Fresh air for Architectural Education



Detached from the ferment of epochal change, the groves of academe are failing to engage with current critical realities. Education for architects must be radically reconsidered, through a new, more fully human paradigm that engages with society and culture


Apart from pleading for blunt and long overdue critical comment about various architects − some starchitects are nominated repeatedly, you can easily guess who − the most common request in the private emails received in response to these essays is to discuss architectural education. This too is a subject provoking strong opinions, though with rather less consensus. The unease, and often dismay, felt about architectural education is unsurprising and has been long festering. A primary theme of these essays is that we are in the throes of massive epochal change that must profoundly impact architecture.

Hence the urgent necessity for The Big Rethink to which these essays are a tiny contribution. Yet to visit many architectural schools is to enter a time warp where the ‘anything goes’ postmodern relativism of the 1980s persists, and tutors and lecturers pursue their own interests regardless of any larger relevance. Indeed, it almost seems that the more overwhelmingly urgent the looming crises provoked by systemic collapse of interdependent aspects of our global civilisation, the more frivolous the pursuits of academe. Even sustainability is reduced to a much too narrow, peripheral subject added on to the curriculum rather than forming the core of a radically restructured education.

But quite apart from not preparing students for the very different future in which they will practise, schools are struggling to keep up with changes that are already transforming architecture. These include the proliferation of ever more materials and new modes of manufacture, assembly and construction management, as well as new software bringing novel modes of analysis to such things as structural stresses, ambient conditions (light levels, air movement and wind pressure, temperature, humidity and so on) and even movement patterns of pedestrians and vehicles (as with Space Syntax).

This complexity puts demands on architects at the leading-edge of practice that are increasingly beyond the capacity of any individual. Hence architects collaborate with a widening array of consultants in multidisciplinary design teams in which even the architect component is made up of individuals of differing expertise. In contemporary parlance ‘we have moved from the age of genius to scenius’. Yet architectural education is still geared to producing the solitary genius, rather than today’s collaborator − although admittedly such teams might still benefit from the genius-type for guidance and final judgements.

Read the full article here


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