Architectural Blatherations

Fallacies of Architectural Education

top rule

The Good Oil

Architectural education is a funny thing. You can find no end of disagreement between the architecture schools and the occupation as to how architects should be trained, and what the schools should be doing.

We think there are four key fallacies about the whole system.

Architecture university schools teach you how to be an architect

No they don't, and they never have. That is only an accidental by-product. Here is one visiting critic writing about his experience at British schools in the early 2010's (hat-tip to the inestimable Witold Rybcznski):

Time and again, the projects seemed intent on fleeing the real world of people and places, scale and context; retreating instead into fantasy realms of convoluted forms with no seeming purpose. There were scaleless worlds of splintered shards and riverine landscapes, in which forlorn mechanisms had been implanted like post-apocalyptic ruins of a distant-future race. Clouds of lines and layers were regularly employed as a smokescreen to disguise the fact that there wasn't really an idea at all: visual complexity masking conceptual thinness.

Elsewhere, data was the order of the day, with sinuous blobs generated by computer-scripted commands, wrenched into algorithmic oblivion then squirted out on a 3D printer. This was generally a process so tortuous that students had forgotten quite where their starting point was—or even what their building was for.

Other projects were staged in near-future scenarios of such complexity—with new legal, social and political structures—that after half an hour of explanation, the assembled critics were none the wiser as to what the student was proposing.

The function of architecture schools, especially those at the top-end of the social and fee scale, is to prepare students for entry into the uppper classes.

You need a university degree to be an architect

You didn't until recently. We think a very strong argument can be made out that the architecture schools should be removed from universities entirely.

This isn't the loopy suggestion it may at first seem. In the United Kingdom, for example, the education of lawyers has traditionally been accomplished outside the university system. The USA was one of the first countries to introduce university-based architecture schools, just after the Civil War. The United Kingdom and Dr Garry's own Australia didn't get around to it until the opening decades of the twentieth century. Quite a number of countries do not require a tertiary education at all.

If we examine, say, data from a 1997 survey of Californian architects, taken from the Trends in Practice Report published by the California Architects Board, we find that only about 58% have an accredited professional degree in architecture. Another 21% have some sort of architectural degree, but not one that allows them to be licensed. About 14% have no formal qualification in architecture at all.

So even if you look at today's profession, you will find quite a bit of living evidence that one does not need a university degree to be an architect.

Only architects can teach architecture

This promotes a closed-shop culture. Other disciplines seem happy to import outsiders, but most architecture schools insist not only on an architecture degree, but licensure.

Good designers are good teachers

Perhaps the most insidious fallacy. The assumption is that a good practitioner is also a good teacher. All the evidence would suggest otherwise. Take a look, for instance, at the coaches in any sport you care to name. Hardly any of them are capable of actually performing well in that sport, but they are excellent at teaching it and training people for it.

It is our experience that importing the leading designers into the studio is a fraught proposition. They come in two flavours: the busy professional and the fey designer.

The busy professional really has too much to do back at his (it is rarely 'her') large firm. Half the time he does not put in an appearance. Dr Garry recalls one eminent practitioner who was made a fractional professor {chair} at his old school at the University of Sydney. Although an 80% appointment, he spent most of his time handling the usual crises at his very large firm back in the city. In one appalling incident, he had to walk out of final-term assessments {juries} before they were halfway through. He also had difficulty coping with the collegiate nature of the school. Unused to the fact that he could not hire and fire as he pleased, he found himself facing a large number of rambunctious staff {faculty}, all with opinions differing to his own.

The fey designer is the avante-gardiste with a small but sought-after practice. Invariably they are from very wealthy backgrounds and have spent most of their lives living off their parent's money while they publicise their drawings (as opposed to real buildings). The tiny number of their designs that have actually been built have given them no experince in real-world realities. We think this sort of person is best used as an inspirational lecturer, rather than in the studio. For reasons we outline elsewhere, we think that the fey designer discourages students from less-well-off backgrounds.