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Bring on the gap decade and learn at the university of life

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I was a student at the AA in London. I started in September 1968. I well remember the head of school, John Lloyd, addressing us.

He suggested that we would develop at different speeds and that if someone proved to be particularly talented it would be possible to finish in two years, while others could take 10 if necessary.He also said that some students would discover that they did not want to become architects and that he would try to help them along any new path they wished to pursue.

There were a number of students that fell into this category. I remember one who developed an interest in organs - he spent all his time in the workshop making them and the AA never asked him to leave. I understand that he went on to develop a career in organ design and production and is held in high esteem.Others were burgeoning writers, film-makers, alternative farmers, etc.

These two elements of John Lloyd's 'welcome' talk have stuck with me ever since.This was also the time of the development of the unit system, which has been adopted by many schools in the intervening period.How long does it take to become an architect? Is it good to look at the school community as a collection of people with different potential futures that should be nurtured and fed back to the students of architecture, or not? Schools, including the AA, have become very much more rigid in their treatment of 'difficult' students since then.

I am a professor in Vienna.When I first took up the post I was critical of two things.Firstly, that there were no entry qualifications required to study. In some politically correct notion of democracy, it was decided that anybody could study anything they liked.Secondly, I found that students often took 10-11 years to complete their course.But I have observed what appear to be the least promising students turn into some of the most talented by the time they complete. In fact, they are the very ones who would not have got into school in the first place.These students would have been denied a future and I would have lost the pleasure of seeing them develop.

The second issue, related to the time taken, is another example where my initial reaction was wrong.The students tend to dip in and out of the school, often picking off only one semester per visit (we have two semesters per year). In between they work, travel, exchange and get older.As they acquire more experience, they are better able to test out new concepts and push at newly perceived edges to their subject.

By the time they obtain their diploma they are experienced, thoughtful and, most importantly, relaxed.

I realise that there is little point in becoming qualified before you are 30 as there is nothing more to be gained materially by not prolonging your education.

With all these things in mind, it is possible to begin to imagine an architectural education perhaps being obtained through national or international courses, that would allow the student to enrol and easily select chunks of time from a range of centres.Vienna in 2003; London in autumn 2004;

Barcelona in summer 2005, etc.Affiliated practices would commit 10 per cent of their labour requirements to employing our itinerant architects.Not a gap year but a gap decade. It is time for a change - the unit system is tired and the idea of a fully focused five-year school studying under a recent graduate is not good enough.Let's be more inventive as well as being more realistic.

WA, from BA flight 0831 Dubai to Heathrow

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