The way professional practice is taught in architecture schools around the world has been criticized for several years. Many people claim that there is a profound disconnect between academia and practice and that students are not properly prepared to be architects once they graduate. Meanwhile, others believe that there are many advantages in academia and that the actual system delivers everything it should for architecture students.
The greatest challenge is to find the balance between both sides. The qualities of the current system should not be considered null, however, it is important to be open to change when it comes to teaching professional practice in academia.
Blunders of the Current System
The first reason why people claim that professional practice in academia is inefficient is that it has an unrealistic approach. Patrick Schumacher, the principal of Zaha Hadid Architects, spoke up in a Facebook post in 2019 contending that “students’ portfolios after five years of studying might not include a single design that could meet minimal standards expected from a contemporary competition entry”.
In his opinion, this happens because architecture is being taught like art instead of having a science school model. With an artistic approach, schools focus on experimentation, putting aside fundamental notions of office life, which leads to the development of unprepared architects in the early years of their practice experience. Moreover, Patrick Schumacher raised another issue about which many people are also concerned. He said that most architectural educators lack experience working as architects, which inevitably affects learning. It is important to point out that this system differs depending on the school.
In Brazil, for instance, the best universities are public, and since they belong to and are primarily funded by the government, teachers are hired through public tender. It means that the ones who get the best grades on the test become teachers. Previous professional practice experience is not valued. As a result, students often learn from architects that have worked for just a short amount of time with real architectural projects. Sometimes, these teachers are also outdated regarding the main challenges of professional practice nowadays.
The Other Side of the Coin
On the other hand, the way professional practice is taught in academia has some benefits that we should not ignore. In response to Patrick Schumacher’s criticism, Sean Griffiths, professor of architecture at the University of Westminster and visiting professor of architecture at Yale University, pointed out that imitating practice and providing for the market is not the main outcome of architectural education. Experimentation is an essential part of architecture school and the artistic approach should not be made defunct.
“The task of architecture education is to carry out experimental research, to critique practice and provide the tools, skills, and attitudes needed to reinvent it”, Griffiths argues. Creativity and knowledge are developed when there is room for testing, researching, trying different approaches, making mistakes, and rebuilding ideas. Academia is responsible for providing this kind of growth for architecture students.
Besides, a relevant argument against the attempt to drastically change professional practice in academia is that not every student will work in an architecture firm once they graduate. Architecture has a wide range of possibilities outside the traditional practice. It is important to consider that many students will become researchers, writers, game designers, VR environment designers, etc. If studio classes focus only on the performance of students considering the way architecture firms design nowadays, academia will miss the opportunity to empower students who would like to trace different paths inside the architectural universe. For the ones who will work with game design, for example, a limited realistic approach is not always the most helpful one.
Finally, regarding the teacher’s lack of practice experience, each school has its own policy, as mentioned before. Thus, it is hard to say that this is a general issue. Although the example of public universities in Brazil is not a good one, several other universities around the world require a specific time of practice before becoming a teacher. Moreover, many teachers are practitioners at the same time. As Sean Griffiths says, “two years of an architect’s education are spent in practice to train for practice. If there are deficiencies here, some in the profession might benefit from looking closer to home”.
Where the Balance Lies
If there are both pros and cons to the way professional practice is taught in academia, finding the balance is very important. Both sides have something to offer. It is true that academia works within some conceptions that people should not relinquish, however, there is also room for improvement. The balance lies in one specific challenge, which is solving the gap between academic knowledge and professional practice. If this connection is effectively established, theory and practice will improve.
In classes such as architectural history, for example, some professors encourage students to draw, make models or even redesign the buildings they study, which can be much more enriching than grading students based on their performance in a written test. This is one of the many possible ways academia can build a bridge between theory and practice. It is also important to reinforce the relationship between students, teachers, and practitioners. The exchange of experience between these groups, respectfully considering the needs and beliefs of each one of them, can make professional practice in academia flourish.
Dezeen. (2019). Patrik Schumacher outlines the crisis in architectural education. [online] Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2019/07/09/patrik-schumacher-crisis-architectural-education/. [Accessed 26 Aug. 2021].
Dezeen. (2019). “It is emphatically not the job of architectural education to mimic practice.” [online] Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2019/08/02/architecture-education-opinion/. [Accessed 26 Aug. 2021].
Al Rawwash, Rania. (2017). FILLING THE GAP BETWEEN ACADEMIA AND PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE IN ARCHITECTURE IN JORDAN. Jordan University of Science and Technology.