Lines Drawn, the latest gathering of student delegates by the Architecture Students Network (ASN), recently met at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) to discuss the future of architectural education. Seventy RIBA Part 1, 2 and 3 students (including those on their placement years) from across twenty two schools of architecture gathered together to address and unify their voice in calling for improvements to the current pedagogy of UK’s architectural education to reflect a changing society.
The weekend conference provoked questions surrounding the merits and pitfalls of the Part 1, 2 and 3 British route to qualification, raising aspirations of a more flexible education system. Sparked by the latest directive from the European Union (EU), which seeks to "establish more uniformity across Europe by aligning the time it takes to qualify" and by making mutual recognition of the architect's title easier between countries, the discussions centred around how architecture students' opinions can be harnessed at this critical moment of change to have voices heard.
Continue reading for ArchDaily's exclusive pre-coverage of the ASN's report.
The conference saw Will Hunter, executive editor of the Architectural Review, Oliver Wainwright, architecture and design critic of The Guardian, Pam Cole, head of Portsmouth School of Architecture and Patrick Hannay, tutor at the CAT, take part in an open panel discussion. Although there was a general consensus amongst the panel and students to reduce the amount of years required for qualification, it was agreed that it should ultimately be about how competent you are in becoming an architect rather than the length required. Students acknowledged that "the current route to qualification had some key merits which needed to be incorporated into any new course structure." Ruth Jennings, a student from Sheffield School of Architecture argued that there was "a constant assumption of being an architect as the end goal - a gateway into the profession and not a celebration."
Views were also expressed by students on the importance of practices playing a role in their academic and professional training. Matthew Murnin, a student from Queen's University Belfast (QUB) "valued the depth of practical experience part time tutors brought to his education." Discussions also lead to students wanting more emphasis on practitioners attending project crits, reviews and tutorials. Students appreciated that whilst this could dampen creativity, a degree of "reality" needed to be incorporated to help prepare students for practice.
In addition, live projects - which are prevalent in many schools of architecture today - were seen as a positive step in engaging with the real world, although the interpretation of what a live project actually was differed across the country. Projects ranged from conceptual design schemes working with a real client, to building pavilions and working on community schemes. Students from the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London are currently engaged in a live project with the London Borough of Brent to design a structure next to Wembley Stadium. They commented saying that although it has been difficult, it’s made them "appreciate and develop the other skills required in becoming an architect - most importantly teamwork." Emily Partridge, a student from Cambridge and former student of the CAT echoed the importance of live projects. "Projects that allow creativity and imagination, while being based in the reality of building and within a context, is a key strength of architectural education. It allows people to develop a moral, ethical and social approach to the built environment - an ideal that is unfortunately often not in practice."
When the students were asked what they valued most about their education, the design studio and its associated culture came high on the agenda. Students saw the diversity and talent of their student peers as "an inspiring driving force with one-to-one tutorials seen as a good opportunity for critical dialogue and self critical analysis." However, whilst the design studio is seen as a place for critical dialogue and sharing ideas, Eleanor Grair, a student from Newcastle University felt there was a real lack of design methodology in architecture schools. Architecture and design critic Oliver Wainwright noted how "it was interesting to hear how many students felt that the design process itself is so absent from the courses – not that there is a single approach that can be taught, but that the discussion of different design methodologies goes strangely unspoken, with such an emphasis on superficial presentation rather than how to make good buildings and spaces."
The ASN believes that the course content throughout Parts 1, 2 and 3, and the duration of said course, needs to be re-evaluated to reflect the changing needs of the profession, especially with the recent rise in tuition fees and associated university costs. Students value the flexibility of the different stages and the various opportunities it gives them to diversify, specialise and develop as an individual. According to the summary produced by the ASN, "it really felt like momentum for change has finally reached a tipping point." For Wainwright, "it will be interesting to see how the Architects Registration Board (ARB) and the RIBA – and ultimately the UK Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) – will respond to the collective cry for radical reform. Otherwise, with such brilliant and affordable education available overseas, we risk losing our best students."
Oliver Wainwright continued:
Architectural education has stagnated as an arcane, inward-looking pursuit for far too long – a situation now made all the more questionable by the exorbitant rise in fees – and at the ASN conference there was a palpable sense of urgency for change.
It was really encouraging to see such an engaged and articulate group of students coming together from such a wide range of schools to really question the value of the education they are receiving and discuss alternatives for how the current model might be adapted – particularly to make it relevant for a world in which the role of the architect has radically departed from the 1950s, when the three-part system of architectural education was first established.
A detailed report outlining the debates and discussions that took place at Lines Drawn will be published by the ASN in April 2014. This will be presented to the three key architectural institutes in the UK: the ARB, RIBA and the Standing Conference of Heads of Schools of Architecture (SCHOSA) to ensure the student voice is heard and addressed.
The ASN's spring conference comes in addition to the government’s review of UK architecture led by Terry Farrell, which has already sparked a report by the UK Architectural Education Review Group finding that the high cost of architectural education creates a barrier to the profession. Read a summary of the ASN's discussions in full here (PDF).