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Architectural education: all change for a better journey

Paul Finch
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Changes are afoot that will transform the way architecture is taught in the UK, says Paul Finch

This month saw the latest ‘Polyark’ international student event take place, on this occasion in London at the impressive Here East UCL/Bartlett facility in Stratford. Sterling work by John Lyall and the RIBA’s education director, David Gloster, resulted in a dozen schools presenting work and combining in mixed teams. Students from Bucharest won the charrette prize for a temporary theatre design on a riverside site in the Olympic Park. The teams chose their sites after a tour in an old London Transport double-decker.

The bus was symbolic, since it was a bus tour organised by Peter Murray and Cedric Price 45 years ago (pictured) that marked the beginning of the Polyark programme, aimed at promoting a pick-and-mix approach to architectural education, plus greater collaboration and cross-fertilisation between students and schools. 

Polyark bus

Polyark bus

The different ways of teaching architecture is now a hot topic for several reasons, chief among them being a wish to shorten the time it takes to qualify, which in turn relates to a general desire to increase the talent pool from which architecture draws, rather than limiting it to those prepared or able to shoulder the massive financial burden of the traditional seven-year process. This is in the context of the EU architecture directive, which means that five-year qualification procedures have to be recognised in all member countries, a situation unlikely to change as a result of Brexit.

Under Gloster and successive education vice-presidents, the RIBA has promoted a proposition for a fundamental change in UK education, whereby schools would take responsibility for everything required for registration, ending the system under which the educational qualification is followed by at least one year in practice, with further coursework outboard of the first and second degrees leading to the Part 3 examination. In future, students of architecture would deal with everything they need to be called architects as part and parcel of their academic qualifications.

This approach, launched in 2013, had its basic principles approved by RIBA Council at an open meeting of councillors and educators (the first time this had happened) in 2016, chaired by your correspondent. Since then, the 50-plus schools now recognised by the RIBA and ARB have been reviewing their student offer and the institute hopes that, by September 2019, all schools will have made proposals for integrated programmes, no doubt a subject for discussion at the September meeting of RIBA Council.

The Bartlett has won outline approval from UCL to launch a four-year ‘MSci’ integrated masters course

That will also take on board the major apprenticeship initiative recently announced by the ‘Trailblazer’ group of 20 practices, chaired by Foster + Partners. This version of part-time qualification could be seen as a response to the London School of Architecture programme launched in 2015, which combines academic and professional training also involving practices.

These two radical ideas about the virtues of multiple routes to qualification have, happily, been endorsed by the RIBA and ARB. Let’s hope that this spirit of co-operation will extend to the proposed integrated courses in the main schools of architecture. For example, Bob Sheil at the Bartlett has won outline approval from UCL to launch a four-year ‘MSci’ integrated masters course, which would elide academic study and professional experience. The five-year programme would save students £30,000 to £40,000, not least because in the fifth year, where students would undertake agreed research projects within practices, they would only pay 20 per cent of normal fees.

Sheil sees the scheme as strengthening the relationship between schools and practice, with students contributing real expertise, rather than simply grinding out routine stuff prior to a Part 3 exam. If all goes to plan, the scheme will be launched in 2020; the first ‘graduates’, fully qualified architects, will emerge in 2026. 

Things are on the move.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Students still have to complete the brutal 5 year course which is often made longer as tutors regularly tell hard-working students to 'repeat the year'. RIBA still does nothing to avoid the injustices experienced by thousands of students who are failed for any lame reason. Architecture schools LOVE to fail anyone whose designs or personality they don't favour and no questions are ever asked.

    Marking project work, since the course's inception in the 1950s has been, and still is a roulette system in which tutors pluck numbers from the sky, and students have no readdress against brutal decisions that will adversely affect the rest of their lives.

    Meanwhile others sail through the entire course never touching pen to paper as it is possible to have someone else produce your designs and drawings and hand them in as your own. Cheating is rife and occurs in every architecture schools and is even condoned. For some unknown reason the schools refuse to test that a student is able to produce his/her own drawings. The RIBA 'validates' these joke courses.

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  • I remember in the 60s a certain school of architecture was very similar to the description given by Morag, sadly the same situation still exists. Lecturers certainly had their favourites and ones they just did not like no matter what they produced.
    Produce something that wasn't flat roof modernist and you would be shown the door. Apart from that it didn't matter about the design as long as it was drawn very neatly with rotring pens that always clogged up.

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