Delft University of Technology’s new chair of architecture and interiors, Daniel Rosbottom, on architectural education in the UK and why students should look to study abroad
What will be your core priorities at TU Delft?
Being part-time and freed from the administrative burden of managing a school, my role is to focus on teaching, research and academic direction.
I feel honoured to be asked to follow on from the work of the previous professor, Tony Fretton. Through the work that he and the team there undertook over 14 years, the chair established an international reputation and a strong tradition of study across the scales of interiors, buildings and cities, reflecting upon the physical and social relations of public life. It is a critically important conversation in the context of Dutch and European architecture and a trajectory I plan to continue and develop in dialogue with the existing staff.
Delft as a whole has a long tradition of typological thinking to which I would hope to bring the influence of topography and place. I am also interested in the reclaiming of the interior as a contiguous part of the city, from which the urban experience unfolds, rather than an addendum, fitted out after the fact.
What is the most important thing a school can teach?
To be cultured, open, observant and creatively rigorous in the translation of ideas into form, space and material relationships.
What is the biggest issue architecture students face?
As future architects, students need to be critically engaged and take responsibility for the future of our collective built environment at a time of environmental crisis and fundamental urban change on a worldwide scale. This means developing a social, political and environmental awareness, in order to think beyond the recent obsession with building image.
Beyond the demands of client and programme, they need to consider the appropriate role of architecture within the city and the landscape and in response to the needs and aspirations of people and communities. Above all, they need to find ways to be eloquent makers of buildings, in an ever more complex culture of procurement, where it is easy to be marginalised.
With increases in UK tuition fees, will we see an influx of students travelling to Europe to study architecture?
I have continued to teach in the UK until now through a desire to be part of the public education system in this country, which allowed students from all backgrounds to become architects. However, the effective privatisation of the system, through the introduction of £9,000 fees, broke that bond for me. It is quite possible that neither my business partner nor myself would have been in a position to study architecture in the current situation, with the enormous debt burden it places on students.
The current system has also politicised the system of funding. The protest around the introduction of fees makes it extremely difficult for any government to raise them, leading to a net reduction, against costs, in university incomes and hence school budgets year-on-year.
I am disappointed that magazines like the AJ validate such rankings
This, allied with the parallel shift of money towards ‘quality management’ and governance, means students are not only paying more, they are getting less. While teachers in schools of architecture are working incredibly hard to mitigate this ongoing situation, it is unlikely to improve in the immediate future and I would certainly encourage students to look at Europe as a viable alternative.
TU Delft came third in a recent league table of the world’s 100 best places to study architecture by higher education data specialist QS. What do you think of ranking schools of architecture?
I have little faith in league tables and rankings as a measure of the quality of education within architecture schools. One only has to look at the placing of schools of architecture within the Guardian league tables for example, to see what a disservice the skewed priorities of their metrics offer to prospective architecture students. Such rankings have little to do with where I understand excellence to be. Indeed their value-added score, which encourages the inflation of degree classifications, runs counter to quality as expressed through the strength of a design portfolio.
One only has to look at where a fantastic school like the CASS is placed in UK league tables to see the problem. I am always disappointed that magazines like the AJ, which have subject expertise, validate such rankings. This does little to contribute to a genuinely useful debate about how education might usefully critique our profession or how schools might radically improve the contribution that we as architects make to culture, society and the contemporary city. Fortunately, particularly at postgraduate level, enlightened students can see past such things.
Is the architectural education system too long?
Not in my view. What we do is too complex and too important to be rushed. I think the current debate is useful in opening up questions and opportunities about how education might be more flexible or related to practice and with regard to the ways in which students can make the educational opportunities to be found in the workplace count. We should be careful to focus on the ambition of the outcome, and not just the process.
How important is the integration of practice with education?
I have spent the past seven years as one of the very few heads of school who was also engaged in international practice and, within my own experience, this establishment of a critical relationship between practice and the academy has been of fundamental concern.
The goal is not to create an instant workforce for the status quo of what seems to me a rather diminished profession, but to educate students to be thinking, reflective practitioners, who have the capability to make a developing and lifelong contribution to society, through the buildings and spaces they create.
It is important that schools establish relationships through which practice can make a meaningful contribution to the education of architects; but it’s equally important that students understand themselves as the future of practice.
Daniel Rosbottom was in conversation with Laura Mark
Rosbottom: ‘Students are not only paying more, they are getting less’