Tackling gaps and mismatches in the field of higher education for architecture and urban planning while exploring and addressing discontinuities along the national borders in-between Romania, Hungary and Serbia

The creation of these resources has been (partially) funded by the ERASMUS+ grant program of the European Union under grant no. 2019-1-RO01-KA203-063881. Neither the European Commission nor the project’s national funding agency ANPCDEFP are responsible for the content or liable for any losses or damage resulting of the use of these resources.

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About Us

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

Present day architecture students, educators and consequently young professional architects, from Romania, Serbia, and Hugary are mostly unaware of each others common cultural ground and of the extent that their somewhat similar recent social, political, and economic history is affecting their work environment and design decisions. The transnational collaborations that tackle the complex territorial conditions of one such very specific possible meeting area, the Banat region (DKMT euro-region) - important cultural component resting on the border between Central and Eastern Europe, have yet to fully consider the relevance of architectural national policies.
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The border phenomenon, validated 100 years ago though the partition of the Banat area between the countries of Romania, Serbia and Hugary, created a territorial division through the heart of a peaceful multi ethnic multicultural region, an act that was thus detrimental in strengthening each country’s own national political narrative. This phenomenon  is also observable, in the case of the local architecture schools in the euroregion, that were thus oblivious of each others intellectual and aesthetic quest in conjunction to this common ground. Unfortunately, the territorial and spatial connections observed through the lens of geographical studies, anthropology, journalism, political science, economics, have had insufficient penetration within the autonomous field of architectural research. Architects have yet to look at and analyze the edification policies, that each country has adopted in its recent history (socialist and postsocialist) and asses their transnational, convergent or divergent impact on both our common heritage as well as future regional development. Furthermore, there is an observable lack of applied experience, obtained through traditional academic training, in handling projects that result from a direct reading of this territory. This is manifested in the scarcity of tools required for this type of investigation as well as for working with local actors.

If this condition persists one might put into question regional relevance of the local higher education institutions. In the case of the DKMT euro-region, architecture schools might miss the opportunity to become valid transnational facilitators of regional development, by simply not channelling their knowledge and intellectual resources towards common goals. In a time marked by resurgent populism and nationalism, failure to understand each other and cooperate on this front, could deepen cultural divisions and transnational incoherency in each country’s  advocated spatial policies. In light of Timisoara’s( RO) and Novi Sad’s (SRB) selection as European capitals of culture for the year 2021, the inability to capitalise the strengths of this common ground, might lead to a potential failure of the ECC program in establishing a wider teritorial footprint, encompassing the whole area and not only its two titular cities. Furthermore the shortage of professionals willing to effectively communicate these common ground realities, coherent policies, as well as competences in tackling them, to unaware local actors, could  inhibit further regional development. This in its turn will lead to the perpetuation of a professional model of architect that acts as merely a service provider for private, speculative commissioned works rather than one with a real critical, constructive understanding of to the needs of the communities and groups affected by the process of spatial edification.

We will address the gaps and mismatches between each partner country’s spatial policies as well as educational trends by  acknowledging that difference is just as important as semblance. By designing and testing new comparative educational modules for architects related to the  fields of anthropology, political science, social geography, digital tools for interpretation of data we hope to increase the awareness of architects towards these common issues. These will be addressed to a group of 40 architecture educators and 30 students working together in two intensive training programs. The program will create opportunities for real, on site experiences for the target group of the project highlighting the theory and tools necessary for territorial exploration as well as project implementation through participatory tactics. On the long term we will create a framework for transnational partnerships between our neighboring countries – Romania, Serbia and Hugary, focused on competences of the set target group with the aim of approaching shared problems regarding both higher education and regional development. By increasing the awareness of our common heritage as a palpable, shared resource we hope to encourage our main target group to promote excellence within this field of spatial practice, with the direct involvement of local actors: volunteers, community leaders, elected officials, administrators, and various NGO’s.

OBJECTIVES

The partnership will address the gaps and mismatches between each partner country’s spatial policies as well as educational trends by acknowledging that difference is just as important as semblance.
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By designing and testing new comparative educational modules for architects related to the fields of anthropology, political science, social geography, digital tools for interpretation of data we hope to increase the awareness of architects towards these common issues. These will be addressed to a group of 21 educators and 28 students working together in two intensive training programs. The program will create opportunities for real, on site experiences for the target group of the project highlighting the theory and tools necessary for territorial exploration as well as project implementation through participatory tactics. On the long term we will create a framework for transnational partnerships between our neighboring countries – Romania, Serbia and Hungary, focused on competences of the set target group with the aim of approaching shared problems regarding both higher  education and regional development. By increasing the awareness of our common heritage as a palpable, shared resource we hope to encourage our main target group to promote excellence within this field of spatial practice, with the direct involvement of local actors: volunteers, community leaders, elected officials, administrators, and various NGO’s.

