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Leslie Martin a distant memory as Cambridge plots its architectural demise


Do the few decision-makers at Cambridge University have any understanding of the teaching of architecture? Is there a grasp of the significance of the research associated with the school for more than 30 years?

A chair was established in 1956 after three decades of the limited undergraduate programme. The recognition of architecture's place in the university had taken time. Similarly, the new incumbent, Leslie Martin (pictured), then took 10 years before he and his teaching associates considered they had created the intellectual climate essential to the setting up of a research wing. Subsequently, the published output was of a stature virtually without equal in the still uncertain territory of architectural research.

However, the current dominance of a technical and box-ticking mentality at professional institutions implementing watchdog roles has produced uneven assessments of both research and teaching. Playing of the game skilfully could ensure high grades, but it was the game itself that was at fault. Yet the university conforms.

Short-term financial expediency is clearly an issue, as is research rating. But the result being played out now is the collapse of the final twoyear diploma, downgrading architecture again to its inadequate undergraduate role, in today's terms, of the 1920s-50s. Already it is seen by students, professionals and others as peripheral to modern educational needs. The breadth, quality and number of faculty necessary for a school now cannot be sustained without the existence, as a minimum requirement, of strong undergraduate diploma and MPhil programmes.

So, welcome back to Alison Richard, the newly installed vice-chancellor - fresh from the US East Coast, where architecture departments are still valued - to culture-shock UK style: the demise of architecture in your university.

David Owers, David Owers Associates, Cambridge

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