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What will prepare students for life in modern practice?

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Last week the AJ pledged its support for the Ryder Architecture-led Future of the Built Environment Education Campaign. Here Arup structural engineer Tristam Carfrae, who is on the pan-industry task force, suggests a way forward, while Merlin Fulcher picks out highlights of the LinkedIn debate

Tristram Carfrae

Tristam Carfrae

The built environment needs professionals with increasingly diverse views, skills and approaches. The best way to develop them is to offer wide-ranging and flexible academic learning followed by industry-based development and backed by adaptable and accommodating professional regulation.

As we become more holistic in our approach to planning and designing our cities and the built environment more generally, we need a plethora of experts and people who will integrate this expertise into the best overall end-result.

Our current professional regulation tends to streamline us into being ‘engineers’ or ‘architects’ from an early age.

The traditional view of an engineer is that of a mathematical problem-solver, striving for the single, correct solution. But in real life there is rarely one right answer, so we need engineers who are happy dealing with open-ended situations. Why not encourage people to pursue an engineering degree, followed by a master’s in architecture? Currently, few would choose this route, because they would end up as neither a chartered engineer nor a registered architect.

I’m not suggesting everyone should become a generalist; we need different pathways for different kinds of people.

We need specialists in architecture and in engineering, but we also need people who interpret and integrate these skills. Could the architectural profession benefit, for example, from including people with experience in social sciences who know how to design for people’s needs and behaviours?

IT is enabling us to fully define every element of a building before it is constructed. To make the most of this technology, we need people who can use IT and advanced manufacturing expertise.

The internet has great potential for BIM. We can use data collected from smart buildings to create a virtual built environment, where we can model changes before we implement them. But how many schools of architecture and engineering in the UK are teaching students about BIM?

Do we fully recognise the skillsets that would benefit the built environment? The design syllabus in our secondary schools fails to give students the foundation in creativity they need.

When students arrive at university they often find the engineering and architecture faculties have nothing to do with each other. The University of Bath stands out in this regard – but why aren’t others doing more?

Universities should concentrate on academic development while the industry focuses on professional development.

But for the sake of our built environment, academia and industry must work together on a more flexible approach to education.

James Francis
Ingenium Archial

Wages of £55,000 after a year’s training to be a train driver or wages of £18,000 to £26,000 after seven years training to be an architect? It is already beginning to feel like a rich man’s playground in the profession and I use the word ‘man’ pointedly.

If you are going to have this debate it must also address all the equality issues that may affect the demographics of the profession, sex, social background, ethnicity, age, etc.

Mark Shaw
formerly of CPMG Architects

Going through the architectural degree system after first gaining a BTEC and HBTEC in construction, I found it very annoying that universities would not accept my existing qualifications.

A module-based system of education is required here, where respective modules within the full range of courses available in the construction, engineering, architecture, environmental, business and design professions are placed on an equal footing and where cross-course exemption is allowed throughout all degrees.

If this were combined with full time, part-time, evening and workplace assessment models of education, then you would truly begin to radically shake up the degree course and education system.

Alan Power
Alan Power Architects

The most essential need is to encourage students to think for themselves, and to have a real curiosity about the world they are living in. Also, I would suggest that the use of computers be more restricted: CAD imagery has often tended to replace actual ideas in so many of the projects I have seen from students in recent years.

Linaka Greensword,

As someone who has finished their Part 1, fees are one thing keeping me from going into Part 2. The main thing, however, is the insecurity of the profession as a whole. Part 1 and Part 2 students have been highly undervalued. I wonder sometimes if the architectural industry really deserves the best or the brightest when they undervalue them so?

Architecture is an altruistic profession but also seems to be a very cannibalistic profession (in the UK at least) – a form of eating the young so the older can survive.

Call it thinning out if you wish, but to me the world can never have too few people trained as architects. I don’t know anyone from my year working in the architecture industry in the UK.

Despite all the negativity regarding architecture, I still believe the profession can pull together under one rallying banner.

If this means changing the education system - I’m all for it, providing the students of today aren’t penalised for wanting to pursue architecture at the wrong time of the century.

Claudia Murray
University of London

Several commentators point out the lack of business skills architects have. I agree. We finish the degree and we are encouraged to deal with clients, open up shop and, if you get lucky, some even venture into internationalisation, with all the implications of cross-border investment and finding local partners in a foreign country.

Undoubtedly, small and large-scale practices need more business skills, not the first time we’ve been approached at Henley Business School by the creative industries for help. Maybe an opportunity to get together and expand Part 3 programmes?

Business schools also need architects to help them think outside the box! A match made in heaven, to my eyes.

Matt Hedges
Chartered Practice Architects

Schools should stop their obsession with 3D CAD. The most basic skill for a student is to be able to draw in 2D and to be able to produce accurate plans, sections and elevations. Schools really fail students in this respect by not requiring them to produce information in the same format as they will need to provide it in industry.

Schools should also include more project management, law, construction, and environmental sciences. Schools put far too much emphasis on the concept design and only include the more practical elements as a reluctant add on at the end. These should be integrated into the design process. The profession will lose more of our responsibilities as schools fail to teach our students about it.

The profession also needs to be more accessible. We cannot turn into an elitist band of professionals in ivory towers.

It is not possible to maintain high wages for those starting their careers. I have more than 20 years’ experience in the profession and I still earn less than a London Underground train driver for longer hours and more responsibility. We are not in a position to be able to charge clients more.


  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Like many of the smaller practices I teach part-time and run a fairly busy 15 person studio. Interestingly over the last 8 years I have been teaching I have employed many of my own students from both The Bartlett and from my current MArch unit at Westminster. I also work on the RIBA Validation Board so I have quite a good base from which to comment.

    As a practice we have learnt so much from our work in teaching and would say in fact it has reminded us why we practice and reinforced our research, testing through making, design integrity and the development of theory based projects. I think many practices could benefit from what an injection of a positive and imaginative PartII student can offer in front end design.

    There are certainly specific weaknesses in the way that architecture students are prepared for practice but also there are most definitely major weaknesses in the way practices apply theory to design.

    Onto the specific weaknesses of education, and I think this is common in practice, is the lack of students technical expertise and an understanding of how materials come together and perform. Neither practice or technical are seen as glamorous subjects and often students grind through the modules on offer to simply get the required module mark. Clearly technology needs to be project based and fully integrated in the design module.

    Obviously the greatest concern we all have is the cost of education for an architect. As you quite rightly point out, an architect will earn close to the bottom of the professional earnings table with possibly the highest education costs.

    It is clear to me that somehow we need to integrate the post-graduate course more into practice with maybe 1 year part-time and 1 final year full-time. This way students would be earning part-time, benefitting from the knowledge of the practice regarding integrating technology while retaining the valuable final year where they crystallise their design ideas and theory.

    We always pair our more experienced architects with new Part II graduates, a kind of apprenticeship which somehow keeps them both fresh!
    I know this is a complex issue but I thought it worth saying that the design component of education is on the whole excellent.

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