"Practice Sessions" is part of the University of Michigan's "Third Century Initiative," which funds experimental pedagogies in a bid to change how teaching and learning happen within the bounds of the institution. Over a five-year period, ten architectural practices will be invited to Taubman College to run a practice session. Each session centers on an immersive four-day design charette that culminates in a juried review and exhibition. These sessions are not workshops in the conventional sense. Invited practices are not selected to repeat a known and routinized working method in collaboration with students. Instead, invitees are called to work in an experimental mode, where everything is subject to the pressures of practice on design: the design of the session topic, the design of the work space where the session is held, the design of the way the session itself occupies the institution of Taubman College, and the design of the thing(s) produced by the practice session.
A Practice Session
A practice session is different than the real thing, the big game, the final performance. All the pressures and impingements of the real thing are present—its rules, constratints, and mandate to perform—but it's also just practice. It happens again and again, and the awareness of that repetition, of any one session being just another in an extensible chain that stretches backward and forward, grants certain permission: risks can be taken, roles can be rehearsed and reassigned, embarrassments are quickly forgotten, inhibitions fall away. Over time, practice makes the difficult look easy and the accumulated glitches and idiosyncrasies of each session allow for unanticipated discoveries. Practice sessions are real, and then some.
"Practice Sessions" is ideologically motivated. If contemporary architecture is formally and stylistically inventive, it also lacks an extra-disciplinary agenda. The converse is likewise true: architecture that makes a proposal (or is in the self-styled business of "politics" or "addressing the big issues") is aesthetically allergic and holds little interest for the discipline. These decoupled parts—form and the agency of proposition—may have once been united in the explicitly social agendas of the modernists or in the culturally stable forms of the classicists, but it is no longer the case. "Practice Sessions" will give form back to agency while giving form a job to do. The session are a place to take a crack at this admittedly grandiose charge in a largely risk free environment while acknowledging our place in a longer trajectory of precedents aimed at similar ends. To this end, invited architectural practices are selected based on the degree to which their body of work shows promise toward reconciling form with the proposal.
Each practice session is prompted by a colloquilism. The colloquial phrase is a diagram (think Deleuze's smudge in a Bacon painting or the dice-roll in a surrealist exercise) that generates a "manual space" to dislodge and re-purpose familiar habits of practice. The manual space of the colloquial has a particular flavor. Colloquialisms are an expression of natural rather than constructed language. They work because they are useful, not because they make perfect sense or possess coherent internal logic. They offer instant legibility and deeper readings. In "Practice Sessions," each colloquialism is a prompt to consider the way design reaches beyond disciplinary boundaries in a manner distinct from familiar modes (for example "interdisciplinary").
Each session runs four days, beginning with a Friday evening lecture, continuing with working sessions through the weekend, and concluding with a review and exhibition opening Monday afternoon. Invited practices are provided institutional support, materials and supplies, a workspace, and at least 20 students eager to work. Sessions will take place in the College gallery, which will be transformed into a working space by program staff prior to the start of each session. Invited practices will be asked to submit a simple design for the gallery that reflects the kind of session they want to run and the role, both individual and collaborative, the students will play. The construction of the work space may involve anything from changing wall colors to organizing students in pup tents, but in any case the working environment is expected to be conscious of its visible, central position in the school and the way in which it occupies Taubman College.