Daniel Brown - Tertiary Teaching Excellence Teaching Profile
Teaching profile from Daniel Brown (School of Architecture, Faculty of Architecture and Design, Victoria University of Wellington) - a Sustained Excellence winner 2005
School of Architecture, Faculty of Architecture and Design, Victoria University of Wellington
Daniel Brown has won 10 teaching awards in just seven years. He has been widely published and his unique style of garnering public acclaim and criticism for his students' work has seen their assignments featured on television, in public exhibitions and in newspapers. His extensive experience as a designer / architect and researcher means he can offer students a unique set of challenges as they take the journey to becoming architects. A focus on research, real-world design and crosscultural issues ensures his students are working at the cutting edge of architecture before they've even graduated.
My challenge as an academic
As a full-time academic, as well as a practising architect, I am keenly aware of the need to theoretically and intellectually underpin the technical foundations of the architectural profession. It is in the academic arena that these theoretical underpinnings must be most rigorously communicated, and the true test of theoretical architectural ideas occurs when they are realised in built form. My charge as an academic is to encourage students to:
- investigate, experiment and develop a personal position in response to theoretical design enquiries
- engage the requirements of habitation without diminishing the strength of conceptual and theoretical intentions
- establish meaningful language and effective dialogues between architectural elements
- and most importantly, challenge theoretical issues that carry relevance beyond the individual to the collective, beyond the collective to the universal.
Encouraging a new generation of designers
Architecture is fundamentally a three-dimensional discipline, and in teaching students to conceptualise three-dimensional design using two-dimensional tools of expression, I conscientiously analyse how each student envisions form and space. I also encourage students to challenge architecture to move beyond traditional three-dimensional form, deriving the essence of architectural design from intimate sensitivity to the human condition, issues of identity, and experiences distinctive to a cultural context.
I believe that teaching should simultaneously encourage the production of highly innovative professional calibre work from students, promote students' future careers through community exposure, and promote the university and its scholarly work within the wider community. In this regard, I challenge students to identify themselves as representatives of ‘the new generation of designers' through design research.
Architecture as Art - responding to social change
Most importantly, I teach students to actively reflect upon periods of great social change and to consider how the arts have historically been responsive to such change. Dramatic technological advances or shifting political and economic climates have always been paralleled by innovative responses in painting, sculpture, dance, film and literature. Yet architecture often lags far behind these other art forms in interpreting major social transformations. I encourage students to understand the importance of addressing contemporary social conditions as a means of discovering new avenues of expression, as well as a means of appropriately addressing the needs of contemporary society. And when students realise that other art forms often find new means of expression in response to social change far earlier than architecture, they learn to draw from these art forms in establishing new and meaningful directions for architectural design expression.
Commitment to Asia-Pacific region
Equally important within my educational philosophy is a fundamental commitment to Asia-Pacific regional issues. My architectural research for the past 10 years has involved in-depth analysis of symbolism and narrative in traditional and contemporary architecture across Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. I believe that the future lies not in Western design overwhelming the East, but rather in the West fully understanding, engaging and incorporating eastern sensitivities into its own design. New Zealand is poised on a critical threshold between East and West, perfectly positioned to lead such a movement and establish its young designers at the forefront of a new generation of design drawn from understanding cultures beyond our own.
Exposing student work to the public
In 1999 I challenged students to research existing landmark buildings and their interiors within New Zealand's capital city, with the objective of re-conceiving these buildings as international-calibre designs. These projects involved the re-design of the entire Wellington city skyline, including the national museum of Te Papa, the BNZ Building, Queens Wharf, and the Ferry Terminal, as well as the interiors of the Wellington City Art Gallery, Wellington Public Library, Wellington City Council and the Michael Fowler Convention Centre.
The results of these provocative student undertakings were reviewed extensively on Channel 7, a Wellington television channel, appeared in a full-page colour article in The Evening Post, and were exhibited for four weeks in public displays in the Michael Fowler Convention Centre, Wellington Public Library, Wellington City Council and Wellington City Art Gallery. These projects specifically challenged students to consider New Zealand's current status in international design, while evidencing to the students the effect their own generation can have on transforming perceptions about contemporary design culture.
In another example, I asked students to conceive and design ‘future visions' by their new generation. These projects were selected in February 2002 to appear as sets for ‘The Tribe', a popular New Zealand television series for young people. The prospect of having their work appear on national television provided compelling motivation for particularly high levels of achievement by students in a project tailored expressly for their generation.
Public perception becomes part of assessment process
I enable a student's work to appear on television, in public exhibitions and in publications expressly in order to encourage students to produce their highest calibre work ever. But equally important, I understand that public perception can become an integral participant in the assessment process. When assessment occurs outside by the general public, as well as inside the classroom by a lecturer, students are exposed to a variety of criteria upon which well-founded assessments are being made. They thus come to more readily understand the process of assessment, and the need for developing critical judgement and accountability in their work. They acquire critical bases for self-assessment, thereby enhancing their own self-confidence inestimably as well as their own ability to engage in critique.
