In Defense of an Architecture Education

PAUL CLEMENCE© Archi_Photo

When the statistics showed architecture as the field of study where recent graduates had the highest unemployment rate, some suggested that future students ought to pursue different educational backgrounds.   Courtney Lukitsch has shared her response to such a claim by defending the merits of an architecture education.  ArchDaily reaches a wide range of readers – from established professions to students just entering the field – and we’d like to hear your thoughts on the value of pursuing an architecture education.

“Recently published reports about education degrees ‘not to pursue’ in architecture, design and art, made the rounds in the national press and A&D industry, raising eyebrows and demanding closer scrutiny.  Needless to say, this news spread like wildfire on social platforms such as Facebook and twitter, oddly to scant commentary among top-tier critics, academics and educators, architects and designers, a decidedly vocal and opinionated group of incredibly well educated professionals.”

Read the rest of Lukitsch’s article after the break. 

Based on 2009-2010 census and economic data gleaned by the Georgetown University Center on Education & Workforce, The New York Times Business section dedicated an Economix column to advocating, “If You Want A Job, Go To College and Don’t Major in Architecture.”

Despite the dire headline, and given the state of the domestic housing and construction markets in a recessionary economy, the very same education census report stated the upside news that “those lucky architecture majors with postgraduate degrees who do have jobs are doing okay. Among full-time, full-year workers in this group, median earnings are $71,000.”

According to Gisue Hariri, Principal at Hariri + Hariri – Architecture in New York, “I’ve always been very up front in our team practice about the fact that Architecture is not a job, it’s a way of living. The great cities of the world would not exist without architects and design thinking, because what architects contribute to our lives is priceless.

Our industry is evolving such that multi-disciplinary firms are becoming the norm. For example we now must provide urban design, master planning, architecture, interior design, product design, fashion retail concepts, graphic design and branding services. Perhaps the architecture schools need to catch up and prepare their graduates to be multi thinkers and multi-tasked, so that they will be ready for the contemporary world we live and work in.”

This topic is definitely top of mind. In late January 2012, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) issued a professional satisfaction survey called ‘Design on the Future’ with results yet to be published. Clearly, there is a need for trend forecasting and curricula mapping to address shortfalls not only in the perceived value of architecture studies, but also design thinking as it relates to this multidisciplinary direction in which the industry is headed.

At graduate programs such as CURE, the real estate development program at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, course work in architecture, design, infographic-style communications and urban planning are incorporated into real estate development degree studies. These skills are being taught so that graduates and their resumes convey deeper understandings, ways of problem-solving that impact their future scope of work, adding value to prospective employers.

You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it. — Albert Einstein

An interesting perspective from a recent New York University Urban Design graduate, Caroline Couturier, puts all these discussions into a realistic framework. She is the very demographic bulls-eye demonstrative of the multi-thinking, skilled taskmaster resume required to join the entry-level ranks at today’s A&D firms.

“I am a little bit different from the traditional architecture graduate in the sense that I do not have a Bachelor of Architecture under my belt but, essentially, an architectural history degree or Bachelor of Arts in Architecture and Urban Design studies. This presents a little bit more of a challenge to enter the field since nowadays architecture students and architects are pretty much required to be illustrators, drafters, designers, model-makers, photographers, graphic artists, and even web designers and social media experts.

“All of the entry-level positions I applied for involved a large portion of graphic design and even web design for the firms’ web and print marketing materials. During the past few months of job searching I’ve actually met a couple really great architects who have given me extraordinary feedback. And that was that I need more graphic design work in my portfolio.

“Not to mention that — and this is probably true for a lot of creative industries today — there are very few entry-level jobs being offered now but unpaid internships abound. All of this to say that architecture grads are probably the most marketable and overqualified people on the planet but have few chances to earn a living by working in their field, at least in the beginning of their careers. In defense of an architectural education, I’d have to say that it’s a passion for me and I’m gainfully employed.”

Required is the tall-order ability to master new technologies, stay abreast of emerging design thinking, properly learn and practice administration and management, while simultaneously growing business. This is the challenge posed to today’s top-tier architecture and design firms, as they bid and build multi-use residential and commercial developments, globally.

Elisa Ours, Corcoran Sunshine Vice President of Planning and Design, asserts this mandate strongly, stating: “As the benefactors of a discipline that combines both the arts and science, numerous industries beyond architecture engage the multi-dimensional and innovative architecture graduate for positions in development, project management, technology and other demanding disciplines.

Recent graduates that excel in other industries typically complement their architecture studies with a solid foundation in project administration and significant exposure to technology, finance, computer science, as well as construction management.

Few disciplines offer a liberal arts program that empowers students to become inventors. With conviction, they are designing buildings, positioning a vision, and communicating intricate and infinite variables to multiple team members.”