PRIORITIES

The main objective of the project is to create a curriculum for a master course in architectural higher education. In order to do so the partners will work on developing the theoretical backbone of the program and on testing several teaching methods. In this sense we believe that our project will cover certain skill gaps in existing curriculum and tackle mismatches between the current educational offer of architecture schools and what is required within the professional environment. The project will provide insight into how partner universities approach the issue of transnational spaces and the impact of national borders on the development of communities that exist in border areas.
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In this sense we will try to discuss and overcome existing mismatches between national approaches regarding Banat area (resting on the borders of RO, HUN, RS) an the way it should develop. To achieve this goal we will work with academics from anthropology, geography, sociology and political science to develop experimental teaching modules. Participants will familiarize themselves with multi disciplinary approaches and gains skills that will prepare them for increasing requirements of flexibility, critical thinking and capacity to harness digital resources required in the job market. Furthermore, since the professional environment is hardly a homogeneous one, guided by a strong moral compass, our project will respond to the need for emerging architects to also question the premises of the professional environment and organisation and conceive possible improvements.

Further refining the objectives corresponding to “Tackling skills gaps and mismatches” we consider teachers to be key importance for any successful educational enterprise. It is thus impossible to talk about excellence in teaching without acknowledging that excellence comes first of all from the teachers. Unfortunately encouraging tutors and young academics is a problematic matter in at least two of the participating countries. For some of the tutors, participation in the project will be the first step toward teaching in a framework and a master course based on their vision of what education for architecture should be. Furthermore the program will create opportunities for the involved tutors to develop pedagogical modules, exercises or other educational materials that can migrate into their day-to-day practice, starting with the project development towards its final conclusion. Participants in the project will be engaged in a multi-disciplinary environment conceived to cultivate both professional disputes as well as cooperation between fields of study. It will encourage the exchange of good practices and learning at all levels by providing a comprehensive, digital publication with tools that are easy to adapt or transfer. The project will also imply having contact with public and private stakeholders as participants will design projects and test their implementation potential. In this sense the project will encourage skills related to civic entrepreneurship.

Our partnership is strongly related to the acknowledgment of the potential that the border area between RO, HUN, RS has. This complex cultural space has alternated between fragmentation and convergence. As it appears, following around 100 years of segregation, we are now at a moment in time when, once more, it is possible to talk about a more unified common cultural space. We will focus particularly on increasing the awareness towards the cultural heritage of the area, and on the means through which it can be protected but also used for the benefit of the transnational region. In order to attain this objective participants will develop new multidisciplinary skills, exercise their critical thinking abilities, gather and interpret data about the research area. The project will also create opportunities for participants to engage with local communities and stakeholders (public, private) in processes or participatory design. Special attention will be given to the historical architectural heritage of the area, preservation strategies and the role that it should play in the future of the region.

IMPACT

By coming together, the architecture schools, seen here as principal promoters of the partnership, hope to tackle the curricular gaps and mismatches that, in spite of their national or international recognition, isolate them from one another when seen strictly at a regional or transnational level.
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Moreover, by working on the teaching modules and intensive training programs with academic partners from different fields of study and research such as geography, anthropology, and social sciences, we expect to encourage excellence in teaching of architecture related topics. On the long term this type of excellence in teaching, encompassing both tutors and students, translates into later excellence within the field of architectural practice. We expect to encourage our target group of students, seen here as future young practitioners, administrators, custodians of space, to have an invigorated attitude towards the issues of territorial development and cultural heritage. Through peer to peer dissemination of skills and attitudes they will bring forth in the attention of colleagues and beneficiaries the practical knowledge that they have gained throughout the teaching program, thus increasing the general awareness of our research topic. This transfer of knowledge is however not to be seen as unilateral, as future geographers, sociologists and journalists coming from partner universities will also get acquainted with the modes of thinking and critical discourse of architects.On an institutional level we expect the the partner organisations will adopt the teaching modules (O.1) within their own curricular framework and seek toward the implementation of a future Joint Masters Program. Several steps have already been taken in this direction, with the the partners coming from the field of architecture already looking at the different national accreditation systems that have to be passed in order for such a joint program to become feasible. We expect the curricula (O.2) that will be produced as an outcome of the strategic partnership to set the ground for further investigation into this possibility, by tackling the gaps and mismatches between these  national accreditation procedures. Moreover, by bringing together not only institutions but educators and academics we expect to encourage both formal and informal cooperation on future common research projects, tackling our common ground.

Benefiting from the dissipation of academia into a territory that has remained uncharted in its possibilities, impacted local communities and their elected officials and representative bodies are expected to embrace and further encourage the collaboration with the academic field, seeking its expertise. As possible actors of urban and territorial change, the participating organisations can offer both on an institutional level as well as through their body of experts, specific aid in the elaboration of local and regional policies. On a more grass roots level the planned IP activities (C1, C2) are expectant to highlight to local untrained actors the importance of tactical and critical thinking when considering the inconsistencies of spatial edification. On a higher plane we expect that this type of horizontal contamination will foster informed and contemporary attitudes towards communal space especially in the case of administrators and policy makers.

