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Creative Education? An Analysis of Existing Architecture Education in Singapore

Comments (101)
  1. Non-NUSarchi says:

    I don’t know much about the archi curriculum since I don’t study there, but I’ll just say this:

    I don’t think there is an issue in “giving what the tutors want”. Let me put it this way: You’d have to deal with clients in future. Clients will similarly want stuff, and half the time their choices will make waaaay less sense than your tutor’s. Are you just going to ignore the client’s wishes? Good luck making money then.

    Pleasing your client/tutor wants doesn’t necessarily mean giving up what you want. It’s tough, but I think real creativity comes when you manage to produce a solution that gives both parties satisfaction. The times I’ve actually managed that, I always ended up producing my best work.

    And if you say it can’t be done, chances are you’re just being too inflexible/obstinate/narrow-minded :)

    P.S. I’m typing this after 2 all-nighters, so its the same world-round :) Hang on, and sometimes just say “whatever” and go out with your friends. After all, you do need to eat.

    1. Hello non-nusarchi, im also from SDE but not from Arki. Perhaps allow me to clarify what this read is trying to bring across.

      I guess he is not saying that “there is an issue to give what the tutor wants” The nature of architecture requires one to be creative, think out of the box. It is not something that would come naturally to many. It requires experimenting the process. And where is a better place to nurture & experiment that other than in a school?

      It is true that at times, there is a need to give what our tutor wants. But the thing that he is trying to bring across is not about not pleasing his tutor, but rather about how to take the tutor’s comments into serious consideration and fusing it together with his own imagination, creating his “very own unique” design.

      however, with the crazy tight schedule and deadline that they face (I witness it myself), More often than not, they don’t even have enough time to sleep let alone finding time to think about how to personalize their own creations/designs. As all assignments are graded and each individual assignments would determine the end result of any students, Students at times are forced to instead, just simply “input” the comments that tutors commented blindly without having the chance to perhaps, improvise it to make it even better.

      Just like Ericsson ‘s 10,000 hours principle, the more u practice thinking out of the box, the better you get at it and the better you are as a successful creative architect. Similarly, the more time you spent on doing things just based solely on the inputs of others without putting much thoughts into it, the lesser you are able to think of the box, and the less likely you would be a creative/successful architect.

      He is addressing the vicious cycle that he see himself, and many other architect students are facing currently.

      P.S. – ever heard of the impossible trinity? there is a Arki students’ impossible trinity I heard before. they can only choose two out of these three things – academic excellence, sleep, social life.
      Why you may ask, Try dropping by SDE every night after 11pm and take a look. You would probably understand why it is so hard for them to even say “whatever” and go hang out with friends. Too much are at stake or at times, they are just simply too tired to do anything else.

  2. Joanne Gay says:

    Hi all,

    I am sad to see so many negative comments regarding TAS in the comments section of the article, even sadder to see other people posing as TAS and commenting. I believe as the 32nd EXCO we are trying to address many issues that the students have raised, they are all in the process of being finalised and we hope to see results soon. I hope you continue to support us, thank you.

    1. min-us says:

      broken record. all talk no action.

  3. Yr3 says:

    Thanks MINUS for providing great software workshops to help the weaker students catch up on digital skills. TAS sux.

    1. PLUS says:

      why MINUS.. NOT PLUS

    2. Yr3 too says:

      MINUS = minimally – us
      i applaud them for their efforts so far and having the initiative of conducting the workshops as mentioned, great job!
      but whats the deal with the TAS – MINUS “rivalry”? the way i see it they are run differently and has different targets (specific ones). whats with the negativity of TAS tt everyone seem to have? “TAS sux” — that makes you sound like a primary school kid saying wolverine is more awesome than spiderman. I’ve been seeing TAS asking for feedbacks, the question is did you participate with useful feedback?. MINUS helped, no doubt. but they dont (not within their powers/objective?) provide a platform for students to speak to the sch and vice versa. people are just rant-happy, “TAS is useless, did nothing, just a name.” Do you try to effectively utilize that platform? I know i didnt, i just couldnt be bothered. the thing is if you are like me, someone who is just plain lazy to voice out anything, then why all the sudden hate when theres a new “club”? dont just sit there and whine when you didnt put in any effort, and cheer when you get a free meal.
      I do believe MINUS and TAS can co-exist effectively, benefiting us – students. make love not war.

