the time when all those abroad return, wiser that ever.
We might hope for a creative crisis, a push for greater things.
This idea gives me great optimism.
Deputy Professor at School of Architecture of the National Technical University of Athens(Bachelor&Masters) since 1992.Architectural Practice with M.Kokkinou in Athens since 1987. Awards in national and international competitions.
Lectures, conferences, publications, visitor Professor in International Schools of Architecture since 1984.
Phd at Bartlett School of Architecture U.C.L..in London on Linguistics in Architectural Theory and Criticism after Modernism. (1986)
Masters in Architectural Association Graduate School in London. (1980 – 1981)
Worked at Ο.Μ.Α. in London. (Zengelis – Koolhas) (1981 – 1983)
Diploma of Architecture Engineering NTUA (1977)
-Graduate of Experimental School of the University of Athens(1971).
Author: Rotating Editor Athens