Saturday, March 15, 2014

About Architectural Education

I attended architecture school during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The challenges faced by the profession and the schools of architecture seemed less daunting to me then than they appear to me today. This perception may be due in part to my rose-colored glasses and also the wisdom that age now affords me, but I truly believe the knowledge base students must acquire to become effective professionals is greater than ever. There’s so much to learn about ever-expanding fields of expertise and only so much time practically available within which to do so. How do we pack it all in? What aspects of the curriculum must we compromise or sacrifice? How do we best prepare future architects for tomorrow’s new world?

Knowing more about less and less (becoming too specialized or focused on a particular field of interest) isn’t the answer. It’s much more important that students of architecture receive as fully-rounded a university-level education as possible. Fragmenting the curriculum of study into multiple silos of expertise does not lead to broadly educated human beings. Expansive thinking free of blinders is necessary to foster effective collaboration and problem solving. If the public is to regard architects as effective agents of change, students need to become integrative, big-picture, systems-oriented thinkers. We can’t sacrifice general education, which is necessary to cultivate knowledgeable, informed, and literate architects, for the sake of mere technical adeptness. We need future designers who can reason logically, communicate effectively, and are familiar with the outside forces shaping society, its values, and our world. This line of thought imposes a greater burden on technical training during the intern development process but that, in my opinion, is the price to pay for the greater good of the profession and society.

Bill Kleinsasser understood the value of a general education to a career in architecture and concisely expressed his feelings on the subject in his book Synthesis:  

About Architectural Education:
I think that an architectural school should be a place that offers:
  • Rich, well-organized, reiterative input (a fundamental unity)
  • Intensive, well-organized, reiterative input for all students about design development media and process skills 
  • Generous opportunity to practice designing in a way that is truly and consistently integrative and comprehensive
  • Clear description of the nature of the architectural profession, its history and its possible futures, including descriptions of the value base within which we exist and how it might change
  • Generous opportunity to study outside of the architectural field so that students may become more informed and balanced, more confident and mature
  • Detailed, graphic explanation of all of the above, so that students my understand what is going on, why, and what it means to them.

It seems to me that the basic point of general education is to help us understand what we are a part of, where we have been, and where we might go. It gives us a chance to understand more clearly who and what we are. By allowing us to learn what people have felt and cared about, to learn of the heights to which they have often risen (and the reverse), to see the extent to which individual people have brought about new values and change, it gives us experiences that are both humbling and inspiring, that give perspective, patience, and hope.

I think we all need such experiences. They are of course informative but also exciting and evocative. They have the capacity to trigger at any time an expansion or reassessment of basic beliefs and self view. They seem especially important to those who try to create places that offer lastingly significant opportunities to people. 


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