  4. Zhenghao says:

    To the anonymous writer: how irresponsible it is of you to post guerilla comments with baseless allegations based on your personal feelings. I am a recently graduated NUS student currently in practice, and although I may have my gripes about the education I had, I have witnessed the contributions of various individuals – both student and staff, who are sincerely trying to build a community. At this point, your comments are all about consumption, and not helping this process at all; they actually negate these efforts and the goodwill built up. I suggest you stop playing the role of armchair critic, identify yourself, get your hands dirty and take responsibility for your school and education. Similarly, I would have low regard for this publication, which allows damaging remarks from anonymous individuals to be considered ‘commentary’. This must be the height of cowardice.

    1. Zhenghao says:

      At the same time, may I also suggest that well meaning individuals not respond to the specific content of the abovementioned ‘commentary’ as there is no basis for a discussion.

    2. Obama says:

      Yes Chairman Mao. Sure thing

  5. Lloyd says:

    To the author:

    1. Have you been through other architectural academic systems in other countries? You have to have a certain level of knowledge and view things in a bigger picture before you start all these ‘comments’, you know just so that you sound more credible

    2. Have you done anything about it in NUS? Sure there are many obstacles but I’m sure you can be more competent if you have so much energy to feel this way

    3. How much effort have you put in your own life less munadane?

    4. Are you trying to say to those who in a way succeeded through the system a bunch of fools who also know nothing and that they too have’ no life’ and learnt nothing?

    etc…

    Well I think there are many views on this and it can be discussed to death.There is no right or wrong but one should be giving a fair chance to every person in the system. If you dont like it quit. If you want to voice out, let some tutors know, I am sure you know that who are the tutors arnd who will listen. If you think they cant help you, I think you can give up on life; the world out there (and I mean out of Singapore is not as forgiving as in NUS)

    Putting up your thoughts in such a public platform where there is a almost no two way communication is very selfish. Give others a chance and you will give yourself a chance, give life a chance and you will feel better =)

    One more thing, don’t remain anonymous. There are many people who care. Talk to them.

  6. Former AKI student says:

    I just found out about this article and was reading through the comments. I left the sch few years ago and am currently practicing overseas, and am saddened that it has come to this state.

    I think that the school and the people in charge ultimately should bear responsibility for the way students have become so divided and defeated. A lots of things have changed apparently.

    For me, I knew things were going downhill when I heard they were actually removing the Student Lounge in the studio and capitalising on the limited space by using it as a studio for an external university. For a long time that was the only form of gathering cum chillout space for Archi students and they had to give that away as well.

    Though I had fond memories of the school, I’m sad to say much of the school’s culture has lost its way.

  7. NUS Grad Student says:

    Dear Architecture community,

    I’m glad this article is being featured on Archdaily. This article was a major discussion topic among my peers. Alas, like many the article resonated with the majority of us.

    Having been to others schools and near the end of my education, I’m sad to admit that NUS simply doesn’t measure up.

    Say what you will about the school’s ranking and such, but the truth is like the author says, the school is only concerned about its end results- grades,recognition from the international community etc. It is simply far too conceited and resistant to change.

    Consider the fact that on the day the article debuted, there were professors instead of listening to the writer and the issues brought up began making personal attacks on the writer, calling he/she a “coward/cowardly” simply for choosing to remain anonymous.

    Singapore is a country where freedom of speech is greatly repressed. It is filled with notorious libel laws where authorities threaten any individual or group even rallying even for a peaceful cause. Of course, school is as we know is a microcosm of the state.

    An architecture school on the other hand, one which shapes a country’s aesthetic and pride is far more important.

    Eventually, many of the proffesors in charge simply brushed off the article and the writer’s criticism as merely the “work of a weak student”, trying to steer attention away from it.

    The aftermath of the article brought to attention the many division that existed in the school – two student societies for a small student population, the reluctance to teach local contextual architecture theory over revered architecture from the west. The latter due to the school and nation’s preference for hiring foreign professors and architects in hopes of garnering international recognition and accolades.

    This has ultimately jaded both local architecture and architects, ultimately further contributing to Singapore’s current crisis : a lack of national identity.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter. The people in charge are indifferent. The students are too caught up in day to day living, in hopes of getting that prized internship/job and deluded into thinking that one day they too might land the next big project.

    Still like the author says, professors pay lip service to the creative process making students “buy” into the “vision” of the school. Here i mean buy literally; the school fees for the faculty gets raised frequently, while the school doesn’t undergo any change. No one bothers asking why, cos the students know even if they did it wouldn’t make any difference.

