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Does architectural education need an overhaul?

Architectural education must adapt to the needs of a rapidly changing profession, writes Christine Murray

Does the Part 1/2/3 structure of architectural education need an overhaul?

The shape and duration of qualification is an oft recurring debate, from how it affects women in architecture to whether it accurately prepares students for practice. But action has become more urgent, with tuition fees of £9,000 per year, the difficult job market, and the RIBA salary bands stalled at £17-21,000 for a Part 1, £23-27,000 for Part 2s, and £30-34,000 for Part 3 graduates.

There is also the question of whether architecture students are being adequately prepared for life in modern practice. I asked associate director Susie Le Good for her opinion on students applying for work at AHMM and was surprised to hear that some of them can’t draw well enough on computer to be seriously considered for a job. ‘They come in with beautifully hand-drawn portfolios,’ said Le Good. ‘But they can’t draw in 3D or design on computer.’ Surely this is negligence on the part of the schools, for misleading students into thinking that practices value penmanship over creative minds with computer skills.

The other concern - heard most recently on a visit to the University of Sheffield last week - is that schools don’t encourage enough collaboration among students, and churn out too many iconoclastic sole practitioners. The call is for more team-based working, but also to encourage collaboration with other disciplines.

Paul Finch’s recent column (AJ 25.10.12) on the late Ted Happold’s combined architecture and engineering programme at the University of Bath - whose alumni include Patrick Bellew of Atelier Ten and Peter Clegg of Feilden Clegg Bradley - discussed the merits of this combined course, concluding that perhaps Happold’s approach failed because the programme was neither one thing, nor another.

What is clear is that architectural education must adapt, and quickly, to the needs of a vastly changing and increasingly disparate profession, divided between small businesses and large collaborative teams, between specialist practices and generalists, and increasingly, between design architects and delivery architects.

The AJ has agreed to act as a forum for this debate for the Built Environment Education (BEE) taskforce, which is collecting views on the future of architectural education with a view to proposing radical change. BEE’s pan-industry thinktank is spearheaded by Ryder Architecture with representatives from Arup, The What Now? Collaborative, the Bartlett, Strathclyde University, KPMG, Laing O’Rourke and the University of Bath. I urge students, academics and especially practicing architects to get involved by visiting TheAJ.co.uk/students and joining the AJ’s LinkedIn group to add their voice to the debate.

Does architectural education need to change, and if so, how? Please share your view.

christine.murray@emap.com

Readers' comments (4)

  • Will the cost of architectural education lead to the reintroduction of apprenticeships?.....hmm produced some pretty good architects in the past.... So why not?
    (Maybe) Because learning on the job will not teach critical thinking, and architects now need to interpret and comment on a world more complex than Hawksmoor's.....furthermore one of the great gifts of architectural education is learning to think.
    So, how about a 10 year process to becoming an architect. Year 1, drafting (cos lets face it, we've all had to deal with part 2 grads who can't draw a section), year 2 cultural studies. Then an 8 year apprenticeship with a firm with continuous breaks for polemical projects at Uni.
    Say, the firm pays the apprentice £10k per annum

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • (continued)
    At the outset, Rising to £25/£30k by the time they finish.
    Fees are £9k per year for year 1&2, then £4k for the apprentice years. Fees therefore total £50k. About the same as with current 5 years full time, but the apprentice has earned some £100k+ over this period, paying for fees and living. Contrasted to emerging after 5 years with some £100k debt (fees+living)
    Perhaps, with something like this (looked at more carefully than I have), architecture can be accessible to a range of income groups. Else it is really in danger of becoming a playground for the elite, and it already the most classist, sexist, racist profession.
    Let's face it, it makes no sense for the ordinary person to face £100k of debt by age 25/27 in an industry where they will need to then work for 6-10 more years to be useful in practice, only when they have the prospect of earning £30k+

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  • I've written about my experience at architecture school in the uk. It's the only degree that I know where hard-working, clever, creative people are failed at the end of third year and leave with no qualification. Yet it happens all the time. The first degree should be a more general degree and the subjective design element kept out of it. Only in Part 2 should the course focus seriously on design. My book, The Appeal of Architecture (available on Amazon) gives a unique insight to how the architecture schools in the uk operate goto http://theappealofarchitecture.blogspot.co.uk/ It's free the 1st Sat of each month.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • I've written about my experience at architecture school in the uk. It's the only degree that I know where hard-working, clever, creative people are failed at the end of third year and leave with no qualification. Yet it happens all the time. The first degree should be a more general degree and the subjective design element kept out of it. Only in Part 2 should the course focus seriously on design. My book, The Appeal of Architecture (available on Amazon) gives a unique insight to how the architecture schools in the uk operate goto http://theappealofarchitecture.blogspot.co.uk/ It's free the 1st Sat of each month.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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