MDes Talks: Education in Architecture and Design - What Does “Study” Really Mean To Me?

Different countries have different ways to teach and interact with students. Both universities I have attended shared a distinctive characteristic: what are taught are practical and so graduates are readily prepared to work in the job market.

Professional Education in Brazil and Hong Kong

In my home country, generally speaking, design and architecture are still relying on the ego and the idea of modernism. The education to train designers and architects is about pushing students through mechanical processes of conceiving projects. Part of the creativity in the work is killed, perhaps unintendedly, as students’ freedom to express and to advocate new ideas is undermined in school. Some of the tutors are almost imposing their approach onto students and allow little room for questioning. This frames the apprentices according to certain methods. In my opinion, this explains how most of the students stopped dreaming and compromised to the tough reality of a country where the good things and improvements are always in the future, but without a date to materialise.

Presentation with guest critics at PolyU, Hong Kong
Presentation with guest critics at PolyU, Hong Kong

Presentation day in Brazil - BA in Architecture and Urban Planning
Presentation day in Brazil - BA in Architecture and Urban Planning

On the other hand, studying in Hong Kong has meant being able to explore, think, debate and push forward, always questioning and brainstorming issues. To freely express idea and show results are encouraged. Even at the Bachelor’s level, you are always able to see tutors complimenting and giving constructive advice to build onto what students proposed. You always see students cooperating and sharing knowledge and opinion, sharing hours working and also haring the tiredness and joy of the making process.

Studying: Gaining Knowledge of a Subject

Studying is a process of constant renovation of the mind, soul and body. It starts with a question, a topic, a choice or a spark of curiosity, and soon you become obsessed by the subject, conduct research, study the matter more extensively, form analysis and synthesis of your discovery. It can be a study for a couple of weeks or more than months, the passing of time doesn't matter. The most interesting part of this process is the connection to the subject is very personal. What I am drawn to may seem to be indifferent to you; and what I learn from studying can lead me to other areas of interest but may seem ordinary to you and so you would leave it at that.

Workshop in Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Chile
Workshop in Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Chile

Presentation day during the workshop in Universidad del Desarollo, Santiago, Chile
Presentation day during the workshop in Universidad del Desarollo, Santiago, Chile

How Does Design Fuel My Curiosity

In the case of design education, the process of learning is even more special. Unlike a fixed set of processes with specific and systematic procedures often found in engineering and science, Design, on the other hand, has less of that mechanical aspect and more fluidity around. But at the same time, as one of the tutors used to say, “design or ideas, do not emerge just out of the blue”. Designers take time to reflect, reference and identify preference before arriving at an outcome.

Debate of ideas with people from different fields and backgrounds in order to do greater together. Photo by Stephanie Ho
Debate of ideas with people from different fields and backgrounds in order to do greater together. Photo by Stephanie Ho

Now is the start of the last project before completing the entire course of master’s study. We are onto Capstone, which will synthesise research (also see previous article) into a design project. This design project proposes a possible answer to a primary question, often emerged from a topic we chose to study.

The Capstone Project aims to develop and show a particular critical position and perspective about a topic. Through the understanding of the reality – informed by the facts of the present context – and imagination, a possible vision of the future is created.

When studying in my home country, I have doubts about my skills to pursue a career in design; but at PolyU, I learnt how to constantly fall in love with the design profession and projects. Keeping the enthusiasm is not easy, there are always ups and downs.

The study has not been concluded, but those who reached the end of the process always say, “you will miss PolyU life”. For some people that do not like to study, this saying might not make sense, but it has a point. Once the course is done, the tiring hours of work put aside, you feel the pride – the satisfaction and a sense of achievement came out of it.

Reminder to Self

From my experience (and I am still comparing the two schools I attended), in PolyU, I have learnt:

  • to enjoy working
  • to dream without losing track of the reality
  • to show the personality behind each result
  • to avoid hiding behind a mask that turns all projects into sameness

I invite everyone, students, tutors, thinkers, regardless of your country and circumstances, to become dreamers. Dreams and hope keep the mind and heart connected. If designers don’t dream, who will? It is not necessarily about dreaming high, but to keep the ideas and the discussion alive, to sustain the passion and personal (not selfish) intent along the way. Fight for what you believe, show it, express it, in a way not to provoke opposition but in a smart way, through design and ideas.

Looking for inspiration in the nature, a special event. Ciudad Abierta, Valparaiso, Chile. Photo by Matheus Martin
Looking for inspiration in the nature, a special event at Ciudad Abierta, Valparaiso, Chile. Photo by Matheus Martini


Photo Credit: Sylvia Yeung, except specified

Posted by Sylvia Yeung - Living the 20's years old issues and doubts. Born in Brazil, with the heart in Hong Kong. Graduated in Architecture and Urban Planning at Mackenzie Presbyterian University, Sao Paulo. Living and exploring the concrete jungle and mix of emotions contained in the city where the journey of the ancestors began. A current Master's student in Urban Environments Design (MDes).
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MDes Talks is a series of Student Blogs contributed by students in different specialisms under the Master of Design Scheme. It is set out to share students’ first-hand experience in the d-school pedagogy, their projects, takeaways, and student life in general.
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