“The University Is Now on Air: Broadcasting Modern Architecture UK / 1975–1982” at Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal
The exhibition The University Is Now on Air: Broadcasting Modern Architecture is produced by the CCA based on the module A305, History of Architecture and Design, 1890–1939, written and produced by The Open University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom. All rights are reserved. The CCA gratefully acknowledges The Open University for their collaboration.
The University Is Now on Air: Broadcasting Modern Architecture
While higher education today is facing a crisis of access and quality, MOOCs (massive open online courses) offer a way to reach wider audiences but also raise questions about who produces knowledge and who is responsible for mass education. MOOCs are part of a long lineage of attempts to mobilize new media environments for educational purposes.
The exhibition The University Is Now on Air: Broadcasting Modern Architecture offers a close reading of a pioneering case study: A305, “History of Architecture and Design, 1890–1939”. This third-year undergraduate arts course, offered by The Open University via television and radio broadcasts between 1975 and 1982, was a radical project for sharing knowledge through the convergence of mass media and mass education.
The Open University — founded in 1969 with headquarters in Milton Keynes, UK — was a key experiment in distance and adult education, and part of the socially progressive reforms of the Labour Party between 1964 and 1970. Through courses such as A305, The Open University extended higher education beyond a typical class of students by using media as a tool to transform both the production and transmission of knowledge. A305 used publication, correspondence, and a complex system of local tutors organized in regional centres to disseminate that knowledge across an entire country.
“We are open in many ways, but first of all to people. We are open as to places. This University has no cloisters – a word meaning closed. We have no courts – or spaces enclosed by buildings. Hardly even shall we have a campus. … The rest of the University will be disembodied and air-borne. From the start, it will flow all over the United Kingdom. We are open as to methods. … Every new form of human communication will be examined to see how it can be used to raise and broaden the level of human understanding. There is no restriction on techniques. We are open, finally, to ideas.”
Geoffrey Crowther, Lord Crowther of Headlingley, first Chancellor of The Open University (1969-1972). Discourse at the first meeting of the Congregation of the Open University, July 23 1969
Higher education today is facing a crisis of access and quality; MOOCs (massive open on-line courses) offer a way to reach wider audiences but also raise questions about who produces knowledge and who is responsible for mass education. The University Is Now on Air: Broadcasting Modern Architecture attempts an archaeology of this contemporary situation through a parallel inquiry into the Open University’s televised education, and the history of modern architecture broadcast in England in the second half of the 1970s through its third-level course, A305: History of Architecture and Design, 1890–1939. The course mobilized the convergence of mass media and mass education to broadcast modern architecture to an audience far broader than its enrolled students, reaching BBC primetime evening audiences and the constituents of the architecture culture: practitioners, educators, and students. This overexposure of education in public media transformed both the transmission of knowledge and the knowledge being transmitted, and radically opened up its means of dissemination.
The exhibition contrasts A305’s historical account of modern architecture with its context in the 1970s, a moment in which architecture itself was in great transformation. It also recreates the shared yet domestic experience of a door-to-door university education directly in the home, and offers insight into the machinery, logistics, and infrastructure required to bring about this educational innovation.
The Open University was a blended system of higher education for adults. It combined radio and TV broadcasts with mail delivered study materials, in-person tutorials, and residential summer sessions on conventional university campuses. It welcomed everybody irrespective of educational background and provided interdisciplinary foundation courses to foster a common denominator of academic preparation across a very diverse student body. The Open University’s concept of “openness” contrasts with that of Umberto Eco, as articulated in his Open Work, roughly from the same generation. While Eco was interested in ambiguity through a proliferation of meanings, the Open University was interested in opening the doors and walls of higher education and opening up access to knowledge. Broadcasting education, however, implied reducing ambiguity for the sake of effectiveness. This central contrast provides an extraordinary opportunity to analyze the role of mass media and the university in the transformation of architecture culture, and for a close-up on the Labourist radical, political, and social project of sharing knowledge through open-channel mass media.
The University Is Now on Air: Broadcasting Modern Architecture is also a book. It will explore the Open University as a critical point of convergence between mass media and mass education, focusing in particular on the course A305, History of Architecture and Design 1890-1939, as a reference point for current discourse on open-source and online educational models. The publication will include contributions by Joaquim Moreno that analyze different aspects of A305; five conversations between Joaquim Moreno and key actors of the creation and production of the course—Stephen Bayley, Tim Benton, Adrian Forty, Nick Levinson, and Joseph Rykwert; and four essays that frame broader questions of architectural historiography, media history, and the pedagogical and political circumstances of the period—written respectively by Joseph Bedford (Virginia Tech), Ben Highmore (University of Sussex), Laura Carter (Cambridge University), and Nick Beech (Queen Mary University of London). A co-publication with Jap Sam Books, designed by Jonathan Hares (Lausanne and London). Available Spring 2018.
The exhibition presents a series of oral history films featuring protagonists of the arts course A305, History of Architecture and Design, 1890–1939, produced by the CCA and directed by Shahab Mihandoust. The films include interviews between Joaquim Moreno, the curator of the exhibition, and Stephen Bayley, Tim Benton, Adrian Forty, and Nick Levinson.
The exhibition and the films, available on CCA’s Youtube Channel (CCAchannel) will be a point of departure for a roaming public conversation on the relationship between media, technology, architecture, and public education, which will continue through 2018.
Prior to the opening in Montreal, the oral history films premiered on 28 October 2017in Lisbon at the CCB Garagem Sul-Architecture Exhibitions, as part of the program organised by CCA c/o Lisboa.
CCA c/o Lisboa is the first of a series of worldwide, temporary initiatives carried out by the CCA, which are locally anchored and seek to define new thematic explorations and broaden collaborations responding to different contexts. The film premiere was followed by a conversation on how the internet and new media are making us rethink education, communication, and cultural production today, with the participation of António Guerreiro (teacher, literary critic, and newspaper columnist at Público), Ana Naomi de Sousa (journalist, documentary filmmaker, and media collaborator at Forensic Architecture), and André Tavares (architect and CCB-Garagem Sul Programmer), and moderated by CCA c/o Lisboa (Lucinda Correia and Ana Jara). The recordings of the conversation will be published on CCA’s Youtube Channel (CCAchannel) in December 2018.
Broadcasting A305: 24 episodes on cca.qc.ca/broadcastingA305
In the context of the CCA online issue “A history of references”, the CCA is revisiting the twenty-four television episodes of the course by publishing one per week over the course of the exhibition, to invite reflection on the timeliness of authoring new histories and what it means to disseminate these histories in an always-particular moment in time.
Between 1975 and 1982, The Open University broadcast a series of televised courses on the genealogy of the modern movement: A305, History of Architecture and Design 1890–1939. Through twenty-four programs aired on BBC 2, the course team aimed to offer students and viewers a critical understanding of the intentions and views of the world that fuelled the modern movement, and to present some of the alternative traditions that flourished alongside it. The course nevertheless avoided the more dismissive positions of its contemporaries, while engaging political issues of its day such postwar urban planning and the housing question.
at Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal
until 1 April 2018