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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Harnessing the Architectural Curriculum: Part 1

The institutional and educational divisions of architecture influence the business and professional divisions, but they are not united by a common goal. If a poll were conducted, my bet is there would be more than one definition. It’s difficult to rally division goals around an absent flag. I’ve had the temerity to suggest a common flag in the past and will rephrase it here.

OPINION 1: The strength of a profession is based on its perceived public contribution.

PUBLIC POLICY SUGGESTION: To protect the source and quality of life for all populations

CITY DESIGN GOAL: To plan for urban massing that provides shelter and contributes to quality of life for a growing human population within sustainable geographic limits.

ARCHITECTURAL GOAL: To define massing objectives with building form and appearance that encloses symbiotic functions

OPINION 2: I believe this policy is part of an  environmental threshold we must reach to survive. For those who agree, the public benefit of the specific goals is obvious; but the knowledge, skills and tools available must be improved.

ARCHITECTURAL STRATEGY involves the planning and deployment of division effort to achieve a common goal. Each of the four divisions mentioned above must contribute its unique focus to serve the common goal. Since education is the topic, I’ll suggest a division objective to get the ball rolling.

EDUCATIONAL OBJECTIVE: a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral program of teaching and research designed to expand the profession’s contribution to public benefit.

OPINION 3: If education provides an inadequate return on investment and feeds a declining market, public and private benefit will suffer from a limited interest in the sacrifice required.

In this suggestion, the educational objective focuses on the architectural goal and is supported by a curriculum organized in stages to build knowledge, ability, and employment opportunity. This is why I have suggested links to IT, PE, MBA, and JD education for related employment opportunities and a Doctor of Architecture as the only degree eligible for a license.

OPINION 4: Curriculum is not a goal or an objective. It is a program of effort required to achieve an educational objective. In this case the objective is meant to support the architectural goal.

Educational management organizes the curriculum and performance monitoring required. This involves another set of objectives.

Educational execution teaches the curriculum knowledge assembled and involves a separate set of objectives.

Educational research expands the curriculum knowledge available with its own set of objectives.

All of the four divisions first mentioned need a common goal before they can form their own objectives, programs and activities to contribute. We will continue to drive in circles, however, debating hundreds of curriculum details that don’t come up to this level of leadership -- until we decide where we want to go.


I liked John Missell’s latest curriculum comments under this title and would like to add a few of my own.

I don’t think that architects are perceived as “…leaders exhibiting superior qualities that have perceived value by society.” This is the political and technical problem, in my opinion. Architects have become servants to a system that does not appreciate their value, and they have little ability to alter the equation because they have less power to change the conditions created. Adaptation will require political support for a goal that makes public benefit from private practice not only evident but desirable.

I liked the term “employable proficiency”, but would like to add the word “versatile” in these turbulent economic times. Versatility is needed to face the economic cycle that confronts architecture, since education that does not respond will face declining enrollment and continue to provide students with limited employment opportunities and a poor return on investment, in my opinion.

A few other quotes caught my attention, so I’ve attached brief comments in italics.

1. “Design as an investigation of the built environment on (emphasis added) the natural environment.”

I would suggest substituting “in” for “on”. This simple preposition reveals the history of human dominance and the next level of environmental awareness required, in my opinion.

2. “…without a firm foundation in the engineering applied sciences you will be no leader…”

I wouldn’t go this far, but I do agree with the objective. It’s part of the new educational policy needed to correlate knowledge from related programs.

3. “History…There is little hope of contributing without fundamentally knowing what has gone on before … your work continues the story line of man.”

I couldn’t agree more. It’s a fundamental curriculum topic.

4. “Architects, as leaders, are useless as just design leaders. They must come into the marketplace with several years of understanding how businesses work…”

I agree, if this understanding includes leadership, management, and operations. It’s also part of the new educational policy needed to correlate knowledge from MBA programs.

5. “Professional practice - Leaders should leave school understanding the role and use of the various building and life safety codes, understanding the mechanics of zoning and planning ordinances, the AIA family of documents should be studied and the issue of "risk" should be understood fully; specifications and how they have evolved etc. This should be a multi-year requisite series of courses.”

Again, I agree. It’s another curriculum decision that will be a function of the time available.

“I think the design studios should be designed to embrace a broader investigation and approach than just a building typology…some very obscure notions.”

My impression is that “some very obscure notions” are often substituted for structured logic and convincing debate in defense of a design proposal. The real world expects to be convinced and doesn’t believe “it just doesn’t understand” obscure notions. Speech, debate, and logic should be part of a new educational program to improve the public perception of a very complex, creative thought process.

You didn’t mention electronic information systems, but I think you will agree that they’re also part of the new educational policy needed to correlate knowledge from IT programs.

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