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De Montfort taught me life's valuable lessons


I was saddened to discover the problems facing De Montfort University architecture graduates (AJ 10.7.03). I clearly recollect my years there before its ascent to university status, a simple polytechnic then.

I arrived with a handful of A levels, a scholarship, and no idea of architecture, student life or financial management, and received a sharp lesson in all. It was a no-nonsense school with a number of talented practising architect tutors who disproved the 'if you can't do, teach' myth. I learnt much from these teachers and still use the principles I learnt there today. Of all the lessons I received, one stands out, from a comment by my design tutor after obtaining a miserable grade - 'learn to build, son, get flashy later'.

In my travels through the education system (which included a trip to a university in US), that philosophy put me in direct conflict with a number of tutors (most of them non-practising), where the standard question at crits was, 'and what is the concept?'. 'Er, to accommodate 500 children and 25 teaching staff?' Stony silence.

'How about, to fit and suit the site?' Dear oh dear - 'you design like an engineer'.

In an institution where presentation, fashion and an ephemeral view of concept were the entire focus of design, I stood little chance, even though I had already designed and built my father's house. Had it not been for external examiners, I would not have made it, so I sympathise with those bodies that keep a watchful eye on standards.

Schools have an obligation to maintain standards of education. This does not mean churning out Cullinans and Fosters at the expense of the unnamed but solid architects who make up the bulk of this profession. Talent is a rare thing and I doubt it can be learned. In any case, was it not Oscar Wilde who said, 'nothing worth knowing can be taught'?

C Torress, Gibraltar

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