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Editorial - Celebrate British architectural education

It may have its critics, but there is much to celebrate about British architectural education, including the President’s Medals

I’m constantly hearing practitioners banging on about the problems with British architectural education. The empire-building of heads of schools, the gap between academia and practice, the chasm between schools and their locales, the technical deficiencies of graduates. What most of them really mean is that the schools cannot produce students fast enough to fill the vacancies in architectural practice.

But the President’s Medals ceremony on 28 November is a moment to celebrate British architectural education. It may not be the best technical education, but I believe it’s the one where you can be the most independent and inquisitive.

I have spent time this semester teaching masters students at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, where various UK architects are visiting professors – Sergison Bates last year, Jamie Fobert this, Deborah Saunt in 2008. In Lausanne, the students’ schedule is packed. From Monday to Wednesday they sit in classrooms, being taught about technical issues and theory. They spend only Thursdays and Fridays in the studio, working on their thesis projects, and this slot also has to accommodate their crits and reviews.

The Swiss marking system is such that the students pass or fail – there is no distinction between the top diploma project and the barest of scraped passes. This means the best students are demotivated.

Since teaching abroad, I have found much to be proud of about the British system – it promotes independence of thought and design skill. Students are judged mainly on a comprehensive design proposal, not a series of multiple-choice paper on structures.

The UK system may not be the best for weak students, but it probably is for the strong ones. Some of those feature in the President’s Medals supplement to this week’s AJ, and we are very proud to have their work on our pages.

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