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The Diary of an Anonymous Academic #4

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The fourth in a series about the unreported trials and tribulations from the frontline of architectural education. This week: Entrepreneurialism

I often overhear students talking about what they watched last night during tutorial sessions. It was how I first was made aware of an architect being on The Apprentice. I started to tune in to see if I could use anything for anecdotal purposes.  They are always useful to get a point across.

Plenty of material here. Even to illustrate how not to do things.

The programme did seem to offer a prominent viewing slot to promote the architectural profession, but only if we could just get past the superficial typecast of the token architect to satisfy the need for entertainment.

With Gabrielle now in PR mode after the show, I am surprised how little coverage she has received from the architectural tabloids about her departure, and more poignantly, her performance.  

It is not all about her though and at least she seems to recognise that - trying to engage with RIBA to improve the image of the architect even though the best opportunity to do this was during the show. She wants to look at how we brand ourselves.

It’s a shame the challenge of an architect succeeding in an entrepreneurial adventure did not have a happy ending. But should we be surprised? For all the varied roles an architect plays in practice, and for all the varied roles Gabrielle played on the show, we are still marginalised only accordingly to the existing preconceptions of our discipline. This is highlighted with Gabrielle’s credits every time she appeared on screen - ‘architect and entrepreneur’.

So is she first and foremost an architect, but one who has seemingly moved on from the profession? She has a business idea for Sir Alan, but is her previous occupation just a backstory? The producers did not seem to be able to connect the two when editing, whether because she offered no insight into how her architectural training may help her business strategy or due to the world of ‘business’ not being the place for discussions on architecture.

Not so. Many of the tasks involved the influence of space to increase (enhance) sales, others required an understanding of customer (client) needs, being able to persuade upon the merits of a particular design or idea, to devise an efficient logistical strategy to tight deadlines.

Instead, she positioned herself in the role as the ‘designer’ - but one who was often put up against another contestant, a marketing strategist, with previous experience in design as well.

If I am able to make a judgment on Gabrielle’s performance, she suffered from not extending any relevant architectural skill to inform decisions on the tasks at hand. In other words, a process of lateral thinking – something that all architects should possess and therefore, something students should be taught.

‘Lateral thinking’ is a complex pedagogic study

Lateral thinking as a term is nonchalantly bounded around like a corporate buzzword, but it is a complex pedagogic study with its detailed nuances not necessarily appreciated. Coined by Edward de Bono, it offers a new perspective on simulating solutions and constructing perceptive reasoning to difficult issues.

It essentially suggests that creative thinking is just as important as other more traditional forms (such as critical or logical).

Observing from experience, we already feel students are entering Higher Education unprepared. Ken Robinson makes a convincing argument on why we should reintroduce creativity back into statutory education, not just something certain individuals propose to do once they select their career paths. Many of our new applicants come with new qualifications such as A-levels in Critical Thinking. This is welcomed amongst us academics but this is not enough to start bridging the gaps between business and creativity. 

So if RIBA want to take heed and look into the brand of an architect, they will do well to consider the wider picture, starting with the latent generation in waiting not just the already established.  If they are serious about promoting the profession, then they need to begin supporting new talent in developing entrepreneurial ventures.

I see so much potential everyday, but students are unable to see the possibility of a breakthrough unless they know some well-off hipster in the East End. Unlikely.

They should look at a cross-section of those who graduate from architecture degrees. Contrary to Gabrielle’s comments, we do prepare them on how to get a job; from CV writing to interview techniques, transferable skills to networking - all the way to developing entrepreneurial ventures. As long as we don’t allow students to typecast themselves, I am hopeful for my students as they move on from academia.

But perhaps architecture schools should themselves be a bit more creative in their teaching, providing more modules in innovative business before sending them off to the most belligerent businessman in the country. Having said that, the eventual winner of this series was a solid, if not, unremarkable salesman.  The most creative business idea was easily dismissed.
So what do I know? I am writing this in a musty cupboard of an office and not a fancy boardroom.

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