In response to Kate Macintosh's cri de coeur about architecture courses (aj 8.7.99) and her call, in consort with Peter Melvin (aj 8.7.99), for the need for riba control of education, may I paint a rather different, optimistic and far from unrealistic vision of the future? It is a future which in many ways is already with us.
Students will gather knowledge and experience and develop skills in many different ways (in separate modules and short courses; in undergrad and post-grad degree programmes; through distance-learning and apprenticeships; in practice and other employment). The traditional five-year course taken in the minimum time at a single school will become the exception.
Students will do this at their own pace depending on their economic and personal circumstances and according to their interests and approaches to life, often dipping in and out of courses throughout their education. They will build their education in many different places and institutions (one of our second-year students is taking a year out in Nepal helping self-build a school to, as she says, 'strengthen my knowledge of building construction'.)
They will present themselves for entry to the profession as individuals with different profiles of abilities and skills. They will be more independent, mature and rounded people for this experience; more interested in architecture because they have plotted their own exploration of it.
The current 'sole-practitioner' template will be even more irrelevant as the test for entry to the profession. We must recognise the rapidly increasing breadth of skills which different architects use in their very different ways of contributing to practice. These students will need to be considered on an individual basis, against a selection from a menu of the abilities required to contribute competently to practice. As a profession we need to be more inclusive.
What are the consequences for the riba? People should want to become members of the riba because of the quality of architecture to which it aspires - not because membership is based on the dubious concept of a 'gold standard' of validation of courses.
The latter is rapidly becoming an anachronistic pursuit as university degrees become no-longer related to a single curriculum specific to each degree, but mark only a level of attainment within more or less tightly defined areas drawn from multiple options.
It is on the basis of people wanting to become members because of the quality of the institute that the riba could fulfil its potential: it could be the leading international institute acting, as Peter Melvin says, as 'the umbrella which provides the best opportunity to form opinion and chart the way forward' in all things architectural - including education.
By all means it should recognise schools across the world for the quality of their education, accrediting them as the places where eligibility for election to membership is assessed. But do not validate courses, for that is dependent upon the increasingly irrelevant and artificial application of a supposed universal-standard requirement. Eligible students would qualify for a riba Certificate, which would be the qualification accredited by the eu, rather than the present - and increasingly problematic - accreditation of individual degrees.
How then should we determine entry to the riba? Maybe we don't. Maybe it becomes the Royal Institute of British Architecture?And there is much to be gained for the profession and society in doing that. But if it remains as it is presently and we set a test, then it will have to be based on each individual's attainment, ability and skills.
But what, you may ask, of the core competencies and knowledge-base, which are supposed to be held by all? Well, the riba defines these in broad terms in its curriculum; yet no school teaches it all. I doubt there is a single piece of knowledge taught in every school. Marking schemes have traditionally allowed compensation in certain circumstances for subjects failed. So the core, if there is one, has never been inviolate.
The riba should be concerning itself with the performance-specification and profiles which candidates for election must meet, not with a curriculum or the structures and means of education. These are matters for the universities, which have developed expertise and maturity in the 40 years since virtually all architectural education was brought into the universities.
What about arb? Well, it is a consumer-protection body and unless it is going to become the 'taste police', then all it can sensibly address, as Kate Macintosh suggests, is health and safety, protecting the public by minimising the risk to them in matters that are already the subject of civil law and regulation.
The consequence of all this would be that the mark of architectural quality would be 'riba', not registration. Yet that in itself raises some fundamental issues. First, in an open riba the distinction between subscriber members and corporate members, who would be eligible to use the affix, would need to be maintained.
Second, we must return to the question of the criteria and standards for election. Certainly we need evidence of an acceptable level of ability and quality of achievement in a number of, but not all of, the areas required for practice; but it should be evidence dependent on performance in the various areas and it should be ad hominem.
I would not make skill in design an absolute requirement; it is self- evident that not all architects are good or even adequate designers, but many
nevertheless make essential contributions to the production of good architecture.
I would look, by means of peer review, for an understanding of, and the means to reason about, the nature of architecture. Here are the means by which we make - and make sense of - our world. I would also look for evidence of a far greater level of understanding and speculative ability than we currently accept and I would seek it in writing or design, depending on the student.
So goodbye Parts I and II and goodbye course validation. You have been faithful servants, but you no longer fit with the rapidly changing world of practice and education. It is a world in which the upper end of standards continues to improve. The lower end, I suggest, is more a matter for integrity than method.
What, then, would be the consequences for the schools?
They would have a greater sense of freedom to develop new courses, teaching- and learning-methods and educational structures. They would have greater responsibility to find appropriate ways and means of architectural education and therefore greater variety - no longer the narrow set of variations on a single theme. They would respond to the greater variety of practice and the need to respond to students as individuals.
Professor Roger Stonehouse
The Manchester School of Architecture