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Theory and practice can coalesce in education

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Two articles by Paul Hyett and Professor Allen Cunningham ('Education at the crossroads', aj 23.9.99), follow a time-honoured and familiar pattern in lamenting the state of architectural education, while at the same time drawing attention to the extraordinary success of many large and small British practices worldwide.

Garry Stevens in his seminal 1998 study, The Favoured Circle: the Sociological Foundations of Architectural Distinction, puts it rather succinctly: 'The profession has never been reticent about criticising those responsible for the growth in the subordinate sector, the universities. Complaints of the rupture between education and practice have been made in the usa and the uk since the 1930s. One wonders just what it is that the regular accreditation reviews are reviewing if the state of education is as bad as painted'. We may indeed wonder what the riba and arb have been doing over the years with their elaborate systems of annual examining and quinquennial visiting boards.

Referring to the large numbers of practitioners involved in architectural education in the usa and uk, Stevens goes on to point out that 'with such a remarkable penetration of practitioners into academe, it is at first sight extraordinary that there should be such a disjunction between the needs of practice and the skills of graduates', but that this results from the 'very structure of the field'.

Inevitably, there is much to agree and disagree with in the many generalisations offered by Hyett and Cunningham, so I will confine myself to addressing one. Cunningham states 'that no school in this country or anywhere else has (to

my knowledge) successfully demonstrated the principle of a consistent, causal link between research and studio work'.

It is not entirely clear whether he believes there should be such a link. There is a narrow view that all research must be immediately 'relevant', applicable, to studio work or to current practice concerns. This would be as limiting a view of research in architecture as it would in other fields, and contribute little to Frank Duffy's view of the 'knowledge- based' profession.

Setting this aside, he must know, as a teacher of experience, that all studio teaching is based explicitly or implicitly on research. Examples are not too hard to find:

1. Probably the most potent is the work of Colin Rowe and Bernard Hoesli at Austin, Texas, from 1954 to 1957. Not only did Rowe's research (beginning with The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa, published in 1947 while he was still a student of Wittkower's) significantly affect the studio work at Austin, Cornell and elsewhere, but it has a profound impact on architectural thinking, built architecture, and attitudes to urban design. All this is elegantly documented, in the best research tradition, in Caragonne's The Texas Rangers of 1995.

2. The poor performance of much British architecture in terms of environmental comfort, and use, to the end of the 60s, generated a wide range

of research which, in my experience, had considerable impact on studio work. Initially, focussed by Banham's very fine study, The Architecture of the Well-tempered Environment (from 1969), such fine work drew together the concern with resources which today goes under the term 'sustainability'. I imagine that few, if any, schools have not felt the impact of this on studio work.

3. In the field of constructional technology, one could cite the many studies carried out by Alan Brookes at Liverpool (and later at Oxford Brookes), often with students, and which developed not only into a research- based practice but into a valuable studio and practice resource.

4. My own research on the relation of ideas and technologies and their impact on twentieth-century architecture (Building Systems, Industrialisation and Architecture, 1981) undoubtedly affected my work in the studio. Equally, the Portsmouth 'Paradigm Project' has for 25 years consistently drawn together research in history, theory, formal design strategies and technological means in a studio design context. Generations of students have subsequently referred to the impact this project has had upon them. For a short account of this, see 'Paradigms Lost: Paradigms regained', in Educating Architects by Martin Pearce and Maggie Toy, 1995 (Reviews, aj 11.5.95).

After this, it may be a surprise to find that I agree with Cunningham that much of design 'evades any academic measure' and that at its core it is a 'mystical procedure'. But unlike him, I

find no contradiction between this and research and have spent many years in practice, and as a teacher, integrating theory and practice in the context of educational experience.

It is easy to see how the pressure for the re-skilling of the profession in many fields has given rise to renewed demands on the schools to 'do better'. However, while the schools probably need no reminding of the central importance of vocational skills, perhaps both profession and schools do need to be reminded, at this point in time, that it is the education of an individual which is at stake, and that education does indeed sit in a larger context - even than architecture.

