Are students graduating from architecture school prepared for the profession? Is the educational system aligned with the workplace? What is the best software to teach students? Can we all just get along? We started this exploration of the idea that Architecture School may need some modifications in Episode 137. The system needs to change to provide the skills, knowledge, and pathways for the future of the profession, but what else may need to be addressed? What does all of this mean to students, architects, and the public at large? … Welcome to Episode 138: Is Architecture School Broken? Part 2
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Today, Bob and I continue discussing the current architectural education system and look at a few more items. This time around, we hit on some of the positive aspects (which we know there are many), and we also move out into the impact on the general public. We started this dialogue last episode and simply didn’t realize we had so much to say on this topic. While it has been on our list for quite a while, it brought out a great deal of conversation. So we had to break it into these two episodes.
As with the last episode, it’s important to note that these criticisms are not universal, and different architectural programs may address these concerns to varying degrees. So, while we are making some sweeping generalizations, these issues do not apply to EVERY school of architecture. So just a simple “keep that in mind” note for any of those schools, programs, or individuals that disagree with some of this content. We know it’s different everywhere. Which to some extent is a good thing, and to some extent is also not so good.
So, without any further lead-up, let’s just get right back into it…
The Divide between Practice and Academia jump to 2:00
There seems to have always been a division between these two sides and it can be linked all the way back to the separation of Ecole de Beaux Arts and Ecole Polytechnique way back in the late eighteenth century. This separation seems to ebb and flow over time, but it never truly disappears, and in reality, it doesn’t seem to get close. Now there are undeniably some programs that attempt to bridge this gap within their programs and curricula. This is one of the constant challenges of academia. Architecture programs are not trade schools teaching students how to draft and produce, but they can also not be purely theoretical and eliminate any practice-based knowledge. The main struggle lies in the space between those two ideals. The tendencies of each program to one side of the spectrum or the other vary widely. For prospective students, this can be challenging to determine how the programs lean. As an educator in the system, there is a consistent pull of teaching students practical, immediately applicable skills or teaching critical/abstract thinking, and long-term knowledge.
There are several other factors contributing to this division…
- Theoretical vs. Practical Emphasis: Academia often places a strong emphasis on architectural theory, history, and experimentation. While this is valuable for the intellectual growth of the discipline, some professionals in the field argue that it does not sufficiently prepare students for the practical challenges of real-world architectural practice, such as budget constraints, building codes, and client relationships.
- Studio Culture: The studio-based learning model in academia can foster an intense and insular environment, focused on design exploration and creative expression. This studio culture may not fully represent the day-to-day demands and dynamics of professional practice, which require a more holistic approach encompassing project management, technical skills, and collaboration with other stakeholders.
- Limited Exposure to Real Projects: Architectural education often involves hypothetical or academic design projects rather than real, built structures. This can create a disconnect between what students learn in school and the practical realities of the profession. If all the projects are unimaginable, theoretical, and unrealistic, this can leave students unprepared for the realities of the profession and the workforce.
- Slow Adoption of Technological Advances: Some architectural programs may lag behind in integrating the latest digital tools and technologies, which are becoming increasingly essential in professional practice. This can leave graduates ill-prepared for the technical aspects of the field. This one can vary a great deal among programs. Some architectural schools are waaaaayyy ahead of current technology and others are lagging behind clinging to older methodologies. There are some schools growing mushroom-based architectural models while others still rely on hand-drafting for a majority of the program. Again this inconsistency is an issue for the overall education system of future architects as they enter the workforce.
- Professional Licensing: The process of becoming a licensed architect is governed by specific requirements, including work experience and successful completion of licensing exams. Some argue that academic programs do not always align well with these requirements, leading to a gap between education and professional practice.
- Limited Interdisciplinary Training: Academia and the architectural profession may operate in silos, with limited cross-pollination of ideas between the two. Professionals argue that interdisciplinary training should be emphasized to better address complex, real-world problems.
- Research vs. Practice: In some cases, academic institutions prioritize architectural research and scholarly work over practical, applied research or professional development, further deepening the divide.
- Controversies in Design Philosophy: Architectural movements and design philosophies can sometimes create tension. For example, the stark contrast between some contemporary academic architectural theories and the preferences of certain clients or the general public can lead to disagreements over design approaches.
- Recognition of the Importance of Practice Management: The management of architectural practices, including project management, client relationships, and business acumen, is often underrepresented in academia. This can lead to architects who are technically proficient but may struggle with the business aspects of their work.
- Different Philosophical and Ethical Stances: There can be differences in philosophical and ethical stances between academia and the profession. For example, debates on sustainability and ethical design choices may highlight differences in perspectives and priorities.
There are some Good Things about the System jump to 33:20
We cannot disregard the fact that the architecture education system has some very positive aspects to it as well. In hindsight, we should have spread this across both of the episodes, but it only ended up in this one. While there are issues to be addressed in the education of architects, there is also plenty of things that we get correct. Also, there are opportunities that only happen in the architectural education system. We felt it was necessary to bring those to this conversation as well. Despite the two episodes and the title, the architectural education system does have merit in its current state.
- Fostering Creativity: Architectural education encourages creativity, design thinking, and critical problem-solving skills, preparing students to envision and create innovative structures. This is one of the best things in architecture school. We work on the “What if…” type projects. We apply our design thinking and methodology to those Mobile habitats on the Dark Side of the Moon. These allow us to look at very unreal or unrealized types of projects with the insight that we apply to the process of any design project. These explorations push our creativity and eventually even the profession in some cases forward to help architects address unimaginable issues.
