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Evolution not revolution in RIBA/ARB validation

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I have a vested interest in responding to Roger Stonehouse's vision of architectural education. This September Sheffield Hallam University launches a course in architecture and environmental design. The university made it a condition that the course received riba/arb 'candidate-for-recognition' status. The fact that principles of sustainability will underpin all aspects of the course is, I imagine, an example of the kind of educational diversity which Professor Stonehouse advocates.

I agree that we must move on from the narrow gp concept of architectural education. Schools should offer the added value of specialist areas related to the core definition of an architect. Schools should form networks to give students maximum opportunity to benefit from the spread of specialist expertise.

However, Stonehouse presses his argument to the point where the concept of the 'architect' disintegrates. The riba/arb is no longer the validating body; design competence is not a fundamental requirement. Registration would not be a prerequisite for election to the riba, yet the fiction is maintained that there would be a distinction between subscriber and corporate members. Any distinction would be confined to the membership fee.

Being an international, driving force behind good architecture will only carry credibility if the riba fulfils that role within its parent country, and it can only do that by a root-and-branch involvement in education.

That means retaining and refining its validation role in conjunction with arb. The recent concordat between the two bodies is particularly welcome in this respect. Recognition is valued, not only by students, but also by universities. In these market-driven times, riba/arb recognition will be the saving grace for many schools within hard-pressed institutions.

There is invariably tension between the core requirements of a validating body and the principle of academic freedom. Up to now this has been a creative tension which can accommodate evolution but not revolution.

Peter Smith, professor of architecture, Sheffield Hallam University

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