To launch this year's Design in Education Week, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Arts Council and the Design Council have joined forces to produce a pocket-sized book called Your Creative Future. With its candy-colour striped cover, and determinedly funky format, it aims to dazzle school-age children with the dizzy delights of a career in what it loosely describes as the creative industries. Architecture gets a special mention. But should we really be attempting to lure students into a profession which is underpaid, and which suffers from sporadic bouts of chronic unemployment - especially when the training is likely to leave them some £10,000 in debt?
Schools of architecture do not, on the whole, have difficulty with making up numbers (although there is, of course, an ongoing debate about whether more should be done to attract a different type of student). The problems of the profession are not to do with the supply of architects, but with the demand for architecture. We have an over-abundance of talent, floundering in a culture which is yet to be persuaded of its value. In contrast, Italy, which trains ten times as many architects as it needs, has non- architects with architectural degrees in all sectors of society, providing architecture with an intelligent client base. An Italian architecture degree is not perceived as a first rung on a ladder, but as an end in its own right.
British architects are extremely proud of the fact that architecture is 'a seven-year degree', citing it as an indication of the complexity and prestige of the subject. They are not doing themselves any favours. Recurring laments about the high proportion of women who 'drop out' after Part 1, and the 'wastage' between Parts 1 and 2, only serve to undermine the academic status of the subject. People are right to be put off by the long training, and the rather dispiriting economic implications of becoming an architect. Rather than trying to change their minds, we should be emphasising the fact that architecture is not simply a vocational training but a valuable and respectable subject to study. Architecture is a three-year degree like any other, and a particularly enjoyable one at that.