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Educating the next generation

Jane Duncan

Why we need more flexible ways to teach architecture

‘The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows’ – Sydney J Harris

Architectural education isn’t just a means to a qualification. Intellectually and socially it’s the most intensely stimulating period in your life, when you have time to research and explore ideas and to discover your own creativity. How you make best use of the assets provided by architectural education afterwards is driven equally by talent, communication skills and intellectual ability, and not a small amount of luck and confidence.

The increasingly urgent question is how to ensure architectural education is accessible to a diversity of people and how it can respond to the evolving needs of the profession. 

With the high cost of a long university education, students can expect to graduate with debts of £100,000 or more and little hope of paying it back on the modest salaries generally available to the profession.

I would not have studied architecture in this context and it worries me greatly to think that many of today’s aspiring and talented school pupils, those without the backing of wealthy parents, will almost inevitably look elsewhere for their career.  There is a real danger that architecture’s sustainability, diversity and relevance are diminished, putting its very future at risk.

What is the answer? In my view the situation requires every one of us – in practice, academia, the student body and government – to take responsibility. We need to pull ­together and respond to this issue, urgently.

There is a real danger that architecture’s sustainability, diversity and relevance are diminished, putting its very future at risk

The RIBA’s Education Review, the most rigorous and collaborative review of architectural education in 50 years, is well underway and deals practically with many of these issues; a ‘Compact’ is being produced to formalise best practice for employing students during their professional experience. RIBA student mentoring is proving popular. The RIBA’s practice team is working with a trailblazer group of forward thinking practices to spearhead the development of a higher apprenticeship model for architectural education and training. Several schools of architecture are developing more flexible study models that offer greater earning opportunities for students during their education.

We urgently need to build on these examples and increase the number of affordable routes. We need to provide more mentoring for both career and pastoral support through all stages of the architectural career cycle. We should encourage more reciprocal relationships between academia, practices, researchers and students, and spread the message about such innovations. 

‘We have to train the students to become architectural entrepreneurs,’ says Odile Decq. ‘You have to give them skills and possibilities to understand who they want to become. This is a different kind of education.’

How can practitioners get involved – and how will they benefit?

I would encourage every practitioner to head into their local school and talk about the rewarding career that architecture offers, and the support that is available, from the RIBA, practices and architecture schools. 

Flexible study that includes practical experience can boost technical and professional skills, and courses offering live projects allow students to develop hands-on knowledge and engage with end users, clients and other professionals – valuable starter skills. There are huge benefits for architects who engage in academia, and practices that collaborate with architecture schools can help students appreciate business skills and social responsibility.

For the sake of our profession, practitioners must engage directly with academia and students to make 21st century education more flexible. As Benjamin Franklin said: ‘An investment in knowledge pays the best interest’. We must ensure that it does.


Disciplinary Reprimand

On 23 February 2016 a RIBA Hearings Panel found that Mr Charles Welsh breached Principle 3.5 of the RIBA Code of Conduct in that he did not have in place effective procedures for dealing promptly and appropriately with disputes or complaints. They also found that he breached Byelaw 4.1 in that he behaved in a manner unacceptable in a professional person. 

The Panel decided that the sanction for this be a public reprimand.