Architecture education teaches a way of thinking, a way to look at the world, that’s not just about buildings. “So many architects, myself included, go on to successfully apply their knowledge and approach to a multitude of areas, from writing, art and businesses,” says Paul Clemence, artist, architect and photographer.

A defense is in order, where the multidisciplinary advantages and employment opportunities an architectural education actually creates are better understood.

States developer Peter Guthrie of DDG Partners in New York, “In our firm we find that those with an architecture background will make better builders and developers, in addition to their design abilities. Their inherent interest and quite often passion for the range of activities that go into making a successful building coupled with their problem solving abilities makes them uniquely positioned to be leaders in the built environment.

“Too often architects have marginalized themselves and their profession by not understanding or accepting their real power and not seizing it. Whether this can be attributed to a lack of professional support similar to the Bar Exam for lawyers, or simply the inherent conflicts of art and commerce, good architecture is needed and appreciated more than ever. Whether one practices architecture or not, the fundamentals of the education will serve to create one of the best foundations for creative thinking and problem solving that will support a multitude of career options.

“Therein lay the flaw with the statistics as represented in the Georgetown University study, as they do not reflect those professionals working in related and adjacent fields, which I believe would greatly reduce the overall percentage.”

 

Lukitsch is the Principal and Founder of Gotham Public Relations,a 10 year-old boutique Marketing PR agency dedicated to growing global business and awareness for architecture, design, art & culture clients and recent collaborative projects with top-tier firms.


Cite: Cilento, Karen. "In Defense of an Architecture Education" 09 Feb 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 30 Jul 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=207060>

7 comments

  1. Thumb up Thumb down +6

    It just might be that the architecture field is over saturated. To be honest, these articles might be better for the profession over the long term since there will be less architects to compete with in the future.

    having low wages is just the “natural” way of balancing out the supply and demand for architects

  2. Thumb up Thumb down -2

    Pretty uninformed article.
    Sure Architecure School provides a great education that prepares students for many things, but if they are graduating in the next one to three years or have graduated in the last three years it is dire out there compared to almost any field if they truly want to be an Architect even in a broad sense.
    Yes there are more multidisciplinary firms out there but the multidisciplinary part is typically engineering, planning or construction management almost all of which are related building tardes and in the same condition as Architecture. How nany firms are doing fashion design as well? my guess would be less than five. Product design? Probably less than 100.
    Construction management- Lots, but it is still very difficult for anyone in construction.
    It’s a difficult time for our profession, but I still love what I do. It can be a very rewarding career.
    For students just starting university they may well come into a good market as we have many booms and busts, this one is just deeper and longer than any in most of our lifetimes.
    The most important thing, which I agree with the writer on, is to be flexible, and to understand that if you want to be an Architect there will be a number of these big bumps during your career.

  3. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    The problem with architectural education is simple. The gross number of Schools in North America do not “train” an Architect, they “academically prepare” in the broadest sense of the word a person, based on the misperception of the field as interpreted by academics and the person who wrote this article.

    Graduates have absolutely little skills to conduct work in practice. Those who are fortunate to be “freely” interned or went to a school that prepared are the employed. The rest, well they add to the growing numbers of the disillusioned.

  4. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    terrible article. try talking to an architect who is also living a normal live, owning a home, having a family etc.

  5. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Architecture is such a wonderful undertaking that their are too many people who want to practice relative to the number of actual jobs available. Technology has greatly increased productivity and schools generally do a poor job preparing students for actual architectural office work. The combination has led to a terrible situation for recent graduates and the creation of a “missing generation” of architects that will haunt the profession for decades.

  6. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    The article makes some points that are accurate but misses the really big picture. Einstein’s quote is used to set up what should have been an opening to discuss fundamentally new forms of architectural education – forms that will not only better prepare students to practice but also to challenge the conditions of practice to better pursue issues such as sustainability. The over emphasis of formalism, the rewards of provocation, and the utter absence of financial considerations leaves architecture students with unrealistic exceptions, an overly developed ego, and generally unable to lead a project from a financial point of view – thereby allowing CM’s to take over

    having said that, practice is very complex. the expectations of a graduate should be tempered by the fact that the first three years of practice are intended to be internship and therefor employers should lower their expectations. Employers are getting graduates who have far superior digital skills than they do so maybe partners in firms should stop griping. lastly – this generation of graduates have a much higher drive for sustainability, and a clearly demonstrated ability to work across cultures, ethnic backgrounds and disciplines – the cornerstones of future practice.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      Digital skills are highly overrated. Let the employers teach them later. Architectural education has far more important concerns as one learns the profession. Universities must resist the temptation to allow future employers to influence their programs and professional offices who put these pressures on universities might want to rethink what they are doing.

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