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What's Wrong With Architecture School?

Sam Lubell interrogates the gulf between architectural education and architectural practice and the distressing state of affairs in which "architects coming out of school are not well enough prepared to practice architecture."
March 30, 2012, 1pm PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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While Lubell thinks that architecture programs do a fine job of teaching students to grasp design strategies and develop their skills in working with the latest design technology, he sees limitations in programs' orientation as "sophisticated laboratories for theoretical and technical discourse."

Lubell sees a serious deficit in the aspects of professional practice largely left out of contemporary architectural education. "Among students, familiarity with the building process outside of computer modeling is rare; familiarity with commercial and client issues is rarer still; learning about running a business is almost nonexistent; and history and even the basics of architectural terminology and building skills are less and less integrated into curricula."

While Lubell does not advocate architecture programs becoming merely trade schools, he calls for a better balance of theory and practice.

For a more nuanced, and decidedly less pessimistic, take on the contemporary connection between architectural education and practice, it's worth reading a recent essay by Stan Allen, dean of the School of Architecture at Princeton University, in Places.

In his essay, which is more holistic in its consideration of the trends in both practice and education over the past two decades, Allen traces the divide witnessed by Lubell to the beginning of that period. "Throughout the 1980s and early '90s the divide between theory and practice grew...By 1990 the schools could claim to be highly expert in questions of meaning, discourse and interpretation, while questions of technique and practice were ceded to the working professionals."

However, Allen sees practical value in the turn away from the humanities-based model of research towards a focus on technological education, which to him is not just limited to proficiency with design software, but also involves "the incorporation of digital technologies directly into buildings."

For Allen, "The forms of practice that digital technology enables are as important as the formal languages it makes possible. Current implementation strategies go beyond the architect's traditional relationships with clients and builders, making possible newly pragmatic, inventive and hands-on approaches. Digital design expertise is now understood as only one among many available sets of architectural skills."

Rather than expanding the gulf that Lubell describes, Allen seems to think contemporary education has closed the gap, as, "the past two decades have seen a shift toward collaborative, practice-based research."

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Published on Thursday, March 29, 2012 in The Architect's Newspaper
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