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Confirming Conformity? Revisiting Creativity in the Design Studio

Leonidas Koutsoumpos, University of Edinburgh

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, during the 14-16 century there was considerable confusion between the verbs conform and confirm. This paper will play with/against the conformist notion that sees ‘creativity’ and ‘conformity’ as antithetical and exclusive to each other and it will propose a scheme that ties the two terms closely together.
     Architectural design education is expected to teach creativity. In the design studio the students are supposed not merely to learn how to form space, how to shape places or how to fashion buildings according to a pre-existing pattern. We, as teachers, have the responsibility to break this conformity, make them think innovatively, have a fresh view on the built environment, be able to design a world even better than before, a world that possibly we cannot even imagine.
At the very same time, though, this teaching breakthrough has to take place through pre-existing institutions, the universities, which have established bureaucratic structures and teaching methodologies that go back at least one thousand years. Moreover, the design studio, one of the most recent additions to the academic body (dating back only a couple of hundreds, from Beaux Art to Bauhaus and beyond), has acquired as well a certain structure: tutorials, reviews, crits etc. Even we, the design tutors, have to teach inside barriers, bounded by a horizon that we rarely overcome: our own educational experience.
     Apparently, we are required to live out a paradox: a teacher who already ‘conforms’ (to an established career stage) is expected to teach a student how to be creative. How can a chained wo/man teach another how to be free?
     This paper suggests that the only way to break this Gordian knot is to challenge the established relationship between the concepts of conformity and creativity. Conformity and creativity coexist in a constant strife that, as Heidegger puts it in the Origin of the Work of Art, ‘carries the opponents into the provenance of their unity by virtue of their common ground’. A strife that makes the educational procedure to be what it is: a tragic and at the very same time wonderful relationship between two persons with a common aim: aletheia (revelation).
     Finally, to the question which this conference poses - ‘Creativity or Conformity?’ - this paper offers the answer: ‘Creativity and Conformity’. In this way, it proposes a shift of interest from the individual concepts to the relationship between them.
“the antidote to the historical is called - the unhistorical and suprahostorical. ...With the word ‘the unhistorical’ I designate the art and power of forgetting and of enclosing oneself within a bounded horizon; …” Nietzsche, Friedrich, On the Uses and Disadvantages of History in Life p. 120 [italics in the original, my bold]

Author Bio(s)

Leonidas Koutsoumpos (1976) is a certified Architect Engineer, graduated from the National Technical University of Athens in Greece, where he also accomplished a postgraduate degree in theory and philosophy of architecture. As a student he was awarded various distinctions for his design and theoretical work and his web page theoretical work on Connected Localities was exhibited in the last Architectural Biennale in Venice, as part of a collective class work. He has been practicing architecture in Greece both as a member of architectural offices and with his own projects. In 2004 he was awarded a fellowship by the Greek State Scholarships Foundation to complete his Doctoral Degree in Architectural Studies, at the School of Arts Culture and Environment of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. His research explores architectural design education in terms of philosophical Ethics and he has been working as design tutor both in Athens and in Edinburgh.