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Sustainable future for architectural education

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Your editorial comment (AJ 9.12.04) says that criticism has come from the University of Cambridge 'that architecture is misplaced because it is a vocational course and has no place in a proper university'.

The Cambridge department of architecture is within the School of Arts and Humanities, while traditionally architects are skilled craftsmen who have a great deal of experience in technology. The present problems with the architecture schools are due not to Cambridge or polytechnics, but stem from within the current system.

Cambridge's future had been placed in doubt because of concerns that the quality of its research was not good enough.

The university authorities considered closing the department after its downgrading in the recent Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) after two reports in 2001 and 2003.

It remains unknown if this is by arts or humanities standards, scientific standards, or both.

Peter Carolin, former head of the University of Cambridge's school of architecture, has described the course in this magazine (AJ 18.11.04).

A school with 17 full-time staff and first-year and fourthyear intakes of about 38 and 20, and the work they have covered, seems so rare compared to a lot of other architecture schools. In many cases the student figure is double or treble, with far fewer full-time staff than Cambridge.

It is hard to see such a brilliant teaching institute go. On 8 December, Cambridge's general board voted unanimously to keep the department open, Cambridge's architecture department was saved, based on a 'new academic strategy', placing more of the department's focus on 'sustainable' design. With this new strategy, the Cambridge school should be able to address one of the world's most pressing challenges, and hopefully become an international leader.

Will Cambridge, by overcoming its difficulties and reaching a positive solution, teach other architecture schools to survive?

We are encountering a new phase of teaching and learning. IT development is part of our sustainable future, but the current system encourages wasteful colour printing for presentations.

Patrick Lynch chose Foster's 30 St Mary Axe as his architectural 'blunder' (Guardian, 29.11.04) and told his students that his school does not train consultant architects. If there is a need for that area in practice, schools should train specialists in that field.

Another school's diploma course tutor commented that sustainability is a political issue and described the St Katharine Docks regeneration project as a joke. It is serious when leaders say things such as that.

In the US, architect William A McDonough is well-known for practising sustainability, and served a five-year term as dean of the University of Virginia's school of architecture, ranked among the country's leading architecture schools between 1994 and 1999.

William J Mitchell served as dean of the school of architecture and planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) between 1992-2003. He is the author of 'E-topia: Urban Life, Jim, But Not As We Know It' (1999), which received wide acclaim. His vision for the integration of design and professional education and practice architecture included innovations in technology and interdisciplinary studies. He envisions a future of the new IT movement in architecture learning and practice.

The old polytechnics had glory days. I was taught by Alan Everett and Derek Osbourn in my Part 1 years - both were Mitchell's Building Series authors. It is harder and harder to find dedicated teachers like them in UK schools.

Academic knowledge should be delivered in an assigned length of time on a weekly basis for the credit graduate course, but some tutors rush through during those courses.

How many members in the architecture school know what eco-systems are or what an ecological footprint is? Or summer solstice and winter solstice? The environmental knowledge will become part of us one day.

Kem F To, Art & Eco Lab

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