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Tuesday, June 5, 2012


***Please see my latest book, The Science of City Design: Architectural Algorithms for City Planning and Design Leadership, on in both e-book and paperback versions.***

2013 National Architectural Accreditation Board Conference Preparation 

“Does it matter if we alter education if at the end the economy and market forces will come to bear and change the situation for us?” -- Tara Imani, AIA summary of Brian Szymanic, AIA comments

We are not helpless. We are creative and must use the gift to adapt our performance models to the economic climate, but there has to be a willingness to consider change equal to the scope of the problem. Without this commitment, decline will continue based on predatory fee competition and cheap, unqualified but intelligent, labor that has been sold a dream many finally conclude is a mirage.

There are so many deficient areas in architecture that it’s hard to focus on root causes because of the distraction, but I’ll suggest five: (1) the education model; (2) the business model, (3) the institution model, (4) the political model, and (5) the practice model. The practice model has received the most attention, but improving practice by adding qualification requirements to compensate for deficient education does not make sense. It simply contributes to decline. The investment in knowledge, licensing, and continuing education must be worth the effort. Many have been questioning these models for a long time, but few have been listening.

First, let’s try to avoid the distraction of vocabulary. Medicine is a vocation. Medical school is a vocational school. The same applies to law and engineering. Its time architecture became a vocational school of equal caliber. Architectural practice must be supported by academic research and education that improves the tools, skills and performance of the practitioner. For some reason, architecture has resisted this definition during my lifetime in my opinion. I can think of many reasons, but won’t mention conjecture.

I have heard architecture referred to as a “fine art” for as long as I can remember. It was in the School of Fine Art at my university, but we were told we were studying for a “professional” degree. I have recently heard it referred to as a “liberal art”. Liberal art seems more appropriate than fine art because it implies less professional training. I simply can’t believe that some students are not trained to use computers and relevant software as part of their architectural education. From this perspective, both terms are less deceptive than the term “professional degree”.

In my opinion, architecture is an applied science that has lost its way. The problems begin with: (1) the educational ladder of teaching and research designed to build knowledge and convey professional skill; (2) the business model of competition that cannibalizes collective professional benefit; (3) the institutional model that is distracted by a forest of detail and depends on the business model for support; (4) the political model that perceives public benefit as a threat to individual freedom; and (5) the practice model that is expected to compensate for all deficiencies. Dependence on the practice model is like expecting your family doctor to come up with the Salk vaccine and share it with his/her competitors.

John Ruskin believed that the seven moral categories, or “lamps” of architecture, were: sacrifice, truth, power, beauty, life, memory and obedience. This is quite a departure from Vitruvius, and Ruskin was on the road to environmentalism; but I’ll leave this history to the reader. My purpose is to suggest that a number of core issues must be in place before modern architecture can build an adequate foundation for the ideals of many like Ruskin.

I’ve written a number of essays on core issues 1, 2, 4, and 5. I’ve ignored (3) but consider the AIAKnowledgeNet a great way to reach out to the entire profession, and beyond; since membership is not required for participation. All of these essays are available on my web sites and

If we can agree on the core issues, it may help us focus our creativity on the detail required to define solutions.

I’ve dusted off an essay entitled, “Architectural Education: Part 2”, for this note. I wrote it in October, 2011 and am including a portion here to complete my comments. I’m also including a previous reply to Brian Szymanic that was more generic.

“…In the traditional three phase format of higher education, the first priority of education for a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture should be consistent employment through turbulent economic times. It should leave students with a design introduction and flexible technical skills that can adapt to shifting employment opportunities. I will stay away from curriculum suggestions because debate over detail will overwhelm the goal suggested. A master’s degree should leave them with advanced design skills, management skills and flexible employment opportunities. A doctoral degree should leave them with professional design skills as well as research, practice, teaching, and licensure opportunities. If this doesn’t provide a decent return on investment however, it will simply represent more commitment to sacrifice while others profit from the effort. This is becoming increasingly less acceptable to those who must struggle in an economically unstable world.

The devil is in the detail and I have avoided curriculum for that reason. A debate over detail will overwhelm the goals suggested, but the relationship of economic issues, employment opportunities, practice standards and research emphasis must be resolved by educators, institutions and government before architects can make the contributions needed to shelter growing populations within sustainable environmental limits. This is critical because solutions must not threaten a population’s quality of life with excessive intensity. Private interest is simply not equal to the effort required, but is capable of participation. If this is the goal, then we need more architects, not less; but the market is undeveloped because the need for city design is not recognized.

City design begins with geographic limits for a Built Domain that includes agriculture and protects the primacy of the Natural Domain. The Built Environment expands within the limits of a Built Domain. In my opinion, this is the only realistic concept on a finite planet with limited resources, and it requires extensive collaboration and political acceptance for definition. After these limits are established, city design for the Built Environment will begin with development capacity evaluation and end with shelter, movement, open space and life support systems designed to protect a growing population’s quality of life. This is not an interest of development speculation, but it is in the public interest. Architecture can work to protect this public interest, and serve private interest; when it recognizes the need, creates the market and builds the knowledge and tools required.”


I’d like to refer you to my essay, “The First Priority of Architecture” in the COD and general blog categories. The words “allocation” and “correlation” are key terms in this text.

Correlation is a fundamental strength of architectural practice, but I’m not sure it’s recognized by education. Architects are no longer engineers, but education still emphasizes engineering detail when an architect’s contribution is to choose among system attributes for the best combined cost and benefit. In other words, if we keep sizing the beam we may overlook the most appropriate system. (I might also add that a complex building code could be reduced to a series of “what if” decision-making spreadsheets that improve accuracy and reduce time-consuming effort, but this is another evaluation topic.)

I believe it was Archimedes who began evaluating the strength of materials, but will not bother to confirm the credit for this note. His research began to answer architectural questions that eventually led to structural and mechanical engineering. Architects now correlate rather than calculate the engineering detail required to serve a client’s interest, but their system comparison references need improvement.

Architectural practice is about decision-making that is legally and diplomatically referred to as “recommendations”. The challenge is to reduce the time and improve the quality of these decisions and their definition. The options to consider have entered a new dimension of symbiotic science, however; while we struggle to correlate old systems and issues in a timely and credible manner.

The need to correlate shelter decisions has expanded from architecture and engineering. It now includes the allocation of economically sustainable land use categories and activities within symbiotic limits. This can only be accomplished with a thorough understanding of intensity options and implications. Shelter is an essential element of survival, but sprawl consumes its source of life and excessive intensity reduces our quality of life. This is why I’ve added “allocation” to “correlation” in the list of architectural challenges, since allocation of activity and intensity options to shelter population growth within symbiotic limits is a public mission with a political message. This message is one that can add credibility to the educational, business, institutional and practice interests of architecture.

I’ve written Development Capacity Evaluation, v.2 software to assist architects and all other land design, development, evaluation and regulation professionals with this challenge. I’ve explained its use in the attached book / manual entitled, Land Development Calculations, ed.2, 2009 that is available from The McGraw-Hill Companies, and others. I should have titled the book, Intensity, and still think it’s a shelter topic that should be correlated with symbiotic science in the curriculum of all associated with this essential element of survival.

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