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How do we maintain the ‘beautiful risk’ of education in times like these?

Emily Booth
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Far from being ‘snowflakes’, this talented and committed future generation of architects faces a blizzard of challenges, writes Emily Booth

There are two quotes that stand out for me in the latest AJ – a rich and special issue, dedicated to students’ work and their first experiences of working in practice.

The first is from a teacher, professor Gert Biesta, which is also the title of his 2014 book: The Beautiful Risk of Education. This ‘beautiful risk’ is referenced by student Malcolm Ebose, an undergraduate at Cambridge University. His student project focuses on a building for the wellbeing of students who, he says, are struggling with a combination of fees, instrumentalised training and pressure from social media. The irony of his choice of subject matter isn’t lost. 

The second is from Laura Hill, who is completing her Part 3 at the University of the West of England: ‘I would advise those at university to try and enjoy this time,’ she says. ‘It is a real opportunity for creative and intellectual exploration … without the restrictions of client demands and cost implications. However, do not let it consume or become your life. You are a person and not a robot. Be prepared for a bumpy ride.’

Architectural education isn’t the world of work. So what, exactly, is it a time for? Surely studying is an experience that should be precious and formative.

It is a time when creative expression should be allowed to flourish, and where early experiment can inform future direction. Yet the disconnect between theoretical freedom at architectural school and practical working reality can become too great, particularly at Part 3.

The AJ’s student survey has uncovered some concerning trends

The AJ’s student survey for the first time looks at how students find professional working life. It has uncovered some concerning trends. For starters, 40 per cent of Part 1 students go on site less than once a month, while Part 2 students often have little idea of the RIBA plan of work, or how contracts work.

By the time they get to Part 3, students are, sadly, very familiar with the profession’s long-hours culture; but half of them do not think that architectural education has provided them with the knowledge they need in practice. 

How is it possible to maintain the ‘beautiful risk’ of education, when more students than ever must work part-time to fund their expensive studies, when the challenges of climate change and political uncertainty hang over them, when low wages dog the profession?

As they move upwards and outwards, students’ architectural education needs increasingly to address the reality of working in practice. Far from being ‘snowflakes’, this talented and committed future generation of architects faces a blizzard of challenges and, in that transitional time between education and the real world, require the full support of the industry.

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