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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Architectural Education Dialogue: Part 1

It appears there is little enthusiasm for the topic of architectural education. It may be that everyone is exhausted. The topic has been around for as long as I've been around. Degree requirements have been added for license eligibility. Eligibility after 8 years of experience with a high school education has been dropped and a 5 year program has changed to a 4+2 program. Continuing education has been added. Three years of apprenticeship, now called internship, remain. The title "architect" is still withheld after graduation. These changes were thought to address substance but have not produced a more successful profession. They have added burden, expense and frustration while reducing return on investment and attraction, in my opinion.

Change begins with a goal. If it is a professional goal, it must involve some form of essential, acknowledged public benefit and private reward in return for the sacrifice. (Again, in my opinion) Neither has been achieved and attraction to architecture may be in decline at a time when a much greater public need is emerging. I have suggested a goal in my three "Harnessing" essays and won't bore you with repetition, but I don't believe "tinkering" is an answer. The answer involves attitude adjustment and integrated solutions, but everyone may be exhausted by the lack of consensus.

At the present time, architecture does not build knowledge. It borrows knowledge and does a poor job of teaching correlation. Pessimism is pervasive. Optimism will emerge with desire and confidence in a new approach based on new polices goals and objectives. My three "Harnessing" essays were an attempt to start the conversation. My following responses to four comments represent part of this continuing dialogue.

·         “…what's important enough for NAAB to mandate that every school teach every student, and how much room should schools have to provide unique content and individual students have to create their own paths?”

o   What is important are minimum qualifications to protect the public health, safety and welfare. The unique paths of the past led us to cities and buildings that were a threat to these fundamentals. The journey continues with environmental awareness and a symbiotic mandate, but we must learn to walk before we can follow the random path of discovery.

·         “…I have suggested that NAAB have a bare minimum of hard requirements (i.e., that we change and improve the existing curriculum by replacing required courses with electives), and that schools and students be allowed significant room to customize their programs.”

o   This does not seem responsible to the public or the student. If professional architects cannot define the education required, how will a student define an education of value that protects the client and the public?

·         “I believe that this diversity of knowledge and interest strengthens the overall profession far more than graduating wave after wave of competent graduates taking most of the same courses.”

o   This indicates that “diversity of knowledge” is preferred over “competent graduates”. It reminds me of pre-law education. If this is the objective, then the student’s education should be labeled “pre-architecture”. Any other name would be a deceptive indication of practice and license qualification, in my opinion.

·         “NCARB's formal internship program is as much a part of the education and training of architects as ACSA members' accredited degree programs are. Yet there is no Accreditation Review Conference for internship, and no National Architectural Internship Board to complement NAAB. Why not?”

o   Unfortunately, this is very true. The lack of “competent graduates” has forced NCARB to place a great burden on private offices. Many are not prepared for the task, nor are many of the “teachers” compensated as tenured full professors with lifetime retirement benefits. I don’t believe that shifting the burden of educating competent architects to private offices is a solution. The offices will simply refuse to offer the programs when low salaries fail to subsidize the cost or when the office fails to remain viable. This is an unstable platform for a profession that seeks to provide shelter within cities to protect the quality and source of life for growing populations.

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