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Digital Knowledge

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Architecture schools aim to give their students experience of the important programs, while avoiding fads and
keeping a close eye on costs, writes Kaye Alexander.

In terms of IT skills, universities know that graduates are expected to hit the ground running. ‘You only have to look at job adverts to see that students need to know the big CAD packages,’ says François Penz, architecture IT co-ordinator at Cambridge. But with equipment out of date almost as soon as it is installed and the constant release of new versions of programs, delivery of IT skills within UK schools of architecture is complex. Departments at schools across the country have different attitudes about IT, which greatly influences their choices in hardware, software and the curriculum.
In a bold move, Cambridge no longer provides computers in a dedicated classroom space, opting instead for what faculty computer officer Stan Finney terms ‘a virtual computer room’. This decision was driven by the fact that students increasingly prefer to work on their own laptops – a trend taking place within student bodies as a whole. Now the Citrix thin client server system and the university wireless network enable Cambridge students to access a raft of packages and programs remotely. ‘Students don’t have to have the latest machines – anything from this century will do. Citrix makes everyone equal – it can convert PC programs to be Mac-compatible and vice versa,’ says Finney.
Almost the opposite approach has been taken by the Architectural Association (AA). Head of computing Julia Frazer aims to replace a third of all machines annually to provide top-end computers that students can’t afford themselves, as performance is critical when running sophisticated programs. Cambridge claims to address this by using the memory and power of the central network. As an independent school of architecture the AA does not have the facilities and support of a central university IT department that other schools depend upon. But this does give it purchasing freedom, and the school builds its own computers from the best components available rather than buying entire machines.

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