By continuing to use the site you agree to our Privacy & Cookies policy

Architectural education is a Faustian pact

It all started going wrong when architects lost control of money, writes Professor Mike McEvoy

Does architectural education need to change? Join the debate at AJ’s LinkedIn group

This is an old debate - a report produced in the 1980s by the predecessor of the current Higher Education Funding Council predicted that architectural education, if unreformed, would lead to architects becoming mere stylists with the same income expectations as hair-stylists.

The costs of 5 years’ education don’t equate with architects’ dismal salaries and the profession is becoming progressively de-skilled

Construction in 2012 is a decreasing proportion of the UK’s economy, the costs of 5 years’ education don’t equate with architects’ dismal salaries and the profession is becoming progressively de-skilled. 

In recent times, environmental/ sustainability consultancy has been handed over to engineers and the profession seems little interested in retrofit, which currently has the best growth potential.

Architectural education is a Faustian pact between academics, the young and their parents - the courses are popular because they offer unrestrained creativity, yet they lead to a professional qualification (so the presumption of a secure future!). 

To keep their side of the bargain, academics have let design become an entirely visceral activity; individual ‘genius’ and ‘originality’ are the routes to student stardom, without any firm basis in knowledge

To keep their side of the bargain, academics have let design become an entirely visceral activity; individual ‘genius’ and ‘originality’ are the routes to student stardom, without any firm basis in knowledge.  Technical teaching has long been the poor relation in architecture departments, and history teaching is patchy. 

It all started going wrong when architects lost control of money.  Architecture students have by far the best A-level grades of any entrants to the construction industry but are little appreciated, and paid less, because architects aren’t trusted to design within the project’s budget, or to control the project’s costs. 

So Construction Management was invented to limit architects’ powers - how often nowadays do architects condemn sub-standard work?

Sustainability is all about measuring performance, which is about money - not just first costs but whole-life costs, and the knock-on environmental, social and health costs of constructing buildings and cities. 

Money in this broad sense should be a required constraint of design briefs, promoting optimistic sustainability and combating the dystopian misery that has infected recent end-of-year shows.  Students will learn that all those lines on paper represent expenditure of resources with both costs, and benefits, to the planet and humanity. 

The first year should instead be taught in the lecture theatre, and in seminars, so design can be meaningfully started in year 2.

At present the curriculum requires that design is paramount in each year of the course, but without any prior knowledge of the subject first year design projects are left to teenage intuition. 

The first year should instead be taught in the lecture theatre, and in seminars, so design can be meaningfully started in year 2. 

The diploma has long been a problem, a large scale design project takes care of the 4th year but what is the 5th year for?  If graduate schools in the US can fast-track design skills into a couple of years surely we can too, particularly if design becomes a matter of team-work?    

Professor Mike McEvoy lectures at the University of Brighton

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment.

The searchable digital buildings archive with drawings from more than 1,500 projects

AJ newsletters