Eugene Ace: "The motivation and the cultural horizon are extremely important".

  • contemporary architecture

In 2015, the architectural school "MARCH" starts the admission of students for a bachelor degree. The president of the school Eugene Ace told us about the reasons for this new venture and about the new training program.

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Eugene Ace. Photo © Anton Demidov/ British Higher School of Art&Design

The launching of bachelorship - is it a planned stage of the development of your school? 

Eugene Ace: 
Yes, we did plan to institute a bachelorship in "MARCH" - but we did it a little earlier than we had planned. There were two reasons for such a move. One - we were faced with the issue of the students that already had the Russian bachelor training having to adapt to the program of our graduate courses. The basic education that they get in the Russian schools is a bit different (and, in my opinion, for the better) from the educational standard that is accepted in Europe. The students have neither the sufficient level of self-reliance nor the necessary research experience, and, what's worse, they are generally disinclined to analyze things. As a result, they have quite a hard time making their first steps at our graduate courses. The second reason is more complex. As we know from our experience, Russia provides very little demand for the master degree. This has to do, first of all, with the absence of professional licensing. In most of the world, the "master" degree opens a lot of doors in terms of professional opportunities. In Russia, the licenses are only issued to organizations, and these two extra years spent in training seem to make very little sense. As a result, in spite of serious advertising and a great reputation, the competition to enter the graduate courses is still pretty lax. And this is pretty much the case with every school of such kind: there are people that want to get scholarships but those that are willing to actually pay for their education are few and far between. Besides, in order to create a sufficiently saturated educational environment, you simply need more people. Presently, "MARCH" is a school of a too "intimate" kind; it only has 50 students in it. We are planning to admit 50 students a year for the bachelorship program - meaning, expanding it to some 200 studying places. What we will ultimately get will be a different, more dynamic, and creative atmosphere. And, finally, these figures also correspond to our ideas of the financial success of our project. 

What is the groundbreaking difference between your program and the traditional Russian architectural education? 

Let's start with the fact that our bachelor course only takes up three years, and not five, as is the case, for example, with Moscow Institute of Architecture. Two years make a huge difference. How were we able to shrink our program to three years? First of all, we depend, to a large degree, on our students' self-reliance. And this is very important. Second of all, our colleges and universities pay spend a lot of time teaching the students a lot of subjects that they will never really need in their professional life, such as the higher math or a full-scale course in theoretical mechanics. And, what's more, all these subjects are obligatory, and you have to pass tests in all of them. As a result, the students are heavily loaded with very little or no return on investment. All of our six terms, however, are based on 4 basic modules (blocks of knowledge and skills that the student masters during the term): design, professional skills, fine arts, literature, technical, and science knowledge. Each module is evaluated by a certain number of test points or "credits". Each year, the program grows more difficult. At first, the students have to deal with relevant easy tasks, one that can be mostly done manually. During the second year, the computer design is added, along with the so-called "digital culture". During the third year, the number of design and research hours is increased, and a thesis work is added. As for the training level that we are aiming to give, it is going to as high as that of our colleagues in London or any other Russian university. The result will be achieved at the expense of more intense work and overall efficiency of the whole educational process. 

Will the students have an opportunity to study and also have some job on the side?

This is absolutely out of the question. We have a very important fundamental that we insisted upon when we started our graduate course program: the student comes to study of his own free will, this is his choice. He must be really motivated to get this knowledge. If they are not ready for this, we will be compelled to dismiss them - we will not make either our or their lives harder than it has to be. The experience of our British colleagues shoes that not everybody is capable of sticking it out for one year, even if they do have the desire and drive - too much pressure and too much workload. 

Are the bachelor degree training programs of your own custom design or did you just borrow them from your colleagues at Metropolitan University?

When we base ourselves on the experience of our London colleagues, nobody prescribes us in which specific way we are to achieve our educational goals. We have enough room for maneuvers. Each module has a clear-cut description: what the student must know and what skill he must have mastered after he graduates. Besides, we do not have tests or quizzes in the traditional sense of the word. There is the "report" material that stands for the results of the student's yearly or semester work that you just cannot get prepped in three days - the way you sometimes can do with the test questions. On the basis of these works, the guest experts, both British and Russian, make the conclusion to what degree the student has mastered his or her skills. On the one hand, this approach lets us evaluate the student's knowledge as objectively as possible, and, on the other hand, the professors of our school have enough freedom to implement programs of their own. Of course, they need to get our London colleagues' seal of approval but hitherto we have not had any problems with that. Everybody realizes perfectly well that our school education is wired in a totally different way, our whole social and cultural organization being different. The technical side of our educational process will be handled by professor of Stuttgart Institute of Sustainable Development Werner Zobek. His qualification is really top-class. The theoretical course is the responsibility of Sergey Sitar and Oksana Sarkisysn. The project cycle is curated by Narine Tyutcheva. There will be a lot of foreign guest specialists, as well as the leading Russian architects, including the young generation - meaning, our graduates. 

Who do you envision among your bachelorship students? 

In the beginning, I'd like to note that we are not going to select our candidates on the traditional basis of drawing and sketching exams. My experience of working in Moscow Institute of Architecture shows that the skill of drawing antique statues is not a sufficient basis to do architecture. How do we visualize our student? As I already said, it is his motivation that is important, and, of course, the breadth of his horizon, his interest in architecture, his creative mindset - it does not come down to his drawing skills alone. The selection will be based on evaluation of his or her portfolio and an interview. The requirements for the portfolio are pretty transparent: it's got to include absolutely everything that the candidate is capable of in terms of his creative activity by the moment he enrolls at our course: drawings, hand-made things and gifts that he maybe created for his friends and relations, photos, videos, possibly even embroidery. What we want to see is not the result of long-hour studies but attempts at some sort of creative realization. And as for the interview, it is, in my opinion, the most important part of the admission criteria that ever so often gets neglected in our universities. It is really important for us to understand what kind of person we are dealing with. Why did they decide to do architecture? Why have they come specifically to us? What are their cultural interests? What do they read? What movies do they like to watch? What music do they listen to? Are they familiar with the history of fine arts? How do they see their place in the overall cultural process? Their command of the English language will also be an important consideration. We have a lot of foreign guest lecturers whose lectures are not translated, and we also have students from abroad. We see our candidates coming from the art schools and architectural studios and colleges, including those who did not get admitted to Moscow Institute of Architecture. In order to make their preparation process easier, we organize in August-September a monthly crash course that will give them the opportunity to get aquatinted with different professional techniques: painting, drawing, graphics, and modeling. Based upon the results of this course, the prospective student can form his or her portfolio. And, having passed the interview, after a two or three weeks’ vacation and recharging their batteries, they can get down to their studies.
Text by: Anna Starostina
Translated by Anton Mizonov

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