Architectural Blatherations

A History of Architectural Education in the West

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The Good Oil

Here we present a history of architectural education in Europe and the USA. This page is pretty heavy. Enter at your own risk.

The field's new reproduction system

For almost the entirety of its history, the field of architecture has relied on the transmission of symbolic capital through chains masters and pupils, webs of personal contacts, to reproduce itself. In the early nineteenth century the French state created a new method of reproduction with the formation of a school intended to train architects, the École des Beaux Arts. Through the next century and a half, the field's reproduction system gradually became embedded in national higher education systems.

The consequences of this have been considerable. The first we may note is the disruption it has caused to the traditional reproduction mechanism. It is no coincidence that this occurs a few decades after the rise in credentialled architects that begins in the 1880s.

We can understand the full implications of the institutionalisation of the field's reproduction system by considering the history of architectural education, and re-assessing the conventional wisdom about architecture schools and their relations with the occupation and their universities. This simple model, it would be held, would apply in more or less the same form to all those occupations labelled as professions. The basic idea is that architecture reproduces itself through a formal system of education which is properly located in universities. The state credentials graduates, formally certifying them as competent, relying on professional proxies to monitor the quality of educational programs. Apart from teaching, the academics also produce research or scholarship, which informs their teaching and increases the knowledge base of the profession.

The critique of architectural education

Straightforward though this model may be, it cannot be a correct representation of the reality, for it fails to explain why the architecture schools should have such fraught relationships with both the occupation and their universities. Neither American nor British practitioners have ever been reticent about criticising the schools, the fundamental and continuing failure of which is, from their point of view, their sheer and seemingly perverse inability to prepare students for the real world of practice. The studio system of education is, they say, a fantasy world in which incompetent professors who are the centre of petty personality cults encourage bizarrely unrealistic expectations in students, while avoiding the teaching of anything actually to do with the hard realities of life. Students learn nothing of the other members of the construction industry. They cannot draw and they know nothing of construction. The suggested remedies are usually along the lines of introducing more 'pragmatic' subjects such as management and technical courses or, significantly, a partial return to apprenticeship in some form.

There certainly is no problem in finding evidence that architecture is failing to perform like other academic disciplines, whose function is invariably taken to be knowledge-production. If architecture were as research-oriented as the average university discipline it would graduate almost ten times as many doctoral students each year as it actually does. Even home economics, not usually regarded as the most intellectual of areas, produces more. Over the entire period 1920 to 1974 American universities graduated only 56 people with a doctorate in architecture, a minuscule figure. Perhaps one quarter of American academics in architecture schools hold a PhD, a degree which in other fields is mandatory for even the lowest ranks. Architectural academics do little research; neither they nor the profession find it relevant. Indeed, there is often a positive hostility to the very idea of this most intellectual and academic of activities, for, of course, designing buildings—not publishing papers—increments the architectural academic's symbolic capital.

Research in architecture

The occupation of architecture certainly regards research as irrelevant or redundant, but one may have expected their academic brethren to take some interest. Not so. Very few schools in the English-speaking world produce scholarly works on the scale that would be considered normal for other university-based disciplines. Bedford and Groák determined that less than half of British architectural academics were involved in research, and the proportion is probably about the same for the United States. Much more study of the built environment is done outside the schools than inside, in government research centres and private industry. The research that is conducted in the schools is fragmented and takes place more within particular sub-disciplines (environment- behaviour studies as a branch of the social sciences, lighting research as a branch of physics, engineering or physiology) than the architectural milieu—so much so that some have wondered aloud whether there is such a thing as architectural research. This is to be expected, since the actual researchers are only sometimes architects who have decided against becoming designers. Most often they are immigrants from other disciplines, with varying degrees of interest in the core activities of architecture schools. Most architects and many architectural academics would classify all this sort of work as building, not architectural, research, and quite outside their province. They are not at all sure that people without architecture degrees should be in architecture schools at all, and regard with some dismay the open warfare that exists between the supernumerary scientific (or scientistic) researchers and those who are getting on with the job of teaching future architects. The only area which is unequivocally a legitimate subject for architectural cerebration is history, theory and criticism.

