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Monday, June 25, 2012

Architectural Education Dialogue: Part 2

A number of recent comments have caused me to reflect on some personal assumptions that have become personal opinions without my knowledge. These are the most dangerous. They hide in plain sight without further examination. The comments are in bulleted quotes. My response is in italics below each. 

·         “…I think first and foremost, it needs to be recognized that not all schools of architecture are the same despite NAAB student performance criteria which establish a loosely defined set of minimum standards for architectural education…I have had the good fortune of teaching at three architecture programs to date. All of which have very different strengths and consequently send three very different sets of graduates into the profession.” 

o   I have always assumed that the blanket term “architectural education” meant an education to “practice” architecture. In fact, my first reaction was to say that it was unfortunate that a minimum level of professional competence is not being uniformly provided to every student. After reflection, I realized there are a number of specialized architectural areas that do not require a license to practice such as, but not limited to: history, planning, education, government, construction management, property management, specifications, working drawings, contracts, bidding, field representation, rendering, model making, etc. It makes sense to have different programs suit different objectives, but I suggest that educational advertisements clearly explain these distinctions to prospective students and parents, if they don’t already. This would make “architectural practice” a specialty and its formal education “pre-architecture”, since “practice” programs depend on internship employment that may not be available, thus making the final “architectural practice” goal unattainable.  

·         “…One emphasized graphic communication and craft… but in terms of technical knowledge - specifically technology knowledge needed to tackle issues of sustainability - and social issues (who were they designing for and how) graduates from this program were lacking.” 

o   Sustainability is a common concern with as many facets as there are sciences, professions and technical specialties. I’ve struggled with this term for a very long time, from an architectural perspective; and would like to suggest that it begins with geographic limits for a built environment that protect its source of life. The built environment is a physical presence (urban form) that is woven together with space. This space creates composition that includes shelter, movement, open space and life support systems. The land use allocation of activity, space and intensity determines the level of economic stability present. The composition and context of activity, space, intensity, form and appearance determines social and psychological reaction. The resources consumed and replenished by this composition determine its relationship to the planet’s ecological system. When urban form expresses symbiotic function, we will be closer to rejoining the system we have abandoned.  I’ve called these “city design” issues, and referred to solutions as the “city design of urban form”. It is part of an ecological puzzle with many shelter pieces that cannot be ignored, since shelter that consumes its source of life is a parasite that must adapt to survive.  

·         “…Unfortunately, graphic communication can be hit or miss in this program leaving students with a limited ability to communicate their ideas and concepts to others clearly.” 

o   Graphic communication is like handwriting. It does not guarantee knowledge and logic. Public and private clients generally notice when it’s snowing in the room. The public frequently demands proof in debate. At this point, appearance is rarely an adequate defense. The entire issue of knowledge, logic, presentation and debate is a vast undeveloped area of the profession, in my opinion.  

·         “…Finally, the third school strives to balance making…and…technical proficiency…. When trying to balance all of these issues, it is difficult to make the students truly excellent in all areas." 

o   Architectural practice uses knowledge and logic to correlate technical information, evaluate options, reach decisions, offer recommendations and make contract documents for prototype construction. “Making” and technical proficiency are inseparable elements of basic practice skills, in my opinion.  

·         “…All of these schools meet the NAAB criteria (in two cases they are model schools and have repeatedly been given full six-year accreditation terms), but all could be accused of not creating "competent" interns in one way or another.” 

o   This comment assumes that architectural practice is the goal. If it is, then one strategy should be planned with tactics designed to achieve each objective, in my opinion. 

·         “…To be frank, I don't think the current education/internship/licensing process can be simply adjusted to better prepare students for the profession and create a clear path to licensure.”  

o   I couldn’t agree more, but licensure is an objective and practice may not be the goal. It might help to back up and examine all assumptions at this point. 

·         “…My suggestion would be model architecture education/internship/licensure after engineering.” 

o   Let me suggest that a practicing architect could be an engineer with advanced training. I don’t think the PE model goes far enough. It can be a customized technical foundation that leads to EIT eligibility for those who go no further, but it does not extend to the correlation responsibilities of architectural practice. 

·         “...This would put a greater responsibility on academia to make sure students were prepared for this exam.”  

o   A worthy objective when the goal is architectural practice. 

·         "...At the same time, it would put a greater responsibility on the students to make sure they were prepared for the exam and internship.” 

o   This again assumes that practice is the goal. I believe that practice education should make the graduate immediately eligible for licensure. If it doesn’t, it is not a complete education, in my opinion. I agree with the concept of internship, but I like the medical model. It does not withhold the title “doctor”. It simply withholds eligibility forindependent private practice until completion.  

·         “…Finally, the second comprehensive exam should be given at the end of the internship. Again, the comprehensive nature of this exam will require interns to have had a diverse set of experiences at a firm to do well. These TWO exams will enforce academia and practice to make sure that students and interns are prepared for practice.” 

o   Internship is required for licensure. This is based on the assumption that a graduate architect can find employment to complete these requirements. I believe this is an unstable foundation for the profession and a burden the student does not fully appreciate, even when told. Exams are a secondary obstacle that I believe are overdone to compensate for insecurity with the practice preparation structure.  

·         “…I am not sure why architecture has deviated from the engineering model. I'm happy to hear your thoughts.” 

o    Engineering has limited technical objectives distinguished by the adjective applied, such as civil, mechanical, structural, electrical, environmental etc. Architects have broad general objectives that involve the correlation and bonding of independent technical information. They evaluate options, guide efforts, and weave decisions into a coordinated set of contract documents for prototype construction. This adds management and leadership complexity to technical decisions that would otherwise remain isolated. I would not say that architectural practice has “deviated” from the engineering model. I would argue that it has expanded to accommodate the need for leadership correlation. I have also argued that even this does not go far enough. The issue of survival involves ecology that is the ultimate form of correlation, and shelter is part of the symbiotic equation. From this perspective, architectural practice must expand to correlate science with engineering in an effort to produce symbiotic cities that do not compromise our quality of life; but this will remain an altruistic dream until the reward is worth the sacrifice.

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