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Past Winners of the Teacher of the Week

Markus Breitschmid


The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Markus Breitschmid, associate professor of Architecture + Design, for engaging his students in practical learning experiences through incorporating the use of the tools and instruments of his discipline and profession.

Specific to Breitschmid’s large lecture courses ARCH 3115: History of Architecture I [enrollment: 135 students] and ARCH 3116: History of Architecture II [enrollment: 110 students] (for which he was awarded a grant from Virginia Tech’s Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research, or CIDER) he emphasizes that students are not going to be trained architecture historians, but practicing architects. Consequently, as architects always do, the students will contemplate historical events not with literal accuracy, but as a quasi-timeless allegory.

Thus, the most basic techniques of historiography, such as chronological succession or the historical process that characterizes the present as either the natural or inevitable result of the interaction of autonomous historical forces, is not in the foreground. Rather, history, for architects, is often a vertical system of correspondences, a projection in depth, and an associative, mnemonic relationship with knowledge. This “supra-historical” relationship with knowledge is not archival in the historian’s sense but it is also not a-historical, an annihilation of knowledge. To a certain extent, it is an attempt to transform historical facts into an entirely different mode of inquiry best understood by the term “genealogy.” Genealogy does not reveal historical essences lying behind things or events, but reveals the “secret” of fabricated, man-made ideas. The important outcome of this approach is that only as such historicized figures do architectural ideas and concepts become valuable as objects of an architect’s design investigation.

Professor Markus Breitschmid practices a model of learning in which knowledge--which depends on direct engagement with the object (e.g., design) and involves the faculties of sensibility, imagination, and understanding--can arrive at non-relativist aesthetic judgments and, furthermore, is subject to teaching, learning, and discovery. Upon his arrival at Virginia Tech, Breitschmid augmented the courses in history of architecture with respect to how historical and theoretical content of architecture is taught and learned. The course adapts a learning-based model of the design laboratory for a course that was traditionally conducted as a lecture-only class. Enrolled students are discovering how architecture and architects contribute to the discovery of knowledge through a model that is in the realm of the aesthetic, and challenges the prevalent notion that knowledge can only be obtained by positivist endeavor of rationalization. Because the course material is encountered not solely as a list of historical facts, but as information and limitations that influence architectural designs, the course offers a more accurate contribution of the historical and theoretical branches of architecture to each student’s professional growth. The enrolled students conduct archival documentation in the library, reconstruct and analyze architectural conditions by means of drawings, write and communicate descriptions of design situations, and translate discoveries from one media to another. Each student is encouraged to directly engage with the object of architecture using the tools and instruments of the discipline and profession of architecture. Students are encouraged not to learn “an antiquarian kind of history” but to historicize architecture by means of research, classification, and theory.

Professor Breitschmid has been teaching in architecture schools on a full-time basis for the past 17 years. For his teaching efforts he has been granted awards at three different universities: the University of North Carolina Board of Governors Teaching Award (2000), the 2003 Visiting Historian for Architecture and Urbanism professorship at Cornell University, a grant from CIDER (2006), and a Virginia Tech College of Architecture and Urban Studies Teaching Excellence Award (2009). A qualitative measurable outcome of Breitschmid’s teaching is the fact that the related Student Performance Criteria (SPC), as defined by the National Architectural Accreditation Board (NAAB), jumped from being labeled a “concern” (program accreditation visit in 2000) to “met with distinction” (program accreditation visit in 2006).


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