Quality and quantity of research output, usually evidenced as academic publication, is one of the primary indicators of institutional quality for universities, and for individual academics in all disciplines save architecture. Juan Pablo Bonta and others have argued that the universities should come to terms with this and accept architecture's peculiar lack of product in this regard, but the universities have tended to see things the other way around. They have difficulty comprehending what the schools mean when they say that professional service and the application of knowledge… together constitute much of the scholarly output of architecture, as the infamous Boyer Report stated. These pursuits seem appropriate for practitioners, not academics. Over the past twenty years or so the universities have pressured the schools to come to the academic party and bring in research money, articulate faculty promotion criteria in line with other disciplines and make an effort to accommodate academic norms and values. No wonder that pressures to conform to university ideals of academe are so stressful to architecture schools.

Four Different Systems: Britain, France, Germany and the United States

Why should the schools find themselves derided by the profession and disdained by the universities? Why do they seem to be inadequate in their two crucial functions of reproduction (of the profession) and production (of intellectual discourse)? Many of the stresses in architectural education arise from the fact that its various elements were drawn from differently structured national fields and placed into the British and American fields out of context. Our current method of architects receiving their training at an institution that also conducts systematic research and scholarship in a wide variety of intellectual areas is of quite recent date, the result of synthesising the educational systems from several countries. From France we have the notion of organised, formal architectural education; from Germany the concept that there is and should be a linkage between teaching and research, and that this occurs in universities; and the two were uneasily synthesised in the United States, where they overlaid an apprenticeship system inherited from Britain.

Britain: articled pupillage

We must start with the 'natural mode' of education for the Anglo-American system of professions, which is the self-controlling mechanism of apprenticeship or, strictly, pupillage. This was a modification of the medieval apprenticeship system. But where an apprentice exchanged his labour for instruction from a master, an articled pupil paid cash to be taught. Probably something like one-half of all entrants to the occupation were trained through pupillage by 1800, rising very quickly in the opening decades of the nineteenth century to displace other entry points into the occupation, such as through the building trades. Pupillage usually lasted five or six years, and often included attendance at a local arts academy, and perhaps foreign travel.

Strength of the UK professions

The field's reproduction function was securely vested in the body of practitioners. The United Kingdom pioneered the concept of professional association which has so structured our whole concept of profession, and these strong associations have always been the organisations primarily responsible for the reproduction of their occupations. The British system of professional education has always been dominated by practitioners, who conduct it in schools that may or may not be associated with universities. Even today such professions as law and accounting conduct most of their training outside universities. As late as 1979 it was not necessary to have a degree to be a barrister, and in the 1950s the English solicitors actually dis-associated themselves from the alliance they had formed with the universities a few decades before (they returned in the 1970s). British professions developed as associations of people doing similar work, not, as in Europe, as people with similar state-certified qualifications. The only universities in England in the early nineteenth century, Oxford and Cambridge, regarded the concept of vocational training as repugnant to the whole idea of a university, and were quite content to leave the new professions to educate themselves, who were equally happy to develop practice-based training. The new universities evinced only marginally more interest. A few years after its foundation the University of London had two professors of architecture. They gave occasional lectures intended to supplement pupillage, not to offer any sort of substantive education in the discipline.

The system of state-certification which existed from the beginning in France and Germany was entirely absent. Certification of competence was instead provided on a de facto basis by utilising the competition system of design selection. Competition was a very common means in nineteenth century Britain for selecting designs. Winning a competition after a few years in pupillage was the rite of passage which denoted that a young architect was competent to practice by him or herself.

The UK schools

The first school in the United Kingdom to offer a structured program of instruction was the Architectural Association (AA), founded by disgruntled architectural assistants in 1847. It was not associated with the newly established University of London, when it could have been, and has remained unattached to universities to this day, while maintaining a reputation for excellence and innovation (and avant-garde elitism). The AA educated only a tiny proportion of practitioners through the nineteenth century, and only began to offer a full-time course (of four years duration) in 1889. Day classes were not offered until 1901. Within a few years the first schools to be located in universities commenced operation at King's College within the University of London and the University of Liverpool, and more schools were created after the turn of the century.