- Diverse Educational Approaches: Many architecture schools have adapted to contemporary needs, offering diverse courses, interdisciplinary learning, and integrating digital technologies and sustainable design.
- Historical and Theoretical Foundations: Architectural education equips students with an understanding of architectural history and theory, providing a valuable intellectual foundation.
- Studio Culture: The design studio environment encourages collaboration, peer learning, and the development of design skills through hands-on projects. Yes, this is a positive aspect also. There are not many other instances where a student has such close one-on-one education with a professor about their work. The studio mechanism of singular dialog about one student’s work and ideas is not a very common occurrence in any type of higher education. This is a daily activity for studio professors and their students. We talk with individual students about their ideas and approaches to design and their thought process to help them evolve an individual approach. Truly what other education system works like this?
- Access to Expert Faculty: Students have the opportunity to learn from experienced faculty members who bring practical and theoretical knowledge to the classroom. Some of the most advanced research in architecture is happening in academia. Architecture students have access to those professors and researchers who are leading the forefront in the world of architectural research. This is also a fairly unique situation. Yes, other educational systems do something similar, but in architecture a majority of the profession/industry of architecture, the big research and development is happening at the academic level. So students have the ability to engage with this aspect of the professional industry.
The Impact on Public Perception jump to 45:27
While we focused mainly on the educational systems during our conversation, we realized that this has some impacts on the way the public thinks about architecture. In our discussion, we veer of course a bit and talk about how the profession contributes to this issue, but much of this begins in school. Architects have a difficult time communicating our value to the ‘general public’ due to a myriad of reasons. Some of them could be construed as being rooted in academia and then simply propagating throughout the profession and careers of architects.
- Design Philosophies: Differences in design philosophies between academia and the profession may result in a lack of clarity or consistency in the architectural styles and approaches that architects are trained in and subsequently produce. This can lead to confusion or dissatisfaction among the public who may not fully understand or appreciate the design choices made by architects.
- Accessibility: If academic programs emphasize high-concept design that is not easily accessible or relatable to the public, it can create a perception that architecture is an exclusive field reserved for an intellectual elite. This can alienate the general public and lead to a sense that architecture is disconnected from everyday life.
- Practical Skills: If architectural education doesn’t adequately prepare graduates for practical aspects of the profession, it can impact the quality and functionality of buildings, which the public interacts with daily. Buildings that don’t meet the needs of their users can negatively influence public perception of architects.
- Innovation and Relevance: The perceived divide may affect public perceptions of architects’ ability to address contemporary challenges, such as sustainability, accessibility, and urban planning. The public may question whether architects are equipped to provide innovative and relevant solutions.
- Cost and Value: If public projects or developments experience budget overruns or delays due to a lack of practical skills, it can lead to negative public perceptions of architects as cost-ineffective professionals.
- Engagement with Communities: Architects play a significant role in shaping communities and public spaces. The public may form opinions about architects based on their engagement with local communities, urban planning, and public infrastructure projects. At times when college studios get to interact with public design charrettes or communities, they tend to produce those “outside the box” or theoretical responses to everyday project proposals. This can contribute to the misunderstanding of our profession.
- Communication and Outreach: The ability of architects to communicate their ideas and designs effectively to the public is crucial. If there’s a perceived gap between the architectural profession and the public’s understanding of the field, it can result in a lack of appreciation for the value architects bring to projects. We seem to agree that most of the architectural projects that get publicized to the largest audience are those that have issues. High-profile projects rarely get completed without the typical project issues of budget and time. But when the newest stadium, museum, or other big project hits the media as being over budget, behind schedule, and “riddled” with issues, it does not produce a positive impact on how the public perceives our profession. Because somehow we are always the ones to take the brunt of the public’s criticism. That of course cannot be attributed to the educational system, but is still an issue.
The Hypothetical jump to 54:29
So Bob came up with a hypothetical for today’s episode just shortly before recording. He also implements several ground rules from the beginning as to limit my abilities to loophole the process as I am prone to do. So …
You are on a deserted island with a single spider monkey. You have 1 year to catch this monkey and if you are successful, you will receive a cash prize of $1 million dollars.
- You have to put up $50k of your own money to get the opportunity to get the $1M.
- The spider monkey is wise to what is happening and does NOT want you to catch it.
- You have to catch this monkey with your bare hands.
- There are no traps allowed, no befriending, you can teach it sign language and make a deal.
- The money will not attack you – you are in no physical jeopardy.
Could you catch a spider monkey?
Well, we came in on the same side of this one. It seems that there was not as much to this one as maybe we had hoped. We did discuss the few limited possibilities of methods to catch the monkey and came to the conclusion that you most likely will only get one shot to catch it. Once you attempt one method to catch it, it would most likely be hesitant to fall for it again.
Episode 138: Is Architecture School Broken? Part 2
So as I try to summarize the issues, it is not an easy task. One of the major sticking points for myself is that I have many students say to me after having worked in the profession… “Work is nothing like school”. To me, this is an easy summary at the root of the issue. While the educational system should not be 100% like the workforce, it should also not be 0% like the workforce. Somewhere in between 0 and 100 is the proper balance. I am not certain it is even 50/50. But there is some educational model that makes that statement a thing of the past. As Bob and I have spoken about so many times in this show, there are so many avenues and roles within the profession of architecture for everyone to be involved, yet as we see the educational system only really seeks to create one of those, the designer. This is something we need to consider as we move forward. How can we provide an educational system that incorporates all the types of roles, individuals, and knowledge that is truly representational of our wonderful profession of Architecture? Is that even possible? Maybe not. But I think we should at least try a bit harder and do a bit better.
Until next time,
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