Karen Fairbanks

Feb 2021

an absolutely terrifyingly awful human, demeaning. From hell.

May 2009

This is more of a review of the architecture department at Barnard, but because she is the head of the department, I will write the review here. If you want to see yourself in the architectural profession and want to eventually go to graduate school in architecture, DO NOT major in architecture at Barnard. If you want to get an undergraduate degree, transfer to Cornell or RISD or wherever for the 5 year program, go to Grad school for 1 more year, or major in some other things, take a few portfolio buildings classes after college, and apply for the 3 year program. DO NOT MAJOR IN ARCHITECTURE HERE. You’ll end up having to do the 3 year program anyway because you aren’t graduating with a B.Arch, maybe if you are lucky you get to advanced placement, but then AP is more competitive which lowers the likelihood of your getting into prestigious schools, so the best way is to get a high GPA, build a strong portfolio after college, and then apply. There are a few reasons why this department is not very effective and is a waste of time. I will list them: 1. The faculty is not inspiring. 2. You probably have a lot of requirements and want to explore many things. 3. Doing this program does not give you a strong portfolio and it doesn’t equip you with the solid skills that should give you confidence to go after internships in architecture. 4. Without the #3, you mind as well major in something else because you’ll end up having to apply for the 3 year program anyway. In other words, the program is a waste of time. Major in environmental science, major in math, major in languages. Major in anything else, because as a non-major when you get an internship in architecture, you will start at the SAME PLACE as the architecture majors of Barnard/Columbia, but with more solid education in another field, which will make you a more interesting person, having not dawdled your time and having given yourself a wider background. 1. The faculty is not inspiring. Truly. If you look at the department in culpa, notice that the percentage of instructors that get silver or gold stars is very small, compared to other departments. In fact, many people in the faculty are a turnoff – They, and maybe other students who are in denial, will try to stress to you a lot of theory without teaching you solid skills. But when it comes to application, they are not very clear. They will say something like “what the teachers teach you is something higher than just computer skills.” But what exactly is it? Having read a lot of architecture blogs, I hear the same argument. But the argument is very ambiguous, often incomplete without support, and downright wrong. In the end, you can have your abstract theories, but the execution has to be beautiful, and they don’t teach you this very important bit. I will go into it later, but its like having a dressmaker talk about the theory of making dresses but they don’t teach you how to drape / sew, all the technical details that allows you to make good projects. You mind as well say you are a musician but you can't play any instruments. Often those designers lack credibility because they cannot walk the walk, execute what they preach. Yes, theory is important, but in the end you have to produce, but these instructors leave you hanging. It is like trying to explain why an Egon Schiele painting is beautiful. It just is. The ambiguity / lack of instruction in execution really does the students a disservice, and it is truly truly terrible. 2. You have a lot of requirements. In addition to the assignments being not good, you have other commitments. What happens is you end up dividing your time, making half-baked incomplete sloppy projects. This may be more of a critique on how the department fits into your whole curriculum. So you read 100 pages for CC a night, but you go to studio for 2 or 3 hours. You should either concentrate on one or the other but you end up with mediocre grades in both classes because of the time commitment issue. So the incomplete sloppy project is a waste of time, because that is a few hours that you could have committed to writing a good paper, since the project assignment sucked to begin with. It cant go into your portfolio because it isn’t strong enough. And then this decision works against you because your GPA isn’t very high. 3. Even if you ditched your CC paper and you committed all your time to your project, it still wont teach you those computer skills that you should have if you are an architecture major. Some firms may wonder, if you are an architecture major, why don’t you know autoCAD or Revit? It is very puzzling. It is still very puzzling. Sadly, architecture students at Barnard/Columbia undergrad probably don't even know what revit is. I started the studio classes during my sophomore year, and of the people in that first studio, even the most talented person is now pursuing a profession in another field. Jarring isn’t it? Yes, this program somehow weeds out not the worst, but also the very best, most talented people. None of the people are pursuing architecture. I suppose what remains is necessarily the most talented but the most thick-skinned who has the ability to tolerate a lot of the pretentiousness that goes on, the fakers, the brown-nosers, and they in turn propel pretentiousness in the field, nurture pretentious teachers, creating a vicious cycle. Architecture is functional but you cannot deny the aesthetic visual element, and in the end, it is a lot about that aesthetic beauty. What happens when theory takes over, ("this is beautiful because blahblahblah,") is that it becomes very full of B.S. because you end up having architects that don't have that eye / sense of proportion teaching uninspiring classes that lack any substance. Yes, endurance is crucial, and maybe in the end it is life, maybe those people would have been weeded out sooner or later, but the department seems to almost make an obstacle for you. Education, at least at this level (yes, we were not med students) should really nurture and inspire students and the teachers should try to bring the very best of their students, (in a tangible form, like a solid project). Solid projects are after all, are all that the graduate schools, firms, clients are able to see. Many of the people that left the field are hardworking, sensible, high achievers. The department and their curriculum is just not effective at bringing those qualities out in students, or helpful in any way for producing a strong portfolio. The architecture department is truly doing a disservice to the students by its mere existence. I didn't know where to write this review, but I wanted to write it for the future students so they won't waste their time. The program should either be abolished, or should reconsider the welfare of the students, the annual school tuition, whether or not the courses equip the students with confidence and competence to land a job/be admitted to graduate school. $50,000 a year is not a small investment. The school should reprioritize their values, and think beyond the easy-way out for instructors’ and their ability to make a living in the field.