As more schools were founded the system of articled pupillage declined, until by the 1920s most architecture students were undergoing some sort of comprehensive formal training. However, few of these were in the higher reaches of academia. When the 1958 Oxford Conference called for a concerted effort to move into universities, about 63% of all architecture students were at polytechnics or art schools, 22% in universities proper, and the rest working their way through offices. Practitioners still dominated the education system, however, through the British association of practitioners, the RIBA. Although anyone could call themselves an architect prior to the 1931 Architects' Registration Act, let alone feel obliged to join the RIBA, after that organisation had instituted examinations for associate membership in the early 1880s, all schools worked towards ensuring their students would pass them. The RIBA granted partial exemption to Liverpool University a decade after its school commenced operation and slowly granted full exemption to the other new schools from the 1920s. At the same time it established Visiting Boards to monitor the schools. With the Registration Acts the RIBA was granted de facto control over licensure of individuals and credentialling of schools, an iron grip that it holds to this day.


The advantages of apprenticeship as a means of professional reproduction are threefold. First, it allows a fine control of the supply of new practitioners. In boom times firms take on pupils and in slack times let them off. The dictates of the demand side can be responded to very quickly and supply regulated to precisely satisfy it. In contrast, a school-based system ignores the requirements of the market and replaces it by its own quite independent logic, deriving from the schools' desire to maintain a steady flow of graduates. Second, practitioners define what is to be learnt, and have a better appreciation of the market's need for particular skills.

Third, the full weight of an individual's social capital is best exploited by apprenticeship. The importance of social capital varies, having least effect in those areas requiring formal academic certification, and most in unbureaucratised areas of social space, where the state imposes no rules and makes no tests. Of course, the social capital that can be mobilised by an individual from the upper classes is rather more than that of someone lower down the class system. When pupillage was at its height in the late nineteenth century, it was noted at the time that English architectural apprentices came from higher strata than in Germany, where architectural education was taught at technical universities.

Apprenticeship allows the well-connected to put their children into the most prestigious firms from the very beginning of their careers—indeed before their careers even begin— providing that most precocious of head-starts impossible for the lower-class aspirant who, incapable of proving any talent, since he or she has not yet had the chance to show any talent, cannot and will not be given the opportunity to demonstrate their worth. Apprenticeship also allows the socially privileged the possibility of success through means other than technical competence or creative flair. The history of architectural practice is littered with firms who have succeeded through combining the architectural skills of one partner with the entrepreneurial and social skills of another. One designs, the other courts the wealthy to bring in commissions.

Intellectual production

Intellectual production was, in the British model, vested primarily in free-floating intellectuals. Until the middle to late nineteenth century in Europe and the Americas, intellectual life was something that happened outside the universities. The intelligentsia was to be found in the leisured aristocracy, in the bourgeoisie and in the elite members of the professions. Many of these were educated in the elite universities, but very few were employed by them. The continuous debate about architectural quality was conducted through the writing of articles for the cultural press, the few architectural journals, books, discussion at meetings of the AIA or RIBA, or personal communication between architects and critics.

France: The state-certification model

If British professional education is dominated by practitioners, in France it has always been dominated by the state. The Napoleonic reformation of higher education established two defining characteristics of the professions: service for the state, and state-certified academic credentials from one of the elite grandes écoles. Private practitioners in the same occupation, and especially those who had trained at other institutions, did not have the status or privileges (and responsibilities) that we would associate with professionals. So, for example, an architect only had to be registered to work on a government building in France: anyone could design buildings for the private sector.

As it evolved through the nineteenth century the higher education system remained, and still is, strongly vertically stratified. Those occupations traditionally dependent on graduates from the grandes écoles (such as teaching, engineering and public administration) who are destined for government employment have a much greater status than all the others who are trained in universities or other institutions. Moreover, the development of new professions through the 1800s to the present did not occur from the bottom up, with people doing similar work banding together and soliciting the state for certification, but from the top down, with the state creating institutions to provide specialised training for new occupations. In effect, the state in France defines the professions. The French higher education system is further complicated by the variability of the connection between research and teaching in institutions of higher education. Research is conducted either in the provincial universities, who focus on applied research and research for the various non- state professions they provide vocational training for, or in separate research institutions that are associated with neither the grandes écoles nor the universities.

