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School of thought says it's time to close down Huddersfield - again!

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One day years ago, when I was the editor of an architectural magazine, I was taken to lunch by the publisher and the managing director. Over starters I was invited to spell out my plans for the publication. I replied by enthusiastically outlining my strategy for the complete destruction of our nearest rival by sucking away all its classified advertising, headhunting its much-admired cartoonist, and bribing valuable members of staff into leaking the secrets of its feature schedule. I went on to visualise the final collapse of our beaten adversary, likening it to the capsize of a battleship.

To my amazement, instead of being praised for my fighting spirit, I was delivered a lecture that quite put me off my victuals. I was told that it was disgraceful even to think in such terms. The world of magazine publishing was not a theatre of war, it was a large, happy family whose motto was 'fair shares for all'.Things would certainly come to a pretty pass if dog-eat-dog behaviour of the kind I had described was ever to be associated with the firm I was working for.

I learned a lot from this encounter, most of all about the real nature of business life.

Commerce, which I had imagined to be a tank of sharks circling around one another sniffing for blood, was actually more like a Utopian community with added gin and tonic. It was the groves of academe, whence I had recently come, that was the real tank of sharks.

I remember this episode whenever I hear the rumble of trouble in the world of architectural education, for here, too, I suspect that I am under a great misapprehension.

While the world of architecture really can be compared to a savagely competitive tank of sharks swimming in a sea of pilfered feasibility studies, unpaid for projects, abortive work, mischievous commissions, make-believe careers and ceaseless bureaucratic interference - it does not mean that architectural education is like that.

On the contrary, architectural education is another large, happy family like magazine publishing where the motto is 'fair shares for all' and anyone who tries to start any dog-eat-dog nonsense had better be prepared for a serious talking to.

Consider the present conflict over course validation between the 'vocationalists'of the ARB and the 'intellectuals'of the RIBA.The arguments raised on either side are always the same where schools of architecture are concerned. The 'vocationalists' want cladding details rather than a home for the Elgin Marbles: the 'intellectuals' want to hang onto the Harry-Potterish mystique of architecture as an art for as long as possible. The solution, in either case, is the same - both parties agree to close down Huddersfield.

Once they have done this they feel better and, more likely than not, won't actually close down Huddersfield at all but give it extra money so that the visiting board can find 'striking improvements' next time round. This is what happened in the 1990s when the then Department of Education and Science tried to shorten architectural courses from five years to four. And it happened before that, back in the 1980s, when - to the best of my recollection - the Esher Report was approved in RIBA council with a vote of 36 to four in favour of closing schools down (Huddersfield again), so as to reduce competition between practising architects and maintain a policy of 'fair shares for all' in education.

But this time, when the vagaries of our globalised economic system have led us to the brink of a recession that threatens to outclass those of the '80s and the early '90s put together, crying 'close down Huddersfield' may not be enough.

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