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Profession divided over RIBA’s shake-up of architectural education

The RIBA’s bid to scrap Parts 1, 2 and 3 has provoked a heated debate about the future of architectural education and practice

Last week RIBA council signed up to the most ambitious overhaul of architects’ education in 50 years in a move institute president Stephen Hodder said could educate future architects ‘in the shortest possible time while maintaining quality’.

Welcoming the review’s ambitions, BDP head of architecture Chris Harding suggested the shake-up could mark the turning of tide ‘to student-centric rather than institution-centric’ education. He said: ‘There has been a lot of complacency and change is inevitable. I hope the student voice will be heard on this.’

Jean-Paul Tugirimana, a Part  1 graduate from Ravensbourne College, said: ‘A shorter educational route may provide aspiring architects a more diverse and less costly journey to registering.’ Under the recently introduced fee levels, the average student debt for qualifying architects is expected to be £76,968, according to SCHOSA chair Alex Wright.  

University of Westminster Part I graduate Georgina Day said: ‘Allowing architects to train more in practice would reduce the huge time commitment and financial burden, and also reduce the strong-arm hold central academic bodies (such as the RIBA) have on the way practice develops.’              

The RIBA review follows a revised European directive setting out the minimum requirement for registering as an architect in Europe as five years of university study (5+0) or four years in university supplemented by two years of professional traineeship (4+2).

Although the time taken to become an architect in the UK has yet to be decided – and could eventually surpass European standards – practitioners have already warned that allowing graduates to join the register with no practical experience immediately after a five-year university course could undermine the professional title. 

Gordon Gibb of Gibb Architects said: ‘A 5+0 with the emphasis on professional studies would just produce what would be seen as the underclass architect, neither developed designer nor competent practitioner.’

Describing practical experience on real projects as ‘absolutely essential’, ADP chair Roger FitzGerald said: ‘Even with the current arrangements it is sometimes quite frightening how little practical knowledge people have when qualifying.’

Robert Adam of ADAM Architecture agreed, arguing a greater focus on theory instead of practical knowledge in universities in recent decades ‘became one step in the general surrender of authority in the building industry and the decline of the influence of the architect.’

He said: ‘There is a common belief in the profession that students are not much good but think they are qualified to change the world and should be paid accordingly. This will make them even more unemployable.’

But RIBA head of education David Gloster dismissed these concerns, saying that the institute would not automatically match potentially shorter European courses: ‘The scenario of five years with no practical training is not one we would entertain.’ RIBA vice-president of education Roz Barr added: ‘Practical training will remain an integral part of UK architecture education in any future model or models. The rigour, robustness, and majority of content of professional integration at Parts 1, 2 and 3 will be retained.’

Barr suggested structured affiliation of practices within schools of architecture was just one option being considered but University of Greenwich professor Neil Spiller warned that safeguards were needed to prevent uninspiring studios from influencing students. He said: ‘The commercial focus on “NOW” often blinds practitioners to the wider implications of the architect’s role in the future. This myopia often damages students in a fast-moving world.’

Last week the institute’s elected chamber endorsed a radical reform agenda, setting out the ‘broad direction of travel’ for a two-year review of architectural education.

Key principles endorsed at the RIBA council meeting include abandoning the Part 1, 2 and 3 qualifications – started in 1958 – in favour of an ‘integrated award’, leading to registration meaning graduates would be able to register as an architect as soon as they complete university study.

Other major changes supported by RIBA council included conversion courses for non-architecture undergraduate degree-holders.

Many of the details have yet to be decided.

Stride Treglown director Dominic J Eaton questioned whether students really had a ‘burning desire’ to qualify as soon as possible. He said: ‘Architects are in it for the long haul and we don’t start producing our best work until we are in our mid-50s.’

But Peter Morris of Peter Morris Architects slammed the existing system as too long and too irrelevant and this year’s Manser Medal winner, Carl Turner, agreed. He said: ‘I would be more extreme and reduce the course to three years, full stop. This levels the playing field for those without the support of affluent parents.’

J-J Lorraine of London-based Morrow Lorraine said: ‘My own education prepared me for a fraction of the challenges that I face as an owner of a practice. A more rounded, more streetwise, more savvy, service industry-led education would have been better than the esoteric, niche, quasi-monkish, introspective and frankly very expensive time I spent in la-la land.’

Following the review the new system could start in 2016, once the ARB confirms the new regulatory framework.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Firstly, it is time to change. Secondly no one is saying practical experience is not important. Thirdly it would be good to see professional studies as part of the education of an architect rather than a bolt on...Let's have a stimulating critical debate about this.

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