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Validation must allow architectural education the freedom to flourish

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This week I complete my periods as external examiner at Liverpool and Belfast schools of architecture. I am most impressed by the extraordinary diversity and tremendous energy evident in the work. The progressive nature of our education system and the liberal framework within which the projectbased learning experience is delivered clearly encourages the ambition, variety, and enthusiasm that is so typical of our schools.

Three outstanding projects illustrate this point. Oscar Price, Gurmeet Singh Sian, Philip Hambley and Justin Evans collaborated on a Part 1 submission at Liverpool in summer '99.

They considered the (then) current virtual reality techniques (head-mounted displays, projection screens, computer graphics) as compromised because any movement was either preprogrammed by others or necessitated participation through the medium of a standard 'mouse' control, so they decided that it would be 'ideal to amalgamate both physical and mental sensations of motion in navigating an artificial world'.

Aiming to advance techniques in architectural representation they developed an exercise bike linked to a video program which displayed projects on a large screen.

Pedal forward to progress through the scheme, backwards to reverse. Turn handlebars to change direction, twist grips to look up or down. Splashing sounds if you walk into the ornamental pool - and a loud bang if you 'walk' into the patio doors. Brilliant!

Rashidi Bin Abd Hamid, also at Liverpool, submitted an outrageous Part 2 project.

Taking the site in St John's Wood for which Connell Lucas Ward designed an apartment block, abandoned at foundation stage at the outset of World War II, he designed a conversion of the scheme to a hotel on the hypothesis that the original project had been completed, listed, but since fallen into disrepair. Hamid's regeneration scheme was blown up by an IRA bomb targeted at John Major, who had already left for cricket at Lord's, so in a further twist to the narrative this student prepared a further design for an international cricket complex to host a fictional 1999 world cup.

Each step in this site's 'imagined' history was convincingly illustrated (and criticised! ) through mock building reviews and angry correspondence in the architectural press. It concluded with a Guardian front-page story which revealed Hamid as a fraudster for publishing the virtual history of a building that had never existed. Such confidence, and such panache! Who's kidding who?

Finally Julie White of Queen's University submitted an outstanding dissertation on the performance of the ARBmeasured against a variety of criteria including its obligations and responsibilities under the Act. This sober account revealed a sophisticated understanding of professional practice that is quite unexpected in a Part 2 candidate. Pity she wasn't the ARB's first Registrar!

And the lessons of all this? Architectural education needs freedom to flourish, and validation processes must always take this into account. Education is in many ways ahead of the game, anticipating new fields of work and new areas of opportunity.

Validation should not stifle such progress. Of course core levels of competence are required by those who wish to operate in traditional fields of architectural activity but, as Stansfield-Smith shows so convincingly, our profession has an ever-widening role that spawns endless specialisms. We surely don't want to force everyone down a common Part 1,2 and 3 route, nor do we want to lose those who, like the designers of the virtual simulation bicycle, may not wish to complete a 'standard' course. They too deserve a formally recognised place in architecture, with the freedom to use title acknowledged by special categorisation at the ARB. This will then allow such people to be welcomed into full membership of the RIBA.

The real challenge in both education and registration is how to respond to the tremendous forces of change confronting our profession while ensuring levels of training and education in core skills appropriate to the graduate's chosen career path.

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