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How architecture education is limiting students

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Recently qualified Julia Wyatt of Green Tea Architects on how the architecture education system needs to engage more effectively with younger members of the profession

The need for a drastic reappraisal of the process of educating architects is being recognised, led by a number of well-known architects and educators. As a recently qualified student who has also been engaged in the practice of architecture I’d like to add my voice for the need for change.

I recently qualified after eight years of architectural education. During my diploma year I co-founded an architectural practice with two other more mature architects. It was an unusual opportunity at a tender age in my career - but one which has given me a different approach to the requirements of education and practice.

Fifty years ago we were one of the highest paid professions. We are now one of the worst

The mid 1960s saw architectural education refined into a uniform academic system with institutional control by the RIBA. Fifty years later this system has not altered to reflect the dramatic changes in the profession, society, politics, legislation, economic climate, construction industry, building procurement, technology and the global village in which we all work. As a result, our profession has lost its leading role in the construction process. Fifty years ago we were one of the highest paid professions. We are now one of the worst.

How then can we our expect our students to lock into a five year full-time course leaving them with debts of up to £45, 000 for tuition fees alone? The head of one of the leading architectural schools stated at a recent public meeting that her students were actually not concerned about university fees as few expected to earn more than £20,000pa. What a sad refection on where we have slipped to as a profession.

One problem we have, originating from the 1960s, is that architectural education is still too theory-based. While it is essential that students are encouraged to develop their creative design in their early days at architectural school they must be educated to be able to react to the realities of practice. The fact that architecture is a practical art and buildings have to work does not seem to have any priority in schools.  This is mainly due to the imbalance in the schools of tutors who have had no recent experience – if any – in the reality of practice rather than theory. Neither does the education system recognise the fact that there are now specialisations in practising architecture. Not all architects are generalists anymore.

Younger members of the profession are the future for architecture, the profession and the RIBA

The RIBA needs to engage more effectively with the younger members of the profession. They are the future for architecture, the profession and the RIBA. The current academic system is blocking the opportunity to produce great architecture in the future by limiting our students to those with wealthy parents or privileged backgrounds. Shorter, more flexible and varied courses would address the problems with student fees that make architecture one of the most expensive degrees.

Architecture is vocational. It’s a craft. Architectural education is a lengthy and gruelling test; more intense and demanding than most other degrees. Yet on completion a student’s understanding of the practical requirements of practice in this modern demanding world is minimal.

If we are to avoid our profession sliding further into a lack of importance and influence we must deal with the fundamental problems with architectural education. We can then return with pride to the title we were given by the ancient Greeks – arkhitekton: arckhi meaning chief and tekton meaning builder.

Julia Wyatt, partner, Green Tea Architects


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