How healthy is architectural education?
How healthy is red wine? A wino and an aristocrat both indulge, but primarily, it's a difference of quality, environment, company and quantity. Frequent over indulgence in any capacity or situation is damaging to both the body and the mind. The labeled addiction of which is referred to as alcholism. A glass of red wine every evening with dinner is not only acceptable, but a sign of civility. A bottle or two every fortnight (among others with the same intentions) is also considered acceptable. A holiday every six months on which one may drink more than intended, more often than intended, is ranked as bourgeoisie.
Assuming quality, environment, company and quantity are acceptable, formal Architectural education provides a foundation for learning and an appetite to do so. It is important only in that it teaches one to think and that the actual content of the courses, is rarely of importance. An exceptional mind or one inspired by an exceptional mentor could bypass the entire process were it not for the certification received at the completion. Therefore, Architectural Education, an Architect does not make. Independent education is the foundation for anything above mediocrity and essential for Architectural greatness. I am learning now that this must be taken to be part of a fuller life and that experiences outside the profession are equally as important as your standard learnings (or more important, if intelligently applied).
Actual techniques learned in boot camp will not physically prepare you to shoot a man. A soldier does not have be trained in the physical action, but must infact be conditioned to react appropriately.
I think the architectural education is composed of three main factors; 1. an opportunity to think and focus in a new way, on a new subject, 2. to be guided and instructed on what has been done and how that has been achieved, and 3. to learn and practice the process of using tools. Every school of architecture tends to satisfy these points at some level, usually stressing on them to different degrees. This is actually beneficial in my mind, as it leads to a more diverse group of architects in the end. Some schools are more design oriented, others with a better understanding of history, technical prowess, or use of tools, such as software, drawing, or making. In Canada a regulatory body, the CACB, attempts to make sure each school is hitting on several points. Recently, I have experienced the views of a couple of people who are technologists, now going to architecture school. They comment that they aren't learning anything, as many of their teachers seem not to know how a building's materials go together. This of course, is a naive view in my mind, as there is a time and place to that understanding of building science, but the much more important lesson is developing an architectural theory based on design....a well detailed building is only good if it supports great spaces inside and out, and the approach to the urban strategy. Ultimately, great architecture does it all. So the teacher that has a deep understanding of theory is extremely valuable, even if they can't detail a roof. This is the difficulty with the education of an architect. As one great teacher said, "there is so much to learn, and so little to teach." The architect is a generalist in the making of a building. They know a bit about everything... every trade, and every discipline. They also know the most about how this all comes together. They are a specialist in the culmination of specialists, in terms of design. The general contractor is our counterpart, the specialist in the culmination of specialists in terms of building. And it takes 30 years before an architect is really a master, based on the vast amount that there is to learn. Knowing this, the education can only set the basis, a foundation to springboard this continued education. From a teaching perspective this would mean that to be taught by a master architect, every teacher would have to be 50 years old and have practiced their whole life. That is one kind of teacher. THe other kind, is to say, well lets split the generalist idea into specialties, and then have someone teach a particular aspect based on their focused learning of that part. Hence, the teacher who has a phD in architectural History, but has never worked on a real project in their lives. Now that person is a master in a particular aspect of teaching, and could be 30 years old. Or there could be a building envelope specialist in the same way. This makes a lot of sense, but there is a slight danger in it as well. For instance, you get a history teacher teaching design, and they know what has been done before in the world, but they aren't well rehearsed in the process of design, and the steps or ways of working through a project. Just as someone who practices design every day may not be the best candidate to teach history. Yet, the history teachers knowledge or criticism could be extremely valuable to the student's design. It is this point that I think needs attention in the way architectural education is to progress. The main design teachers should be those that practice design every day. They are really the masters of understanding the process. They should be chosen for their own excellence in design with their own work. They are the generalists and should be overseeing the project. The history teachers, representation teachers and building science teachers should be treated as sub-consultants involved in the project. They should also meet with the students, on a more punctuated timeframe to flesh out and add their expertise and criticism to the project. At some points all disciplines involved in the project should be together, not only so that vital discussions occur and everyone is on board, but also so that each teacher continues their own education into the respective fields that the other masters can teach them. So that the building science teacher is learning from the history teacher, is learning from the design teacher, and ultimately the student is learning from them all. An integrated teaching experience. Some schools are starting to take this approach, but ultimately it takes much more coordination of time and integration of the courses. It is the director who needs to sit back and project manage that. It is this philosophy that needs to be adopted from the top. The education needs to be designed like a project.