The Landscape Guide

12.5 Feminine (Nester) Design Education

Contents list

There should be at least two educational routes, one for the hunter and one for the nester, be they architects, planners, structual engineers, landscape architects or garden designers. This will require distinct entrance requirements, teaching methods, curricula and assessment methods, though many areas of study will be common to both routes. For hunter-designers, the entrance requirements should emphasize abstract ability, represented by achievements in verbal reasoning, algebra, geometry and drawing. For the nesters, there should be an emphasis on wisdom and on craft skills that are both technical and aesthetic. Although this may seem like a simple split between academic and vocational education, there is a key difference: the two routes should lead to qualifications at the same level. The assumption that abstract skills are of greater value should be buried quietly, along with the other relics of male suprematism. Persons of great ability are needed to work as nesters and as hunters.

Education for hunter-designers is comparatively well developed. At high school, they take abstract subjects, usually including maths and science. At university, they are taught by lectures, seminars and tutorials. When their work comes up for review or examination, it is pinned to the wall and scrutinized by other designers with well-developed abstract skills. Little attention is given to practical matters: it is the design that matters. Clients and builders are not involved in the teaching or in the assessment, because their knowledge is regarded as "practical' and therefore impure. The education of architects is mostly free of this impurity. Sometimes, if they become famous, they go on to work as town planners. The type of planning that they practise is known as "architecture writ large'. Grand avenues, spectacular buildings and innovation are emphasized.

Good education for nester-designers does not exist. The only available programmes are aimed at people with what is regarded as significantly lower mental ability. School teachers will advise that "Johnny is not very academic but should be able to hold his own on a vocational course'. In the construction industry, these courses are practical in the sense of being uncomfortably close to labouring. Bricklaying, carpentry, paving and the use of machines may be included. Broader issues, such as user requirements, aesthetics, and sustainability are excluded. Students are given the idea that other people, the hunter-designers who possess abstract knowledge of mysterious import, will take all the important decisions. This is crazy.

Nester-designers require an education that aims to create people who, using a different approach, can design as well as the hunters. They should resemble the master craftsmen of former times, able to use their hands as well as their heads. Before designing superb brickwork, one needs to have worked with clays, made bricks, made moulds, selected sands, mixed mortars, cut and laid bricks, spent time looking at brick structures and talking to bricklayers. Before designing timber structures, one needs to have worked with wood. Time has to be spent in forests, sawmills, workshops and construction sites, as well as in educational institutions. In the first paragraph of his first book on architecture, Vitruvius wrote that:

Knowledge is the child of practice and theory. Practice is the continuous and regular exercise of employment where manual work is done... those who relied only upon theories and scholarship were obviously hunting the shadow, not the substance. But those who have a thorough knowledge of both, like men armed at all points, have the sooner attained their object and carried authority with them. (Vitruvius, 1914 edn)

He assumed that all architects would have the ability to become nester--hunter designers. At present, it is usual for there to be no manual or practical component in an architect's training.

Nester-designers should learn to work with their hands, though they will but rarely attain a craftsman's skill in any trade. They should also learn to make physical models and computer models. When in design studios, they should be encouraged to work from the particular to the general, instead of the other way about. This was how the apprenticeship system worked and how the cathedral builders were trained. When it comes to assessing design project work, clients and builders should be involved. Personally, I would rather live in a house designed by a skilled nester than a vain hunter, because quality matters more to me than individuality

In the Third World: Only about 10 per cent of the population have the resources to commission the kind of buildings the academically trained architect has learned to design -- and only a tenth of them would think of engaging him. The others would appoint a civil engineer, or perhaps go directly to a contractor. So there you have the modern architect's interface with society: all of 1 per cent. This figure represents the people who commission the office buildings, apartments, luxury hotels, factories and houses that make up the bulk of the architect's practice. (Correa, 1989)

So writes Charles Correa, the Bombay winner of the UK's 1984 RIBA gold medal for architecture. He observes, correctly, that the Third World has experts in many of the nester-skills that have become the fashionable concerns of environmentalists: balanced ecosystems, recycling of waste products, appropriate lifestyles and intermediate technology (Figure 5).

In the First World, designer-builder relationships are becoming more diverse. At one time, most construction work was controlled by people sitting at drawing-boards. Contractors, who had to do the building work, spent their days cursing the mad designers, who whiled away their idle moments cursing the obstinate builders for their appalling stupidity. Clients despaired. Then they encouraged the growth of design--build and management contracting. In future, projects should be run in different ways, according to the nature of the work and the abilities of the staff concerned. New educational courses are required for design-led design-and-build. Nesters can employ hunters; hunters can employ nesters; design-and-build organizations can be hunter-led or nester-led. Clients need to abandon their lazy habit of commissioning large blocks of work and then trusting abstract professionals to do the right thing. They have to get involved in the design. When it comes to work on the ground, projects should often be subdivided into as many small steps as practicable. This will enable them to benefit from both the skills of the nester and those of the hunter. Long-term visionary plans may be purchased by the vainglorious, as an optional extra.

Architects and landscape architects have contributed to the splintering of relationships between planners, designers, builders and clients. They wanted to be gentlemen with smooth hands, clean clothes and fine reputations. Except for the very famous, this has led to lower salaries, lower status and a diminished workload. Society expects struggling artists to starve in garrets. The education of nester-designers should result in designer-led design-and-build work, with better craftspeople, more work, more social relevance, and, incidentally, very much higher salaries.