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Architectural teaching may pay the price for today's financial pressures

editorial

I didn't study architecture. I didn't have nearly that much fun. Look at the winning projects in the the RIBA President's Medals (pages 21-36), and you will be reminded just how exciting and stimulating architectural education can be.

The production of this work is, of course, dependent on the studio system, both the strength of current architectural education and its Achilles' heel. It is the expensive part of architectural education, the part that makes cash-strapped universities wonder if they should shut down their courses.

It is ironic that one of the criticisms from Cambridge, where the future of its architecture course is still undecided, is that architecture is misplaced because it is a vocational course and has no place in a proper university. Historically, architecture sat largely in the old polytechnics, and so always had slightly dodgy academic kudos. But in the current educational climate, architecture looks fantastically impressive - perhaps too much so. Unlike medicine and law, which concentrate on teaching students what they need to know in order to practise their professions, architecture courses aim to provide the education that will enable them to become architects.

This is not just semantics. Of course, it is essential that new architects have technical knowledge and understanding.

But they also need to unleash their imaginations in ways that will encourage creativity and problem solving. What this means is an adherence to learning for the sake of learning; to education that is in some ways an end in itself.

And, as the winners of the Annie Spink Award show (pages 14-15), there is still a wide range of differing and valuable teaching styles available. Architecture has a reassuringly old-fashioned approach to education that predates the mantra of measurable outcomes, and of seeing a degree as simply a route to a reasonable job. That is a corollary of government's commitment to hugely expanded university provision, which, although laudable in itself, is skewing education, not least by turning universities into skinflints.

Which is where the traditional approach to architectural education hits problems. If today's pressures have a fundamental effect on architectural teaching, that will be a great pity not only for architecture but also for our more general commitment to proper education.

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