    >>>>PS: This is how the faculty and the people in charge have decided to resolve the issues — A Survey form with your usual vague open ended questions with names listed of those who offer opinions. So far the survey form has been successful in exactly way what it has been designed for — It has deterred anyone with strong opinions from speaking up and apathy among the student population for anyone who even looks at it.
    I last saw it underneath a pile of waste cardboard in the corner of my studio. So much for creative education.

  8. starbucks says:

    I’m really curious why are there so many “haters” of the system. I’m a y1 student and don’t want to be discouraged so early. If the system is really that bad, why are all of you guys still here? It must have its good points, doesn’t it? And I feel that we Singaporeans seem to be demeaning Singapore a little too much – we’re not that bad what. I agree the political system sucks but the school is not related to that issue. First you criticize the school for adopting western principles in design and not providing us with local contextual design. Then you shoot the locals down and worship the western education. So what next?

  9. nickledoux says:

    i kinda agree on the point being made that the response from the school for something that has reached Archdaily, (the most read archi website in our community) and garned so much discussion is quite disappointing.
    i mean if the heads of the school and the student body, all designers mind you, can’t design a way to gather response effectively, then there’s something really wrong there, don’t you think?

  10. Indeed, there is a lot of negative sentiment to a lot of newly grads in the architecture industry in the US; I think the architecture industry needs to drastically change how business and design is conducted if designers still want to design with any degree of integrity, while still maintaining a budget.

  11. the bottomline says:

    1. Is this truly written by a Yr 4 student, or someone else? – say a teaching assistant, an asst professor, a non-Yr 4 student, a drop-out, a disgruntled new & jobless M.Arch grad … ? Brilliant disguise if so!

    2. Who is the Professor who slammed the writer as ‘cowardly’ and yet verbally bitches the System with his students in a casual collegiate ambience? Name him on the Net! Let him explain himself to the Head and the Dean and the Vice-chancellor. Then ask him if he would rather have remained anonymous.

    3. In the 80s, I paid less than S$1.5k in yearly tuition fees. Now it’s S$5790 for 2012-2013 freshmen who are Singapore citizens (lowest compared to PRs and international). That’s about 4x what it cost 20 years ago. Still the same grey buildings, same grey faculty personalities, the same grey creative culture. So what’s new apart from the digital studios, which any self-respecting arch school must have to attract fee-paying students? I’m not asking for the likes of Hadid, Gehry, Calatrava etc to head the dept or the school, but exactly where will NUS M.Arch grads stand as the flag bearers of Singapore architecture? Who will step into the shoes of William Lim, Tay Kheng Soon, Chan Soo Khiang (albeit Penang-born, US-educated, Singapore-based)?

    4. In the end, academic tenure leads to complacency, politicking and a sense of self-entitlement. Limit all teaching staff to max 3 contract terms. If the US president can only stay for 2 terms in office, why should mere mortals in the dept settle for more in their rice bowls till age 65?

    1. AKIAlumni says:

      The professor who slammed the writer as “cowardly” is Mr. Florian Benjamin Schatez. He is, if I’m not mistaken currently the year one coordinator of the sch. Having been a student of his before, I can confirm the fact that he does regularly criticise not just the school but Singapore itself. He has gripes on the field of architecture itself. Yet when the article was released, he chose to defend the school and protect his golden rice bowl.

      He is a charismatic figure, I have to say and thus popular with some of the students. If you look at his CV and his current activities at the moment, you will realise he has completely abandoned the field of architecture and is delving in other opportunities such as working more towards the engineering side and less architecture on the whole. It is pretty clear from his activities outside the school, he is not interested in the academic side and merely using the school in an opportunistic way.

  12. Freshy says:

    I’m a freshmen student into architecture. due to my diploma studies I did in polytechnic, I was able to go straight into year 2.

    I’m saddened to admit that in comparison to the ways i’ve been taught “design” in general for the past few years, NUS archi is undoubtedly stagnant. With unreasonable deadlines and workloads ( I have to agree with the writer), It does kills whatever energy left to pour into our design processes. Furthermore, with tutors coming in on consultation hours, ever checking on their phone and leaving us hanging to pick up a phone call while we are explaining our design, really disheartens me, and trashes the expectations I had in NUS Archi.

    To back my statement, I’ve had a few conversations with exchange students from overseas doing a semester here in NUS, and they feel the same way, commenting that the design processes are limited, bound to what the tutor wants, killing the “abstract” side of what architecture education can offer.

