Architectural Blatherations

USA Architects Want Status Without Effort

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The Good Oil

American architects want all the status conferred by a superior university education, but not the responsibility that goes with it.

Love the trinkets, hate the toil

Architects want their teachers to be called professor rather than "hey you", they want to graduate in medieval gowns, and they want letters after their name. Many aren't even happy with a garden variety bachelors, figuring that only a masters is a worthy reward for their academic labours. The University of Hawaii, ever the leader in credential inflation, holds that even this is scant recognition of the architect's intellectual toil over the years, and that only a plush a doctoral gown should grace the architecture student's shoulders at graduation day.

But though they crave the baubles that the university offers, they are reluctant to take on the responsibilities it imposes. Prime amongst these is the duty to undertake research.

You may be surprised to hear that research has only been a goal of the universities since the early 1800s. Reforms at the University of Berlin in the early nineteenth century instituted research as a fundamental endeavour. Before that, universities were intended to provide educations for gentlemen in the upper-class occupations of the church, medicine and law.

The first formal school in the English-speaking world, the Architectural Association in the United Kingdom, had nothing to do with the British universities, and to this day remains outside them. The first university-based architecture schools were created in the post-bellum United States, before the new German model became the standard.

While their universities changed around them into research institutions, the architecture schools never really accepted scholarship as their responsibility. They were then and remain now schools "for gentlemen of breeding" who wished to pursue a life of art. Where other disciplines require a PhD as a requirement for employment as a full-time academic {professor}, that qualification is not only rare but scorned in architectural academia. Who needs a PhD to be a great architect?

Professors join the rush

That 'Doctor' title is pretty cool. While they don't like the intellectual effort that a PhD requires, American architectural academics are rather keen on the fancy title. Surely we can we get better tables in restaurants, they wept, by booking as Dr Pompous rather than the plebian Ms Pompous? Their British professorial cousins at least made a rational attempt to justify themselves. Following the lead of the supine American schools that retroactively awarded their ageing bachelors alumni with masters, the American profs simply demanded bigger lollypops as of right. They figured that their titles should increase as fast as their cholesterol levels were. How to do this? Simple:

  • Create a degree that gives you the title without any intellectual effort: the infamous DArch (like the lawyers did).
  • Make this the first professional degree which everyone and his sister gets (like the lawyers did). Retroactively award this to yourself (like the lawyers did).
  • Persuade academia that a DArch is the equivalent of a PhD (like the lawyers are doing). The US National Science Foundation has already been hoodwinked, which demonstrates that it is not nearly as smart as it thinks it is1.

Bingo! You can now stand with pride with all the other doctors at the next Nobel awards ceremony, even if you barely passed your last structures exam.

1. These are the people who granted PhD status to the bizarre "Doctor of Musk" degree (yes, the whiffy secretion or popular Aussie confection Musk), a qualification otherwise unknown to mankind. (Source: NSF, Summary Report 1997, Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities)

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