Life may still go on, but poor models of education must not
There was much discussion during the week about architecture and matters of life and death. Which only highlights the eternal architectural dilemma: you are trained to live and breathe architecture at all costs, only to realise (as some other earth-shattering news is conveyed) that there is more to life, notably life itself. I am of the belief that the more you set out to enjoy life, and the architecture that springs out of it, the more likely you are to produce enjoyable, even uplifting, buildings; which is about all you could (should) hope for.
At the Architectural Association, three short-listed candidates communicated their ideas for the school. There is much politicking going on at Bedford Square. Whatever the outcome, I hope the school learns two things: that it is not the centre of the world, and that it needs to do more to match its ambition to the world outside. The questions faced by its voters are very similar to those of the current world model of architectural education. Do you pursue a successful, yet perhaps overly comfortable, academic model, or really shake things up with a radical shift?
This interests me, since I am on the AA council, a visiting professor at the Bartlett, and RIBA's vice-president for education. I therefore view these matters from a variety of perspectives. I am not alone: RIBA has many lines of thinking. Indeed, whatever view it offers, it is frequently incompatible with the views of SCHOSA, ARB, university vicechancellors, or any of the other bodies . This is inevitable: people see things differently because they have different interests.
My view is inevitably eased, adjusted and informed by the situation I find myself in and the lessons I learn, or am often summarily taught. Primarily, we need an intelligent, open and forward-thinking profession expanding the horizons of architecture. There is no single way, so Parts 1,2 and 3 are up for review. We need new models and we need to open education up, allowing transfers in and out: more people studying architecture, yet fewer architects. The artificial division between practice and academe is stultifying: architecture is not about sub-disciplines. The strength of UK education is that a number of different models have the potential to exist, the weakness is that they do not: we see the same model adjusted everywhere.
That is now, and I hope things will change.
The choices are many: are schools still to be accredited, validated, or prescribed by RIBA, ARB or others? Do we protect function or title? Is architectural education three, four or five years, or an as yet undefined other? Is it exclusively academic or (perhaps more interestingly) exclusively in practice?
Ultimately, architecture faces the same dilemma as Umberto Eco faced in his Travels in Hyperreality. As a tourist in America, he was confronted by seven different waxwork versions of Leonardo's The Last Supper. The question always asked was: which was the more real, the reproduction of waxworks or of the Renaissance painting? One, a poor colour Xerox of a fast-fading canvas, the other, the three-dimensional waxwork that you could not only view but, for escalating fees, photograph, enter and finally sit down and dine with the boys. I am afraid that, at this moment in time, education offers a similarly illusory and unsatisfactory choice between two poor models, both of which are a myth rather than reality.
This came home to me on a Friday off.
Matters of life and death were resolved by an explanation that a dodgy ECG did not necessarily signify a dodgy end; that the AA will survive but needs to do more; that architectural education is self-serving, tired and must change; and that prosaic events like football matches remain of vital importance.