Barry Russell, West Sussex

Chipperfield misplaced in education article

I was surprised to see the name, 'David Chippenfield', added to a list of architects that formed part of my article on education in last week's aj. This, I assume, is an incorrect spelling of


Much as I respect David's work, his inclusion (I assume by an editor) in to the list of architects prepared by me to illustrate a particular point was inappropriate, and all the more embarrassing due to the spelling error. Readers will think I have only two o levels when in fact I have three!

Sorry, David . . .

Paul Hyett

Some universities do organise year-out work

With regard to year-out work, S Tatton expresses amazement that universities do not have links with practices 'so that professional practice is properly integrated into the syllabus.' (aj Letters 16.9.99)

This may be the case in many universities, but certainly not all. At Sheffield Hallam University we run degrees in architecture and also architectural technology. For all our sandwich courses, we have an integrated system - not only do we help find appropriate practices for work experience, we also carry out two visits in the year out to ensure the students are learning appropriate skills. On return, we ask for a student and employer report on the year; the student must submit a log book. I must agree that guidance is important and the year-out is an integral part of a degree; otherwise students can have a wasted year in terms of quality experience.


leader, Department of Architecture and Environmental Design, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield S1

'I can't actually express my opinion, but . . .'

I suppose I have to respond

to Rob Hughes' letter (aj 16.9.99), although I think it's stretching a point to describe me as 'Pimlico's Bill Thomas'.

As Rob very well knows, it would be unprofessional, verging on the dishonourable, for me or any of my colleagues to express our opinion in public about our position on the save-it/knock-it-down debate.

If I did express an opinion, it would be because I believe it, not because others did.

Unhappily, our society produces all sorts of 'cancerous waste mountains'. Those that consist of children with blighted education are presumably even more distressing than the ones made out of demolished buildings - whatever their quality. (See Bob Lye's letter, also in

aj 16.9.99)

Unless my letters are syndicated, your readers might like to know that the one to which Rob refers was published in September's riba Journal, not the

aj. But thanks for the two cheers anyway.

Bill Thomas, Pollard Thomas & Edwards Architects

You're devoting too much space to Foster

Not content with breathless and sycophantic saturation of everything to come out of the

offices of Foster and Partners whether worthy of publication or not, you now present us with full-colour pictures of nothing more than scaffolding of his latest project under the spurious guise of an 'environmental study' (aj 23.9.99).

Why don't you go the whole hog and rename your magazine 'The Foster's Journal?' It would be a more accurate description of the Foster Associates Practice Brochure that your magazine has become.

Duncan Fisher, Sunderland

Perhaps 'Internet row' story will open debate

I was very pleased to read David Taylor's news piece, 'Internet row hits riba region' (aj 23.9.99). riba seems to some like a secret society. I hope the article will open up the debate about transparent running of riba - perhaps with members (and councillors) informed and consulted on decision-making.

My original concern was simply the adequate scrutiny of the expenditure of almost £100,000 of riba members' subscriptions. I had hoped that Alex Reid's push to get members and practices onto e-mail would improve access and communication. It is unfortunate that my naive comments about riba have been stifled on both intranet and internet. riba may require that voluntary members' efforts will only be supported if we can match the professional levels which we hope for - and often get - from riba staff. I certainly need help in eliciting answers to my concerns and in keeping Camden Society of Architects alive.

All members of riba may wish to comment on the Regional Services Work Group's report on the future of regions and branches. It was issued for consultation early in the summer. My annotated version is online at the London region forum on ribanet.

Due to London region staff's help, I, as a branch chair and regional council member, was able to comment to the work group before its 22 September meeting. It will help clarify whether elected upstarts, such as branch chairs, should be entitled to meddle in obscure areas - such as regional management. Perhaps information overload will swamp our little teacup if all affected respond.

Iain Meek, chair,

Camden Society of Architects; www.meek.demon.co.uk/csa.html

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