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Katherine Shonfield

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Katherine Shonfield

The end of architectural teaching for another year is a good time to ask ourselves what kind of architect we imagine we are producing.

Every time one body or another discovers that architectural students aren't being geared up for the requirements of today's industry yet another item is added. It is astonishingly easy to add more information requirements to the architectural curriculum, but these interminable lists of requirements atomise the coherence of the design mind. The unspoken model for the architect is a specialist akin to other 'building professionals' who acquires an accumulation of identifiable items of information and experience. But everyone involved in architectural education is complicit in the closely guarded secret that the resulting wish list bears as much relation to what will really be learnt as the Fantasy Football League does to Scunthorpe United. The reality is that it takes at least six years simply to learn how to design, leaving aside any specialisms. The wish list of 'learning outcomes' covers this up and is implicitly shamefaced rather than proud of this difference.

Design involves learning a new way of thinking systematically, different to the accumulation, recording and relaying of information. Neither the priorities of society or the school system prepare you for it.

Design means simplification and clarification of information, not its accretion. More than anything else design involves priorities of what is important and a ruthless sense of hierarchy. It is these abilities which have been manifestly absent in decision-making about our cities. And behind the masterplanner who the Urban Task Force hopes will head up the city renaissance, lies the expectation that they will think as a designer. In other words if we don't do it someone else will.

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