A Gust of Myrtle Trees and Other Curious Proposals: Engaging Studio-Focussed Students with History and Theory

Eugenie Keefer Bell
2011 Conference

Students who enrol in architecture, design or visual art programs usually expect to become creative practitioners in their chosen field. The focus of their interests is typically the studio component, frequently followed by an interest in technological and digital aspects of their studio practice. Rarely do they intend to become historians, theorists or scholars. For this reason, it can be challenging to engage student interest and excitement in history and theory, especially at the early stages of their studies. Incoming student knowledge ranges from a relatively sophisticated understanding of social, political, geographic, architecture, design or art history to those who think Paris is the capital of Rome, and the Sydney Opera House was designed in 1850.

This paper examines strategies and programs designed to shift undergraduate architecture students’ initial perceptions and scepticism regarding the difficulty, relevance or purpose of studies of the history and theory of their selected and related fields of practice. It is based on the author’s experiences developing architecture, design and art history / theory studies for studio-based programs in several Australian universities. It also draws on the work of Biggs and Tang, Toohey, Ramsden, Pallasmaa and other writers.

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About the author

Dr Eugenie Keefer Bell, Associate Professor of Architecture, has lectured at the University of Canberra since 2001, and previously held academic positions in Western Australia, Tasmania and California. She completed Bachelor and Masters degrees in San Diego, California, a PhD in Architecture and Fine Arts at UWA, and a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education at the University of Canberra. Her research interests include the architecture and design history/theory of Japan, Australia, Europe and the United States, as well as research into learning and teaching in architecture and design. She has held fellowships, grants and residencies for her studio practice in jewellery and metal, and has exhibited in Australia, the USA, Europe, South America and Japan. Her work is held in public collections including the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American Art, the Houston Museum of Fine Art, the National Gallery of Australia and the Art Gallery of Western Australia. In 2006, she received the ACUADS Distinguished Teaching Award and in 2011 was made a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Architects.