top of page

ART AND SPACE. Study Program Curriculum for Interdisciplinary Space Design Education (BA/MA/PhD) at Zurich University of the Arts


ARTS and SPACE is a project commissioned by the Zurich University of the Arts to design a new study program that involves all five school departments (Music, Theater, Cultural Mediations and Design) involving a major-minor system, to educate a new form of space expert or a space agent that can activate space transformation through the arts, culture and design summarized in five actions.
The program is designed to interweave the existing study programs allowing the possibility to maximize the current curriculums and allowing students to customize their interdisciplinary profiles.

The project results from a two-year participation program with the faculty members of all five departments.
Below is an extract from "The Knowledge of the Form" published in "Art, Self & System", edited by Donatella Bernardi and Published by SternBerg Press in 2019.

The topological configuration of the Zurich University of the Arts offers the possibility to reflect upon a new space agent, one who is able to interpret the role of culture in society and move within the different aspects of cultural production. The new space agent is able to draw new "cartographies" (using the analogy that Deleuze used for Foucault) and, beyond that, to build them—in other words, be someone who can not only analyze, interpret, and explore the relationships running within the built environment but also bring forth these relationships in the form of cultural productions. The education of the new space agent reflects and repositions the role of the arts in contemporary space production and development, engaging different cultural practices. To create this new professional and cultural figure, an Arts and Space program that overlaps and intersects the current disciplinary studies is suggested as a diagram that further activates the role of ZHdK as an institution creating cultural impact. The program can be created through the following five moves.

The curriculum could interweave the didactic offerings of ZHdK, leveraging the current institutional structure of five departments—Design (DDE), Art and Media (DKM), Music (DMU), Cultural Analysis (DKV), and Performing Arts and Film (DDK). With the help of a guide (the "librarian" of the new format for cultural knowledge production), each student would compose a "custom" curriculum that activates the five departments' educational offerings that address space challenges.
Students will be helped to select among the departments' courses, building a curriculum focusing on their chosen methods and interests with regard to the relationship between the arts (the tools) and space (the goals). This approach would allow the formation and profiling of different "spatial agents" with competences that would allow them to interpret, imagine, design, and build a culture of space in
all its different aspects. The semesters would therefore have different focuses, such as the tools, methods, and goals.
Using the metaphor of weaving, if we consider the curricula of the five departments as the warp—the "threads" that run parallel to one another throughout the semesters—then the Arts and Space program would run horizontally within them, and students could profit from the different departments like a weft thread that interweaves with the other departments. The result could be seen as a fabric that defines the type of expertise needed to operate in space. This should enhance a generative approach, in which different attitudes and points of view on the relationship between arts and space can be cultivated through the acquisitions of tools and the definition of goals. In addition, the program would provide its own mandatory courses (which would not be available within the other curricula) and share them with the other departments as an exchange of expertise.

One key expertise that must be cultivated within the spatial agents that we are forming is the capability to teach and to transfer knowledge as a form of social skill. A space agent
today needs to know how to speak different professional languages and learn how to disseminate the knowledge in the form of presentation, in the form of workshops, in the form of mentoring, in the form of management. Students will receive credits by assisting other students and mentors during the didactic process. This could take place at different levels and degrees of engagement. However, MA students should have the possibility of teaching younger students of the BA program and be able to earn monetary compensation or academic credits (ECTS) for their service. This move would horizontalize the didactic process, expand cross-departmental networks among the students, and develop a more diffuse and wide-ranging learning experience.

Education is conceived as social capital that it is not necessarily achieved within a fixed time frame. The program of three years for the BA and two years for the MA can be translated into "experiences" measured in ECTS points. This approach—allowing education to be considered as a form of construction—offers students greater flexibility in investing in their education. Students could acquire points by enrolling in workshops propaedeutically to obtain credits, thereby earning different Bildung and Weiterbildung formats such as the CAS, DAS, MBA, BAS, BA, MAS, and MA. The different educational titles could be acquired step by step within an open-frame timetable, allowing students to pursue their careers with autonomy while activating the different educational offerings of ZHdK when it is most needed or most convenient for each individual academic career.

The financial commitment could therefore be attenuated, being activated "on demand." Flexibility in regard to the acquisition of academic certifications brings with it a flexible economical commitment, allowing students to invest their economic resources on their own schedule. The educational membership formula—a kind of "subscription" to the program—enhances the possibility of engaging different modules as desired. With this approach, the ZHdK's services and facilities can be seen as a form of "library" where artistic knowledge is produced through teaching activities, the infrastructure (museum, library, workshops, labs), and the networks (among students, with outside companies, with guests). The membership structure could make it possible to expand the network to a greater number of individuals than are formally enrolled in the program.

The BA and MA programs are potentially differentiated strategically with regard to two core goals. The BA program focuses on the acquisition of tools, conceptual capacity, and practical expertise. In contrast, the MA program focuses on the strategic use of the tools to accomplish a goal (poetic, artistic, technical, etc.). Based on this general assumption, each student could define one "major" course per semester, chosen from among the five departments, which would involve a project that is completed within the semester. Based on the choice of the major course, as well as on the approach that students choose to take, a selection of "minor" courses can be determined in order to complete the semester experience. The choice of the major during the study curriculum will define the specific profile of each candidate. A student could earn, for example, an MA in arts and space by taking one major in product, two majors in theater, and one major in curating (a total of four majors), along with a cluster of minors that complete the educational experience toward the definition of this specific professional artistic profile.

This short contribution reflects upon the opportunity to consider the education of a new kind of spatial agent who operates beyond disciplines and understands space as a cultural artifact. I describe this field of operation as the twofold knowledge of the form, and I call this practice the art of project making.
This knowledge allows for the induction of social change, as it implies the possibility of establishing new alliances and creating new relationships among the different parts involved—physical forms, built spaces, objects, and their uses—and the different spaces in which they operate. I propose to interpret forms as devices and diagrams as a design tool to create them. Moreover, I posit that the aggregate of this cultural, spatial knowledge can be framed as a culture. To elucidate this argument, I referenced Reyner Banham's metaphors for the two architectural archetypes— the hut (the hard culture of the built environment) and the bonfire (the soft culture of the immaterial forms of living together). The knowledge of the form implemented by the cultural space agent operates between these two realms. On the one hand, it can operate on the physical forms of the built environment; on the other, it can operate on their uses or in
their programs, bringing into relationship their forms and uses. By capitalizing on the infrastructure, knowledge, and competences that exist in the Zurich University of the Arts, we can give rise to a culture of space and educate a new type of space agent by elaborating a program that interweaves the university's five departments and activates them in this field of applied artistic research. This culture of space would
enhance the active role of the building and the institution that it contains, increasing its power as a cultural device for developing— and possibly even transforming—the city.


Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) 


The Knowledge of the Form. An educational Program Proposal. In A. Bernardi (editor), "Art, Self & System", StenbergPress and Zurich University of the Arts,  Berlin and Zurich, 2019. 

Download the full article here. 

bottom of page