Architecture is a subject that takes decades to master. Just look at the field’s consensus masters - it is not uncommon for an architect to work through his or her fifties before receiving widespread acclaim. So it should come as no surprise that architecture schools simply don’t have the time to teach students all there is to know about architecture. School is the place where future architects are given a foundation of skills, knowledge and design sensibility that they can carry with them into their careers - but what exactly that foundation should contain is still a hot debate within the field.
In an attempt to come closer to pinpointing what an education should give you, we asked a group of people with a wide range of experience as students, professionals and teachers - our readers - "what do you wish you had learned in architecture school?"
Architecture or Building?
Many responses centered on the dichotomy between architectural theory and practice: many professionals believe that education fails to prepare students for the problems of the real world, while educators believe that architectural theory has already been restricted enough by technical courses. One commenter wished that his education alerted him to this struggle more definitively:
"I wish someone had told me the distinction between 'architecture' and 'buildings' earlier at school, so I did not have to waste time mucking about and trying to do so much for those who want nothing more than an ordinary building. I certainly do not mean to denigrate ordinary buildings for quotidian purposes (or those who commission and design them), which can be quite wonderful if they are done well and in any case contribute to 99 percent of our living and working spaces. Rather I am simply pointing out that, in the same way as a Ferrari is different from a Toyota, the processes, objectives and methods of creating architecture are fundamentally different from buildings that are genuinely designed for every day use. Too many of us have died trying to achieve the latter by going through the processes of the former and got our hope and passion beaten out of us." -CK
Within this debate, there were proponents on both side of the aisle. Many commenters asked for a heightened importance placed on construction detailing. To design a building, you first must understand how its parts come together:
"I wish that schools would deliver graduates with the basics of how a building actually goes together - a wall section, an understanding of waterproofing, structural connections, etc. This is where their career will start. Many interviewees show up touting their design work in school. Not that that isn't important, but that is a skill for much later in their career. Med school students aren't going to be doing heart transplants in their 3rd year." - JeffK
Some responders felt that both educators and employers were looking for technical skills that schools expect students to learn on their own, in what little free time they have:
"I have been studying architecture for 6 years and I have not been taught Photoshop, Sketchup, or 3ds Max. I know I am very behind in basic skills I should've, at least, been able to apply to my design projects for my design class presentations. It’s nonsense, the current curriculum at my school expects application of these software but they fail teaching them." -Ramiro Díaz García
On the opposite side of the spectrum, some believed that a greater understanding of sociology and human psychology would help architects design spaces that cater to human needs:
"I wish we were taught sociology. Writings of Foucault, for example, would enlighten the possibilities of rethinking the the psychology of space and pattern of human behavior." - Sankalp Sinha
Help Me Help Myself
Most students come into architecture school with only a vague idea of what architecture is. With many subfields and methodologies within the blanket of architecture, it is important for students to be given a taste of many different approaches to find something that sticks, and then shown the tools they can use to follow their chosen path for theselves:
"Architecture school, and universities in general, need to focus on developing the ability to think critically, the ability to think objectively. University should be a place to discover the inner workings of your own mind. How you think, what you think, and why you think the way you do. It should not be a place that tells you what TO think." - Brendan Laurence
"There is no way that school can prepare us for everything. Every program has strengths and weaknesses. To answer the question though... schools should reinforce the importance of self-guided learning, encourage initiative... and fundamentally, set students up to be successful life-long knowledge sponges. My best hires are those who bring new knowledge and skills with them from what they do after hours. To develop and reinforce these good habits, schools should address critical/strategic thinking and communications skills." - Peter
Roll With the Punches
One complaint about architecture schools is that they focus more on image than on problem solving. But as any professional architect can tell you, designing a building is often more about making concessions and compromises while retaining a design’s main ideals:
"I wish I had been more prepared for the constant changing whims of my clients, value engineering due to cost, dealing with needs and wishes of the entire team, and working through some the odd things codes and zoning forces you to do. Being prepared for these things means really understanding the core of what you are trying to do so you can either defend what you are doing, or you can make drastic changes and keep the core concept. Being able to keep a design under control while incorporating constant changes is a constant challenge, and requires true creativity. It also means doing good work without getting to attached to our precious creations. This requires mental discipline and intellectual rigor. It should start early. This will mean that a lot of the work students will do will be really bad and screwed up. That would be a great thing to learn from in school, but it also means that schools won't a lot of great images to promote themselves." - Archit1
In the Business of Architecture
Architecture firms sell a product, buildings. This means in addition to design-thinking, architects must obtain a strong business acumen:
"In my program at the University of Texas I felt there was little emphasis or thought put into the teaching of the practice of architecture. I think students need more understanding of how to write contracts, structure proposals, and actually run a firm. To me there is too little emphasis on the business aspect of architecture. I find that most people we hire in our small firm have little to no concept of what it takes to run a firm and how much time, effort, and finesse is required in writing proposals and contracts." - Doug Powell
"Business nous. Any sort of commercial nous. How to sell and maximize fees, how to market and develop reputation.....need I say more?" - Paul Iddon
One of the things that separates architecture from art is the necessity of the client. Architects must seek out and work with users to complete buildings. To achieve a successful pairing, architects need a set of interpersonal skills:
"I wish we learned more how to deal with Clients. What to expect from them, how to communicate with them, how to present our ideas and so on." - Aya
So...What do I do next?
Some commenters seemed satisfied with the content of their education, but were frustrated when schools gave a swift goodbye as they handed over a diploma. Finding jobs within architecture is often about connections, and schools could help provide the opportunities to make that possible:
"How to get a job. All my program had to offer was 'good luck' when I graduated in 2011 into a horrific job market. How to get a job is super important as architecture school (particularly in its current form) prepares you pretty well for a whole host of jobs outside the profession. - Mike Greene