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Today's tutors, tomorrow's giants: the case for architectural research

During the last 18 months I have visited some 25 uk and 12 overseas schools.Three things are particularly striking about these experiences.

Firstly, I never cease to be amazed at the extraordinary enthusiasm for architecture evident in student work. This is particularly manifest in the end-of-year shows where the enormous energy of the academic year is brought together in a single exhibition. Opening nights are of course fantastic - and happily for most, a tremendous celebration of achievement, success and relief. But I suggest that you also find time to make a subsequent visit to a school near you for a quieter contemplation of the projects - it's always a rewarding experience. Sadly, many end-of-year shows finish very early. However, some are still open, including the aa exhibition, running until 12 August.

Second is the diversity. Roger Stonehouse on page 22, makes a very good case for such diversity, and by implication, against rigid, narrow and static core curricula. He sees a profession whose members reflect an ever- widening breadth of skills, and it is a view held by many others, myself included. Indeed one of the greatest strengths of this country's architectural education is the diversity between, and in some cases within, the schools.

Finally, and perhaps most important, is the ongoing development in the work and this takes me to the subject of research, and to two of my past articles which generated extensive and sometimes heated debate between professors Carolin, Edwards and Lawson (aj 24.4.97, 26.6.97).

The latter has done much to further the interests of our schools by arguing, with some success, that the activity of design is itself a process and should be accorded such status under the Research Assessment Exercise conducted by hefce.

That case was probably never better put than in an article by Eric Parry published in Peter Carolin's winter 1995 issue of Architectural Research Quarterly. I quote:

'That there could be doubts that studio teaching is a form of research is due in part to the difficulty of assessing the merits and results of a year's work. Architecture, and especially experimental forms of architecture, has a long gestation period ... The buildings that we judge today often prove to have been embryonic ideas in the (school) studios ... 10 or 15 years ago.'

Parry listed some 29 tutors teaching at the aa in the 1978-79 session, then went on to write that while most were virtually unknown outside the walls of the aa in the late 1970s, by the mid 1990s two-thirds were in full-time practice through which they had gained national, and in some cases international, reputations.

The names of these tutors included Jeremy Dixon, David Shalev, Terry Farrell, Piers Gough, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Bernard Tschumi, Nigel Coates, John Jenner and Nigel Greenhill.

The subsequent built work output has, in each case, been prodigious, and some have since developed offices capable of taking on projects of great complexity and size anywhere around the globe. The work of these architects has in each case been significantly informed by their earlier teaching experiences. In other words, as Parry so rightly claims, the studio is a laboratory of architectural design research.

That the work of the schools continues to reflect such optimism, enthusiasm and energy is a huge credit to the teaching staffs. That the work within the schools has such enormous influence on future directions in architecture is a measure of their importance and relevance to practice and underlines the essentially symbiotic relationship between practice and education.

That is also the argument against rigid curricula and for the ongoing involvement of the profession in education. Education shapes the future of our profession, so the profession should continue to take a leading role in shaping education. We are fortunate indeed to have yet another president who is committed to that dictum.

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