Culture and identity
I feel it is particularly important to challenge my students to address individual or group differences of culture, gender, ethnicity and experience. I do this through a selection of assignments that explicitly challenge issues of identity. I have assigned my students to design a New Zealand embassy in Korea, a Korean embassy in Wellington, a cultural centre for a Marae, a youth detention centre, a New Zealand centre for foreign exchange, etc. Student work from these assignments has received widespread publicity, and as such has been instrumental in highlighting issues of culture and identity as vital concerns for the university, the professions of architecture and design, and most importantly my students.
Beyond the lecture theatre
I incorporate a particularly wide range of learning activities in my courses, including inviting lectures from New Zealand's most eminent artists (such as John Drawbridge, Tony Lane and John S. Parker). I have taken my students on the Wellington police launch to view sites for architectural design assignments from unique perspectives; I have sent the school photographer on several helicopter trips to photograph sites aerially for the students; and I have used 360° photography of students' favourite interiors to enable them to re-conceive such spaces in a full range of visual perception. And in November 2003, I took 30 students from Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Industrial Design to India for four weeks, introducing them to a wide range of interdisciplinary design issues beyond New Zealand shores.
One of the most distinctive ways that I engage with learners and promote critical thinking is in my selection of projects that extend well beyond the university setting, challenging students to address particularly sensitive and topical issues through design. One such project invited students to design a new Memorial for Officers Slain in the Line of Duty for the Royal New Zealand Police College, which resulted in a public exhibition of their designs entitled ‘And in the Evening There Shall Be Light'. In another example, I organised a competition for my students to design ‘Architectural Follies', the best of which were later constructed full scale for permanent public viewing near the Rankine Brown Quadrangle for the Centennial Highlights Celebrations.
Joy and passion - critical
But most important of all, I believe that joy and passion are critical (for both learners and teachers) to the achievement of learning objectives. I continually modify my course content and teaching approaches in direct response to my desire for students to love what they are learning. I talk directly to my students about their passions, and I then fill my lectures with examples drawn directly from the lifestyles of my students - using movie clips from recent-release films, new sound tracks, photos of interior architecture where young peoplesocialise, etc.
I would like to conclude by writing briefly on the importance of maintaining innocence, even while opening our students' eyes to greater levels of awareness. I tell my students we must never base ideas on presumption. Rather we must challenge ourselves to uncover always an essential ‘rationale' while encouraging our ‘imagination' to translate that rationale in extraordinary and unexpected ways. As a teacher, I can only accomplish this challenge by embracing rather than erasing the innocence of my students. Their innocence is their greatest gift, for it provides them with the essential ability to Dream.
And it reminds me utterly that as I teach my students, so I learn from them. And I am reminded by them, always, how important the Dream can be.
Peer and Student Comments
Before coming to academia, Daniel was internationally respected, being associated with some of the world's most innovative architectural and design firms. Daniel's career in university teaching is no less remarkable.
Where we have taught together, I have observed with admiration Daniel's outstanding qualities and gifts in communicating complex and professionally specific material to a diverse range of students. In Daniel's teaching process complex issues are made transparent. I have witnessed on numerous occasions passive students transformed into enthusiastic and dedicated performers. In this respect Daniel's personal and social gifts are tremendously beneficial within the context of teaching. His way of engaging with the students individually and as a group is a reflection of his deep respect for every individual. He recognises and draws out each one's talent and potential as a designer.
Jeni Mihova (Lecturer in Design)
Daniel instilled in all of us a strong sense of self-belief, constantly cajoling and encouraging us to take risks and pursue directions we believed in, even when the outcome was unknown. This process was often uncomfortable (probably for Daniel as well), but Daniel's extraordinary commitment to us as students and to helping us develop and understand our own sense of identity as architects was a key ingredient in our decision last year to enter private practice and continue to develop our own work.
Jason Whiteley (BArch Graduate)
Daniel, thank you for teaching me that my spirit, my consciousness, my amazement at life itself can be expressed through all of my thoughts and actions. My head and my heart will always be full with memories of our journey, because the journey is the destination, and I'll continue to enjoy the ride. Love, Scott M.
Scott McKenzie (3rd Year Architecture)
Daniel, not only have you been my brick when I have needed someone to reassure me, but you have been a great friend, nurturing doctor, inspiring tutor, and a true mentor. Your passion and knowledge have taught me so much and has given me a new view of life in general. You have touched me in a way that will stay with me forever and has given me the desire to fulfil so many more dreams.
Lauren Van Uden (3rd Year Industrial Design)