The issue of how we educate our architects of the future is a divisive one. With the capabilities of our technology advancing rapidly, new mediums of Virtual Reality, robotics, and artificial intelligence are all changing the architectural profession at a fundamental level. This creates the question of whether architectural pedagogy is keeping up with the times and educating students to be ready for both professional practice and an uncertain future.
In his opinion piece for Common Edge, ‘Architectural Education is Changing: Let’s Hope the Profession Can Keep Up’, Phil Bernstein articulates his belief that architectural education today is indeed teaching students the necessary skills, but rather than focusing on simply teaching them to become competent workers, it is teaching them skills to design for the future.
Bernstein attempts to disprove various arguments against the current mode of education, such as the idea that “educators confuse art, branding, and hero worship with proper professional training.” As an educator and an older architect, he brings forward various examples of ways that education today is preparing students for the workplace, such as the courses on Professional Practice that exist in most universities. He also argues against the idea that education is not keeping pace with advancements in technology, pointing out that most universities own a vast array of cutting-edge digital fabrication tools, probably more than most firms. He suggests that architectural firms are the ones that need to ‘keep up,’ as many are still using design tools that have now been superseded.
The question of whether studio-based learning is relevant for professional practice, or whether it holds too much emphasis on the realm of fine art is an interesting one. Bernstein contends that the consolidation between professional practice courses and studio courses in university prepares students for more than simply the technical aspect of architecture.
That some studio training privileges the cultural importance of architecture writ large is not a disadvantage but rather a strength that teaches our students that they should aspire to more than just solving problems, or, worse, becoming competent employees in an office. To do otherwise dumbs down architecture from a profession to a technical guild and diminishes our status, influence and payment.
He suggests that the skills learned from design studios, professional practice courses and the use of up-to-date technological tools are preparing university students for an “unknowable” future of the profession. To tackle the unknown situations of the future, he advocates for the need to inspire intellectual curiosity first and foremost.
Practitioners who demand that the schools produce “little architects” ready to function perfectly in current practices won’t be prepared for their own practices to survive in the future, and this attitude does nothing to advance a profession…What better way to anticipate that future than to be ready to design it?