The École des Beaux Arts

It is no surprise, then, that France invented academicised architectural education with the École des Beaux Arts. It is here that we see for the first time the impact on the architectural field of an institutionalised education system. The French architectural field was structured very differently to the British, thanks to the existence of the École and the Académie des Beaux Arts. Reproduction was still partly in the hands of the profession, but many architects had some sort of tertiary education, and the elites went to the École. Of the eminent nineteenth century French architects listed in the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects, about 41% studied at the École and another 13% elsewhere. By comparison, only 20% of eminent English architects had any institutional training at all.

The intellectual production function of the field was still conducted by the urban elites, but with one element absent from the British system: the eight members of the architectural section of the Académie des Beaux Arts. The august members of the Académie functioned as priests, in Bourdieu's terms, defining what was good architecture and who were good architects. Their power was extraordinary: they set and marked all examinations, they decided who should go to the Academy in Rome, they advised the government on who to employ, they were the public and revered face of the field. The École functioned much as a seminary, inducting individuals through a long period of training into this priesthood. Status increased as one moved year by year through the École, entering carefully structured competitions, gaining formal awards and honours, attaining the Grand Prix, then, perhaps, the Académie itself. The system of ateliers, with their intense rituals, their creation of pseudo-families of students, the instilling of the most deep-seated loyalties to patrons, taught students to love the hierarchies and to love to ascend them.

Moreover, these institutions were supported and sanctioned by the state itself. The École and the Académie possessed complete power to consecrate, to pronounce some architects great and others not: outsiders such as Labrouste or Viollet-le-Duc could not penetrate the establishment. They constructed a monopoly over the valorisation of the field's symbolic capital. In Bourdieu's terminology, they constituted an apparatus, a totally dominant form of domination. No institutions with so great a weight of symbolic capital existed then or now in the English-speaking world. Hence the Anglo-Americans have always been more disposed to a tolerant sort of theoretical polytheism in architecture—the heterodox can flourish easier, as there is no centralised orthodoxy to oppose them; and yet are less influential in the international discourse of architectural theory— precisely because there is no unified apparatus that can throw its whole weight behind one theory or another.

Like the grandes écoles even today, the École des Beaux-Arts was not an educational organisation like modern universities, in which research was a primary mission, systematically carried out by most staff and upper-level students, and expected to filter down into teaching. Prior to the foundation of the University of Berlin, research in Europe had been conceived of as a strictly private undertaking, conducted only by particularly gifted individuals with the private financial means to do so. Scholarly activities had right from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment been only loosely tied to universities, and most scholarship was conducted outside them. At the École, for example, there were only five or so full-time academic staff, the professors, responsible for the strictly optional lectures given to 200 or 300 students. The dominant teachers were the patrons, leaders of the 20 or 30 ateliers into which students were organised and which were the centre of their educational lives. Patrons were invariably practising architects, not individuals dedicated to research in any sense of the word.

Germany: research enters the universities

The linkage between research and teaching we now accept as fundamental to the mission of universities was first forged in the early 1800s in Prussia, starting with the University of Berlin, in which professors were expected to conduct scholarly research and communicate it to various audiences . Through the nineteenth century the spread of the German model created a new sort of occupation, that of the researcher working also as a teacher, and the community of scholars and researchers which until then had existed outside the universities moved almost wholly into them.

This research-teaching connection differed from the one prevalent today in Anglo- American higher education in two respects, one of structure and one of content. Structurally, the German universities were organised as colleges of professors. Research was carried out in institutes organised as the private domains of the chairs. In typical Teutonic fashion, the chair was considered to represent the totality of his or her discipline and the workers in the institute were more or less his or her assistants, helping him or her to further elaborate the world-system he or she had devised. One effect of this organisation was that German professors tended to view themselves as academics first, constantly involved with the life and governance of the university, and members of their discipline second. With regard to content, the only sort of research conducted was that connected with the basic mission of the universities, which was to provide a general, cultivated education, or with the few occupations who received university training: medicine, law, theology and high-school teaching.