    I’m not saying that the current system implemented in NUS is without “pros”, just that the “cons” seem to over weigh it by, a lot.

    Yes we need to a certain amount of systematic, and rational education, but at the end of the day, I really do not want to work for money, I want to break boundaries, I’d love to push further the ideas of architecture, and die knowing that I’ve supported that cause.

    concerned,
    Valiantes

  13. year 2 bro says:

    i just do what they ask and suck a big thumb.

    jiayou bro! do their shit, fk off but don’t forget,

    come back as a prof and change this situation.

  14. From what I have read, the problem is not with the Uni system but rather the society.

    As a fellow singaporean, I understand the pressure you are going through. However, what you are experiencing in regard to how the course is carried out is similar to what I am having now in oversea.

    The problem here lies with how Singaporeans defines what is acceptable to show for the deadlines. As Singaporeans are brought up in an education system which expect perfection for all works, rather than focusing on the important items, Singaporeans tend to focus on getting an overall perfection which usually is impossible given the time we students usually have. Therefore, putting loads of pressure on oneselves.

    Hence, I would advice that you should understand what you are suppose to do. Rather than rushing aimlessly immediately after receiving the task, take time to evaluate what you need to do and ask the tutor what is expected.

    WORK SMART!
    ONLY IDIOTS WILL WORK HARD!

  15. ArkyStudent says:

    haha I am from SUTD archi, and I do have the same sentiments from you. Still, all the best. As i know its hard to escape from this grind.

  16. Jimbo says:

    There’s a large amount of cronyism in NUS, tt and favouritism, in very obvious ways.

    Look at someone like Tan Teck Tiam. Look at his CV or portfolio. What the fuck has this guy done to deserve to teach in the school?

    A full life over and done with and Tan Teck Kiam has nothing to show for in his CV. Tan Teck Kiam made a career designing houses for his rich relatives. This is simply a fact. Every architect on the outside, I know says this guy Tan Teck Kiam is a talentless brown nosed nitwit!

    Not only tt, every senior also hates him to the core. Several female students during my time also openly expressed similar sentiments that Tan Teck Kiam openly flirted and showed favouritism to foreign exchange students!

    So why is this Tan Teck Kiam still there??

    What strings did Tan Teck Kiam pull to be there and deserving of the position???

    And this Tan Teck Kiam is still going around claiming he is the main designer for the SMU. Not only is it an awful building that is agreed by all archi critics.

    But even that is not true!! Several other architects from various firms have expressed concern for this Tan Teck Kiam claiming design ownership over others works.

    If the school wants to have a system of favouritism and a lack of transparency in critcising student’s designs and work. Then they and ppl in it like Tan Teck Kiam should also accept criticism and stop such obvious cronies like him.

  17. J says:

    I was a thesis student under Tan Teck Kiam. He is a horrible and vindicative person. Thoughtout my entire year with him, he was extremely unhelpful and negative. Definitely not professional or competent. My thesis group has 6 students and 3 of us failed the thesis. How can 50% of his students fail? This cannot be right and it speaks volumes on the kind of tutor/person he is. I failed my thesis under him and I was so angry that i screamed at him. He called in the security and they took me away. I think he doesnt even care about his students or their futures. I think the major problem is that NUS architecture has many bad tutors like him.

  18. The above rantings against tan teck kiam … reminds me of my cohort’s rantings against certain faculty staff, in the pre-social media era. That makes me an old fogey!
    So take heart, it’s nothing new. In the movie ‘Finding Forrester’, the Sean Connery character advised his protege “Beware of frustrated professors, they can be either very effective, or very dangerous.” Words of wisdom too late for me!
    Alas, it seemed Jimbo and J got the short end of the stick. But they have the years ahead. This Tan is very likely ‘game over’ or else, at his age – graduated in 83, so late 50s now – why teach? Why not build?

  19. Dear Jimbo and J, have you given feedback to Mr Wong Yunn Chii, your Head of the Arch Dept? If as claimed there are many bad tutors, is he aware? If not, give him a chance to sort things out. If he knows the ground, then … perhaps he is resigned to the status quo.
    In the end, why bother to tell him? You got your degrees, now get away as far as possible from kent ridge.

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Established in 2009, The Kent Ridge Common is the independent daily of the National University of Singapore. Writers comprise largely of current undergrads with select alumni contributing to the paper. Opinions expressed are of the writer's own. Please visit our disclaimer page for our terms and conditions.
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