Professor Oya Atalay Franck is Professor of Architecture and Dean of the School of Architecture, Design and Civil Engineering at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in Winterthur.
SNV Story No. 8: Laying a methodological-conceptual foundation
Design, structural calculations, choice of materials, construction phase – until a house is built, many professions work hand in hand. Standards play an absolutely central or a rather subordinate role, depending on the discipline. Professor Oya Atalay Franck is Professor of Architecture and Dean of the School of Architecture, Design and Civil Engineering at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in Winterthur. She shares with us how the topic of standards is currently woven into architectural and civil engineering education and where she sees potential for improvement.
Why are standards important in architectural and civil engineering education at the ZHAW?
On the one hand, because they are important in professional practice and for the construction industry – our training must always be oriented towards practical issues and include them in the curriculum. And secondly, for the same reasons as are important in other economic and technological sectors: standards ensure the interoperability of products and services; they enable improvements in efficiency; they provide quality benchmarks; and, above all, they serve to ensure the safety of the users of the corresponding objects – regardless of whether these are buildings or civil engineering structures, equipment and machinery or vehicles, etc.
How has the curriculum regarding standardization knowledge changed in recent years?
Standards are often a niche subject in university curricula, especially in architectural education. This also applies to the school for which I am the dean. There are several reasons for this. Our goal must be to make standards work a natural, fully integrated part of the teaching. This starts with creating an understanding of the importance and benefits of standards, especially in connection with future-oriented topics such as the recycling of building materials and components. In civil engineering, the situation is somewhat different, because structural analysis, materials science or building physics, for example, cannot be taught at all without including the topic of standards.
How do you assess the students’ interest in creating standards and their concrete application in practice?
For a budding architect or civil engineer, standards are not a very attractive topic because they seem to stand in the way of creative development in the profession – at least, that is the perception. The importance and usefulness of standards probably only becomes clear with increasing practical experience. That is why it is important that we cleverly «package» the topic of standardization in the curriculum, for example by making it an element of the design studio or project work.
What gaps do you think urgently need to be closed in standardization education?
The standards system is enormously diverse and comprehensive. There is just no way that the entire knowledge can be taught. It also makes little sense to teach factual knowledge of standards because they are constantly being developed. Instead, the focus should be on standards systematics and knowledge acquisition, for example: What are the standards? How are they structured? Where can I find the relevant information to be able to search systematically in case of problems?
Who do you see as responsible for anchoring standardization knowledge even more firmly into the curriculum? What efforts are maybe already planned at the ZHAW or at other levels?
I see everyone who is aware of the importance of the issue – including myself – as having a responsibility! At the SNV, we are in the process of discussions with all the universities of applied sciences and gathering the needs of the institutions in order to develop a strategy and concrete measures on this basis.
In your role as President of the EAAE, do you see EU countries where standardization knowledge is taught more effectively and more practically than in Switzerland?
In my perception, the situation is similar in many countries: standardization knowledge is low on the scale of attractiveness for both teachers and learners. First of all, there are quite pragmatic reasons for this. Training time is also a scarce resource over which a wide variety of subjects are fighting – creative design and construction (the «supreme discipline»), architectural and art history, materials science, building physics, construction economics, construction process management, etc. Therefore, as already indicated, it makes little sense to try to impart standardization knowledge on a broad factual basis. Rather, the aim is to create a targeted understanding of the benefits of standards, i.e. to lay a methodological-conceptual foundation, on the basis of which professionals can further educate themselves as needed through self-study or courses.
Professor Oya Atalay Franck is an architect and architectural historian. She is Professor of Architecture and Dean of the School of Architecture, Design and Civil Engineering at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in Winterthur. She has taught architecture and civil engineering, urban design and architectural theory at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York; Bilkent University Ankara; and ETH Zurich. She serves as an expert on various scientific committees, including the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), and represents universities on the SNV Board. She is the President of the European Association for Architectural Education (EAAE).