Origin of the German professions

German professions arose with the development of powerful civil services in the late eighteenth century, and most of those in these privileged occupations were employed by the state until the 1850s. As late as 1880 only 42% of German architects were in private practice. Unlike France, in which the state tightly controlled all the professions, in Germany the non-university professions (such as engineering, accounting and dentistry) developed along similar lines to the Anglo-American ones, developing professional associations (in the 1850s, twenty years before the state-professions) and later moving into polytechnics which were transformed into technical universities and granted the right to award degrees around 1900. Architecture was one of these occupations, being taught in institutions—the polytechnics, or arts and crafts schools—which were not research-driven.

The United States: an uneasy synthesis

The United States provides a third model beside the practitioner-dominated system of professional education of Britain and the state-dominated system of France. We must note, first, a significant difference between otherwise similar systems of professions in the two major English-speaking nations. The major differences between the British and American systems of the professions are the much weaker historical continuity and associationalism of the latter. In Britain the archetypal professions of law and medicine have maintained an extraordinary continuity with their medieval forebears and their powers and privileges are much as they were five hundred years ago. After the Revolution, the American professions were deprived of state support: throughout the middle of the nineteenth century there was no licensing system for either medicine or law, and no architect needed to be licensed until Illinois introduced legislation in 1897. Their modern successors were essentially reconstructed in the decades around the turn of the century. Partly because of this discontinuity, partly because of the difficulties of communication and geography, and partly because of the federal-state split of government jurisdiction, American professionals have had substantial difficulties building the sort of powerful associations characteristic of Britain. Even the AMA and the ABA, while powerful in American eyes, are weak compared to their British counterparts. In the case of architecture the difference is best seen in the proportion of registered architects who are members of their national professional body: about 66% belong to the RIBA and 53% to the AIA.

Weakness of the US professions

The weakness of professional associations has been critical in shaping professional education in the United States. Prior to the Civil War, American universities were in general modelled on the Oxbridge type of college providing a cultivated education and some training for the clergy or teaching. Professional education started in the state land-grant universities of the post-war period, driven not by the demands of practitioners, but by the universities themselves. The history of American professional education is one of these universities seizing market opportunities to provide the standardised education each atomised profession was unable to provide itself. Thus, the first architecture schools of the postbellum period were in new universities (MIT, Cornell, Illinois), some forty years before their British counterparts. As Gutman noted, the expansion of architects in the United States has been due entirely to the considerable increase in the number of universities offering architectural programs, and, as with other professions, practitioners have been able to influence education only indirectly, usually in co-operation with elite schools and through accreditation. The AIA has never exerted the control of professional education that the RIBA does: the National Architectural Accrediting Board, loosely associated with the AIA, only began its work after World War II, while the RIBA was exerting direct de facto control over university schools from their foundation. The most significant effort that the profession made to regulate education was that conducted by the Beaux Arts Institute of Design, which for two or three decades after 1910 successfully dominated education by promulgating and assessing standard design programs for use in the schools. Even this foundered with the decline of Beaux Arts classicism and was completely destroyed by the immigration of European modernists into the schools in the years before the War.

American professional education can therefore be characterised as university-dominated, as opposed to the British practice-dominated or European state-dominated systems. When the American universities embraced professional education they were rather different institutions to those we have in the late twentieth century, being either of the Oxbridge type or vocationally- oriented. The notion that research was a fundamental mission of a university did not appear until the importation of the German model in the latter part of the nineteenth century, with the creation of Johns Hopkins (1876), Clark (1887) and the University of Chicago (1892). Several important changes were made to this model as it crossed the Atlantic. First, the German chair-institute structure was dropped in favour of a departmental structure. They replaced the German autocratic polymath closely directing the researches of a group of assistants with a more egalitarian system in which the departmental chair handled administration and finance for a group of academics who more or less set their own intellectual agenda. Second, where the Germans had left applied research to industry or the lower-status polytechnics, the Americans brought it right into the universities. Third, the academics at these universities tended to see their primary loyalty and milieu as that of their discipline or profession, not the university, the reverse of the German case. As Abbott points out, the American professions have maintained a deep ambivalence about university education, "they were in the university but not of it".

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