Top 4 Concerns with Current Architectural Education

Friday, August 26th, 2011

Top 4 Concerns of Architectural Education

I was recently inspired by reading a call to arms for the education of future architects. (inspiration post). I felt the need to provide some of my own thoughts on the state of the architectural educational system.

I would like to make a few points first. I operate a small firm in a college town that just happens to have College of Architecture with over 1800 students. . So I feel as though I have some relevance to this matter, as I interact with a range from first year to graduate level students on a fairly regular basis. I have a fair amount of students and recent graduates that either work in my office or look for work in my office Also I am making a critical review of the system.  Part of being an architect is critical thought. I do not think that the current system has no merit; quite the contrary. I think it has much to offer, but should be offering more as it relates to the profession of architecture. Therefore this is a list of items that I feel need to change if our profession is to persevere into the future….

1.  Provide Reality

This is quite possibly the largest and the toughest issue. Many in academia believe it is not their duty to create graduates that are ready for the workforce. They believe that their sole purpose is to produce creative thinkers. Dreamers. Innovators. I partly applaud this effort. But what does this do for the profession? It places a heavy burden on the professionals to educate new graduates about the actual practice of architecture. And in the current trend of faster production times, (not just this economy) it’s a monumental task for professionals to undertake. This lack of realism also creates impractical expectations within the students about the profession.  This often makes new graduates turn to another field entirely. We are losing some of the best minds in this manner. I have seen this firsthand. Even among those that I graduated with over 16 years ago. The problems stems from the lack of realistic work being created in schools. Student projects have no budget, clients, regulatory agencies, and often gravity. This type of design for the sake of design is better known as art. Art… free of any limitations other than its chosen media. This is not architecture. Yes, I hear you and agree, architecture is part art. But it is also part science, part reality, part negotiation, part limitation, part frustration, and part beauty. By having students only create art masquerading as buildings, this skewed illusion about the profession is established. Disillusionment then becomes easy. Great architects can create meaningful, beautiful, artful projects within all the limitations of reality.

2. Increase Construction Knowledge

This is the second largest issue. Architectural graduates seem to know little about the physical and material aspects of construction. I have a few small tests I give to possible employees; basic architectural stuff. Over the years, my inquiries have evolved. I like to ask questions about construction materials in my interviews. What are the dimensions of a typical CMU? What is membrane flashing? I have been known to hand an interviewee an unlabeled detail and ask them to keynote it. Shown them a set of drawings and then ask them to find information. What material is this wall? How about this door? Etc.. My results over the years have been astonishing to say the least. There is a lack of fundamental construction knowledge required to even begin to participate in the profession. Why?


3. Architecture as Business

This is another very weak link in architectural education. I am, more times than I prefer, hindered by this fact. My education had no business instruction. None. No business classes. No management. No marketing. There was a professional practice class, but its relevance was lost on me at the time. Many of the teachings were nonsensical to me since I had never been in an architectural work environment. This is a desperately needed area of emphasis if our profession is to endure into the future. We are letting others with better business sense operate, manage and market our firms. No! We need to be able to adapt standard business practices to meet our unique needs. But without the business knowledge, we are at a disadvantage. I would wager that most of us learned by experience (i.e. fire) or example (i.e. this is how we’ve done it for years). Both of which can be counterproductive and stagnant, keeping us from being the innovators we are capable of being. (see #1)

4. Collaborate with others (in meaningful ways)

This is a tough one. It is a difficult task to collaborate across colleges and departments within the University setting. But some of this needs to occur. It’s difficulty is often compounded because it could be the uneducated collaborating with the undereducated. But it is also the possibility for a great innovative approach to the AEC world. Too often students are being pre-programmed to see contractors, engineers, etc. as adversaries from the beginning of their education. This does not benefit our profession. (nor in the end, our clients projects) But this is collaboration needs to be attempted. Work with others and understand what they bring to the process and how it could change the process itself.

So that is my rough summary. Please feel free to share comments. Start the dialog. Next up I will espouse on the best bits of the architectural education.