“ARCH 101 Basic Design” is the title of the introductory course offered to the first-year students in the METU Faculty of Architecture (Middle East Technical University, Ankara). A basic knowledge of color, form, and materials is at the core of this preliminary course that has been taught continuously since the fall of 1956. Although instructors have changed over time, student outcomes of the course remained unaffected, and regardless of the complexities or variety in studio assignments, student work has unquestionably demonstrated a high level of quality and consistency.
Since the school’s establishment, the structure of the basic/preliminary design course has reflected a strong Bauhaus influence. However, except for a draft written in the fall of 1970, this influence has never been made explicit.1 Although at a later point the tools of rational thinking and problem-solving were sought in Gestalt psychology and system theory, the teaching procedure employed were always congruent with Bauhaus introductory education principles. Rather than directly implementing these principles, the course has integrated a critique of the Bauhaus training method. This critical stand is also rooted in the very nature of modernism’s ideals.2
The METU Faculty of Architecture was the first department established at the brand-new school, which was founded in 1956 in the capital of the Turkish Republic. The goal was to contribute to the development of Turkey and the surrounding countries in the Middle East, Balkans, and Caucasus region, by creating a skilled workforce in the natural and social sciences, becoming a model for “the new modern society.”3 By definition, it had to be new and therefore could not be the imitation of an existing École. Nor could the education be based on any historical formation, even if it did incorporate some pedagogical methods first developed at the Bauhaus (Figure 1).
Although no references were listed in the written documents, the conceptualization of Basic Design was larger than design as the process of creating, executing, or constructing according to plan: It included research into mathematics (geometry and set theory), biology (growth and form), and philosophy (phenomenology and structuralism). Referring to the course, Türel Saranlı said: “There was nothing basic about design.” It was the foundations of design and the term “basic” was simply “an American mistranslation.”4 The “Vorkurs” lent itself to the architecture program of the introductory course at METU un-bound by time and context. It focused on the basics/fundamentals of design, materials, tools, skills and problem-solving strategies, and, in Margret Kentjens-Craig’s words, “it was built upon a universal language of geometric abstraction that gave students the vocabulary and methods to succeed in whatever workshop or design assignment they were involved. The fundamentals do not get old. And the search for the truth doesn't either.”5
Practical and theoretical studies were carried on simultaneously in order to release students’ creative powers, to help them grasp the physical nature of materials and the basic laws of design. Concentration on any particular stylistic movement was from the beginning deliberately avoided. Observation and representation—with the intention of revealing the desired relationship between form and content—defined the limits of the preliminary course. As a technical university, the acquisition of technical knowledge (Werkmeister) was an obligatory part of METU’s pedagogic objectives, while stylistic discussions were consciously avoided, aesthetics (Formmeister) having been conceived as to the detriment of student development and collated to a historically bounded and Bauhaus-based modernist taste.
When Frederick Alois (Fritz) Janeba (1905-1983) was appointed as a visiting scholar by United Nations-Paris Headquarters, arriving in Ankara in August 1962 to work as a Professor of Art and Architecture, the school had offered a four-year Bachelor of Architecture degree for six years. The language of instruction was English; the dean was a Yale graduate;6 all the senior and junior members of the teaching staff had studied and worked abroad.7 Although the first graduation ceremony was held in 1960, the students were traveling to Europe and the United States on state and international scholarships and were also working in architectural offices in Northern Europe during the school breaks.8 Before Janeba’s arrival, the general curriculum of the school had already been formalized completely. Both architecture and city planning majors shared a common first year education, including the Basic Design course. This was first conducted by Thomas B.A. Godfrey and Marvin Sevely. These two visiting scholars, later joined by William Cox, were also UN recruits, invited from the University of Pennsylvania to become the founding administrator (Godfrey) and first instructors of the school.
The Bauhaus impact in the United States has been studied extensively, particularly in the last three decades. However, the school’s influence outside well-known incubators for Bauhaus ideas, such as Harvard, MIT and IIT still requires further exploration. If the Bauhaus heritage found “a fertile ground in America,” as stated by Kentjens-Craig,9 its seeds spread to Anatolia by way of this group of relatively unknown, second-hand Bauhaus-trained American architects. To say the least, both Godfrey and Sevely, and the other visiting lecturers sent during the early years of the school by the UN, were architects trained in the tenets of modernism. It would not be wrong to say that with the aid of these American and North European visiting architects/instructors, the Bauhaus took quite a detour to reach to the METU Faculty of Architecture. (Although the Bauhaus was not unknown in Turkey prior to the founding of METU: Bauhaus affiliate Bruno Taut, together with several German modernist colleagues, had fled to Turkey in 1936. Taut won a number of commissions from the Turkish Ministry of Education for educational buildings in Ankara and Trabzon before his death in 1938.)
In the first catalogue of the school, Godfrey described the faculty’s essential goal as that of introducing students to “basic methods and a creative approach to the problems of the designer.”10 The course was conducted to develop an awareness of the human, technical and aesthetic components of architecture. Godfrey and his colleagues believed that “creativity stems not from inspiration nor taste alone, nor from classical sources, but rather from the capacity of the designer to mould the many technical and human components of the environment into a meaningful and imaginative relationship.”11 The scale of the design problems defined ranged from the design of a knife to the perception of a regional plan.12 Taking over the course following his arrival, Janeba supported the main principles of the course. Soon, however, he became critical, particularly of the first-year education. He stated that the students were unable to deal with scientific methods and lacked “Basic Scientific Skills.”13 For him, architecture and design were separate, “ordered crafts.”14 Architects and all the designers were placed between “two poles”: “On one side the artistic creation … feeling … and at the other side end the authority of mind … reason … forming a counter balance.”15 The Basic Design course had to be conducted in such a way that it assisted students in finding “the spiritual and material basis of rhythmic creation according to certain intrinsic and definitive laws, to form and awaken the mind and educate the senses.”16 The principle of complementing academic studies with working experiences had to be introduced and practical instruction had to be accompanied by an elementary workshop experience. Workshops were at the center of both the curriculum and the architectural program of the METU Faculty of Architecture.
The general structure of the introductory course and the assignments given by first-year instructors during the early years of the school are of great significance in tracing the Bauhaus influence. During his stay in METU, Janeba did not unveil the origins of his education “method,” not even in the report that he submitted to UN headquarters before leaving Ankara. Although he started his brief statement with a discussion of the “Idea of the Kindergarten Design,” he referred neither to the nineteenth century kindergarten education theories nor to its Modern formulation in the Bauhaus.17
“The method is to keep, in the work of the grown-up, the sincerity of emotion, the truth of observation, the fantasy, and the creativeness of the child.”18
Janeba’s Basic Design course was divided into four stages: the introductory or exploratory stage; the discerning approach; striving for an intellectual and technical background; and, finally, the creation of an architectural vision. The first stage was at the core of the basic design education and was composed of two main exercises: doodling for “relaxation” (as Janeba put it), which would provide the opportunity for experimenting (presented as “the Artist’s prerogative”), and a more conscious drawing effort in which students were ordered to create a line drawing composed of perpendicular and horizontal lines changing direction at right angles. The third assignment of the first stage, given to the Basic Design students in the fall of 1962 was entitled “Introduction to Color.”19 The students were given three basic geometric shapes—circle, square and triangle—and asked to draw on a sheet of standard size white paper a circle with a 15cm diameter, a square measuring 15cm on each side and an equilateral triangle, also measuring 15 cm per side (Figure 2a-2b).