On a regional level the project is meant to kick start academic transnational cooperation in the field of architecture for the countries resting on the border between the Balkans and Central Europe. As stated in our argument this has not been the case so far for architecture schools in the DKMT euroregion.

Our project means to address this by looking at the different values and attitudes that each partner country has not only towards the field of architectural education but towards territorial policy and urban strategic thinking. Only through such a comprehensive gaze into our common past and present can we envisage a possible common future, built on cooperation and trust. Working in a more integrated euro-regional framework, the consortium of Universities could enlarge their national as well as international footprint and stature.

For the institutions involved, we hope that by the example set by this type of project other partnership programs within the field of architecture might get off the ground. Furthermore we consider that the research topic, dealing with inconsistencies in territorial strategic thinking will provide a methodology of research and implementation of use not only for the partners involved but for other academic entities resting in similar border conditions. Once completed, our curricular model and teaching modules might serve as building blocks or alternatives for similar academic endeavors within the field of architecture.

Considering that internationally the practice of architecture encourages both practitioners as well as students to expand their knowledge through travel and work experiences, we hope to strengthen the academic mobility between our Universities. At the present moment Mobility partnerships exist between Timișoara and Novi Sad. However these have not produced the expected level of exchange between students due to a lack of common projects. We hope that this will be addressed through this cooperation and that students will develop a curiosity toward their immediate vicinity.

LTT ACTIVITIES

Both intensive learning programs (or summer schools) are thought as nodes, high density and high resolution key points in the overall program. They are built on the results of the preparation period / modules that precede them and in the same time set / calibrate the frame for the following activities to be developed.
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The activities in the two summer-schools are connected as part of one process, and undertaken by the same team of learners, which grants them continuity.

Following the way the structure of the transnational meetings and pedagogical modules is traced, the summer-schools conclude and test the previous achievements, thus the first concentrates on theory and analysis, while the second, starting from the results of the first one and developing them, focuses on design issues and project implementation strategies.

The same study area has been defined for the two summer-schools, in the region between the three borderlines, focusing on small cities, chosen from each neighbouring country, Kikinda, Jimbolia. Sannicolau Mare and Mako, and the area between them. First  summer-school will be hosted by the city of Jimbolia, while the second one by the city of Kikinda. However, in both cases, around one third of the total time is dedicated to physically exploring the whole territory.

It is considered crucial that both phases, theory and analysis on one hand, and design and implementation on the other hand, are performed and tested directly in the territory – seen as a most valuable resource to be first of all understood and only then, if necessary, shaped.

Territory, through field research and on-foot exploration becomes the focus point in both phases, constituting the opportunity to test and exercise the exploration methods and critical thinking concepts that are delivered in the theoretical modules. The conclusions and ideas that emerge are then overlapped and tested again, in the same environment that generated them. Final presentations, that overlap with two of the multiplier events, are planned where the workshops take place (Jimbolia and Kikinda), at the end of the 2 periods, aiming to attract all local relevant actors for feed-back, along with the list of guests that every partner is tracing.

Arguments above speak for the decision to locate both intensive programs in a location different than the one in which the responsible partner is located. It needs to be underlined that the structure of the Intensive Programs works is complementary and in soft opposition to what usual architecture project processes are thought as, defining an alternative standing point.

While in architecture studios the focus, in terms of allocated time and interest – around 80% – is on the proposal, which means building something, the aim for this program is to soften this proportion allowing the possibility to develop new skills and methods for the exploration and analysis phase. In consequence, the focus point and main time investment is set on gathering and interpreting information and consolidating a theoretical foundation. The design process is thought of as a consequence rather than a starting point.

On the other hand, both summer-schools aim to develop skills in communication and implementation, so another focus, in both phases, will be placed on the way questions, conclusions and possible solutions can be communicated to the local community and the relevant actors. It is considered important that the conclusions of both exploration and design processes are “returned” to the community, generating a flow of information, knowledge and feed-back that can shape a sharp result to the whole process.

In order for these purposes to be fulfilled, the partners from the fields of architecture, urban sociology, anthropology, geography and journalism will work closely to develop new skills in prospecting methods, data interpretation, design, communication and implementation strategies.

In conclusion, the two intensive programs carry most of the ingredients in common:

– they take place in the same physical territory that becomes the primary focus of the learning process;

– both work with the same team of learners from different professions and rely on developing and learning analysis and interpretation methods and skills

– are based on an input of theoretical foundations that encourages critical thinking and debate, prior to decision making

– work closely with the communities that they study both in the data collection and in returning the conclusions, generating a process of continuous feed-back

– develop skills in communication and implementation strategies, thus fulfilling the whole process, from raw data collection, through design, up to project implementation

The differences in the two intensive programs naturally emerge from their position in time and in their overall structure and objectives and are defined in the description of each of the two.

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