Should schools of architecture encourage students to work as part of a team? Commenting on schools of architecture at the ARB board meeting last week, Marco Goldschmied expressed concern that too much Egan in the classroom could stifle creativity at this crucial early stage.
Goldschmied is right to assert that design skills are the most crucial part of an architect's training and that it is 'absolutely pointless to design ugly things efficiently'.
But it doesn't follow that a collaborative design process and beauty are mutually incompatible. Having to take other people's concerns into account does, of course, impose constraints on the designer. But architecture has always been about working with constraints: building regulations, planning restrictions, the limitations of the site, the taste and needs of the client, the finite availability of technology, finance and time. Constraints can be inspirational. The minimal brief which often accompanies student projects is, frankly, intimidating rather than liberating - there are few things more stultifying than sitting alone with infinite possibilities and a blank piece of paper. Problems kick-start the creative process by demanding a response. A good tutor should be able to teach their students that the challenge (and the thrill) lies in finding solutions to multi-layered demands, and in pulling multiple threads together into a solution which is both beautiful and coherent.
Collaboration with students from other disciplines cannot compensate for inadequate design training, but - if taught well - there is no reason why it should mitigate against it. It is a mistake to assume that students from other disciplines will gravitate towards tedious design.
Why should student engineers be any less experimental than student architects? The more imaginative the architecture, the more interesting the challenge for the other professions. As student architects become familiar with the way others carry out their work, they are also involved in a public relations exercise for architecture. The engineers, quantity surveyors and contractors of the future get to see the complexity of the architect's role, hopefully silencing the common taunt that architects are simply there to choose a shape.