How to Improve Architectural Education (In 12 Steps)

How to Improve Architectural Education (In 12 Steps)
Adolfo Ibañez University / José Cruz Ovalle y Asociados. Image © Roland Halbe.

By James P. Cramer. Reprinted, with permission, from DesignIntelligence. If you like this article, you may also enjoy In Defense of an Architecture Education, which claims that, despite economic stagnation, the profession is still worth pursuing, and Thoughts on Architectural Education, a collection of observations and frustrations from an Architecture student.

You could argue that architectural education is pretty good the way it is. In fact, it is most likely the best that it has ever been. But it’s not good enough. Just as architects and designers need to deliver more value in the future, the education that supports and gives birth to the future of the profession needs to prove its relevance.

It is the profession’s responsibility to support the evolution of higher education. Human capital is in jeopardy. We have a talent supply problem as we look to the horizon.

There is a changing nature in the work of design. In this context many educators acknowledge that higher education has not kept up with the big changes taking place in the design professions. Who has? Change and uncertainty face all of us. Finger pointing is not going to advance us to a higher place. It is time for architects and educators to adopt a learning, non-blaming approach to change.

Find out the 12 steps that will help provide design students, educators and professionals the best opportunities for success today, after the break...

Who now doubts that we live in a time of massive change? While we may acknowledge that the future of our AEC industry is fiction, we can nevertheless imagine future relevance based on trends in technology, demographics, urbanization, construction delivery, globalization and economic shifts. The sober reality is that the game of professional practice is changing. It will become stronger or weaker, and education will play a major role in future success levels. We must also prepare for permanent cycles of disruptive changes. There are numerous strategic fronts that need to be addressed. Integrated and multidisciplinary practices have every changing business models. Sustainability is driving design. Practitioners are learning to give even more services and experiences for the money. Contractors are establishing design studios. Technology is showing signs of new artificial intelligence that will not only disrupt but also alter value propositions. We are at a crossroads.

The recent meeting of the Design Futures Council focused on steps to new health in the design professions. The point was made that “change will never again be as slow as it is today.” And so we must act. It won’t be easy for designers or educators or students. Some will say that design education has become too self-absorbed and without its own foresight. If this point of view is blindly accepted without action then it can only mean that the value of architectural education will surely diminish. If so, then the future of the profession will be in jeopardy. Complacency, if it settles into education, will be the enemy to successful transformation of the profession. Fast action is most certainly strategic. It must not be an option. The lack of commitment to continuous improvement alone could kill off future generations of the architecture profession. The profession doesn’t stand a chance to succeed in the future if it can’t get the best and brightest people — the top human capital — regenerating the profession year after year.

I have a proposal. At the base, I believe that there should be a fresh approach and that we should question our current habit patterns. We should do things differently. Call this a next-level approach or strategic alignment. To measure the pulse of the potential of this, one only needs to look at what we see in today’s best-of-class professional firms. Innovation lives in these firms. The fascinating thing is that in spite of the naysayers, the design profession is pioneering into new satisfying realities that include unexpected upside scenarios in career satisfaction and monetary remuneration.

We have discovered that those who embrace entrepreneurialism in the profession are not only dealing with the threats head on but, even more importantly, they also are now focusing on adjustments that will bring growth in the future. They forecast growth for the profession. Not merely survival. Understanding their actions provides us with a sense of the territory ahead where there can be a more robust alignment between the academy and the profession. This could become a sweet spot between the profession and the academy. It is a choice that we now have, to re-energize professional education. Those participating will be rewarded.

Rather than perpetuating bygone and stale beliefs and dogmas, why not bring leadership dynamism to align with today’s construction industry and environmental realities? This could mandate a new contextual competence in architectural education. Moreover, it implies satisfying the new social responsibility that goes with students’ utopian aspirations. Indeed, schools have many opportunities to align with and lead the changing profession. This will mean sidestepping the traps and conveniences of the cloistered villages within the university that in some cases have lost sight of professional education.

Here’s a proposal to bring design education forward into a position for increasingly indispensable value.

There will always of course be better and worse schools. This is also true in practice. Just as some students get an inferior education, some employees in practice are not mentored well. The future demands more if we wish for a stronger profession. This is one of the biggest opportunities for change. It can re-energize the design profession of the future. Respect for design education can be exponentially enhanced. We should encourage leaders to set targets that they may never meet. We are in a race with change and as new value niches are discovered we need to seize and deploy these. We need a strong link between education and practice around the issues of shifts, foresight and actions that can improve the future.

James P. Cramer is founding editor of DesignIntelligence and co-chair of the Design Futures Council. He is chairman of the Greenway Group, a foresight management consultancy that helps organizations navigate change to add value.

Reprinted, with permission, from DesignIntelligence.

About this author
Cite: Vanessa Quirk. "How to Improve Architectural Education (In 12 Steps)" 08 Nov 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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