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Praising primers from home and aboard for would-be architects

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Roger Lewis is a busy man: architect, teacher, writer, and regular columnist for the Washington Post where he manages to bring architecture to life for its readers. Through these efforts he does our profession a great service, improving the public's understanding of both the process and the product of architectural design.

Take his article of June 1999 about Prince Charles' Poundbury, under the caption 'Reigning in Britain's Urban Sprawl'. Here he deals with such issues as 'edges' and the interface between village, town and countryside; he comments on matters of aesthetics, stating both the argument and counter-arguments for traditional vernacular styles; and he reveals that whatever its appearance, such work inevitably incorporates modern technology in terms of its construction and services.

But most of all his writing is lucid, informative and, for the non-architect, comprehendable. I quote: 'Poundbury can be criticised for its stringent constraints ... and for pretending to be antique. Nevertheless, its ersatz qualities do not seem to be problematic for residents, prospective buyers and most of the public. Here is a clear alternative to sprawl with its wasteful and destructive uses of land, its costly and often inadequate infrastructure, its dispersion of population ... we (Americans) could learn a lot from Poundbury's example.'

Lewis has also written a book entitled Architect? A Candid Guide to the Profession in which he takes a 'hard' look at the education of architects, covering such topics as curriculum content, pedagogical theories and methods, programme and faculty types, admission processes, practical training arrangements, salaries and fees and even the culture of the different types of office from large to small, commercial to municipal. He bravely describes how architects work, and get work, and explains all aspects of our services from feasibility and early design stages to production information and the management of construction work.

And while Lewis outlines the attractions of becoming an architect - opportunities for creativity, for contributing to management and improvement of the environment, possible fame - he doesn't shy away from the other side of our professional life: uncertain workloads, poor remuneration, difficult aspects of client relationships, and the apparently high degree of anxiety and disillusionment among young architects.

British secondary schools are notoriously bad in advising on architecture as a career. Misconceptions range from claims that science 'A' levels are essential to the belief that art is a must. But generally, and very sadly, architecture doesn't even feature on the shelves of careers departments!

That is why Leonie Milliner's recent initiative as riba director of education is so valuable. Her department has developed a brochure for anyone interested in architecture as a career. It is also a useful aid to local riba branches, which have done so much good work in schools. As well as clari-fying what architects do and the training involved, it sets out in a frank and zippy style a variety of career and student profiles. Indeed, aj editor Isabel Allen is there with a job description that will interest budding journalists and architects as well as those who love travel.

Others profiled are conservation architect Stuart Page; lecturer Neil Leach; product design specialist Alan Tye; Kay Hughes, architect at Sport England; Dickon Robinson, director of the Peabody Housing Association; and students Claire Barton, Darren Bruce and Paul Ponwaye, respec-tively at Parts 1, 2, and 3 stages of training. And there are a sprinkling of 'stars' - Aman-da Levete, Terry Farrell and Mathew Wells.

The brochure can be visited by young-sters on architecture.com (click on 'careers'). This information, together with Lewis's book, provides an invaluable guide to anyone thinking of becoming an architect. And for those becoming a little weary of professional life, never forget that ever-relevant and wonderful satire, The Honeywood File. It's a timeless masterpiece!

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