THEME: The Future of Architectural Education

How Will Architects be Educated in 20 Years Time?

BY Jeremy Till | October 2012

Welcome to our inaugural series of think pieces, in which five experts share their views on one of the key issues to emerge from our 2011
\The Future for Architects\ report; How will architects be educated in 20 years time? We hope that these broad range of speculations about the future of education will provide opportunities for reflection, and you are invited to join the debate using the form on the right hand side. You can comment on both the theme in general and individual author’s response, if you want to react to an existing comment, please make reference using the ‘title’ field. You are required to input an email address to submit a comment, but you won’t be contacted in any way and it will not display. If you would like to join our mailing list, please sign up using the \home page\

The straight answer to the question “How will architects be educated in twenty years time?” is: “Probably much the same as now, but with squeezed institutional resources delivering a lesser education to an ever smaller, and ever more elite, group of students.”

I despair of the stasis in architectural education, perpetuated on the one hand by the validating bodies insisting on rigid routes to accreditation, and on the other by the academy clinging to outmoded pedagogic models that still reward the heroic achievements of aesthetic and technical spectacle. Rather than wallowing in misery of the causes and effects of this stasis, I want to change the question to: “How might architects be educated in twenty years time?”

In England the answer to this question assumes a real urgency with the introduction of the annual £9,000 fee, and with it the effective privatisation of the University system and the spectre of architecture students emerging with over £90,000 of debt if present structures are maintained.

Although I am loath to frame the future of architectural education solely in terms of the financial fallout from an ideologically driven educational policy, the introduction of the £9,000 fee is maybe just the jolt that is required to wake the profession and its attendant education from its slumber. The first jolt will be to the word ‘architect’ in the title of the question. As narrowly defined through professional expectations – someone who designs buildings – the ‘architect’ will play an increasingly limited role in the production of the built environment, not least because of the inevitable (and necessary) shift under conditions of scarcity from the production of more stuff to the realignment of stuff that it is already there, and from an economy of financial capital to one of social capital. The demand will move from the creation of new, fresh, buildings to the revivification of old, tired, buildings, and the background will change from one of drawing on an abundance of material resource to the redistribution of scarce resource flows. The reconfigured context for the architect (let’s now call them spatial agents) demands an equally reconsidered model for architectural education. This does not mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater – I suspect there will always be a hardcore of staff and students poring over the canon of received architectural wisdom – but rather the expanding the scope of design beyond the static object and into the dynamics of space and time.

My optimism lies in the fact architectural education already addresses this expanded spatio-temporal field, though mainly by default than intent. Architectural students are extraordinarily adept at understanding social, spatial, relationships and how they might be adjusted, but the limited definition of the term ‘architect’ (against which their courses are validated) means that the development and manifestation of this spatial intelligence is side-lined in the rush to polish the object beautiful. But in 20 years time it should be exactly this augmented spatial territory that will form the basis for architectural education, in which courses will be judged not on the basis of the portfolios that they produce, but on the values and consequences of the spaces that they speculate on. In turn this means that the focus of the validation processes will have to change, because it is much more difficult to legislate on the contingencies of value than it is the propriety of an object.

The expanded role for spatial designers also means that the target for architectural education will be shifted. We all know that less than a third of people entering architectural schools eventually become architects, but we barely admit to it, let alone adjust our courses to serve the remaining two-thirds. The professional brand is so important that we allow ourselves to suffer the absurdity of validators commenting on our first year courses, as if the muse of future architects is hard-wired in those early days. Instead, in 20 years time, the only point of professional scrutiny will be the point of exit, and it will be up to the schools and individuals to decide how one reaches (or not, as the case may be) that gateway. The system of education will then allow multiple routes for both those set on reaching the gateway and for those whose intellectual energy takes them into other spatial fields and does so in a way that does not label them with the stigma of architectural failure. The archaic Part 1+2+3 structure of UK education needs to be abandoned. It has been around since the 19th Century, instigated then to serve and legitimate a small, elitist profession. If it hangs around any longer we will be back again to those Victorian values.

Finally, the length and location of architectural courses will be highly variable in 20 years time. There still appears to be an unwritten assumption that five years secluded away in architectural school are somehow necessary as the minimum period required to receive the holy spirit of architecture. Instead the likelihood is that education will no longer be defined by length of time but quality of experience. Much more of architectural education will be spent in work, credited through critical reflection on students’ practice, which in turn will be refreshed by this intellectual scrutiny.

In 20 years time we will have, and need, structures that allow the development of flexible intelligence rather than the static knowledge on which the Victorian model was predicated. Students will drop in and out of institutional education, accelerating parts of their course and slowing down others depending on their circumstances, judged through the accumulation of intellectual capital rather than through the accumulation of years.

I have said with presumptuous authority that the architectural education ‘will’ be like this. In reality I desperately want it to be like this. My concern with the current system is not founded on a curmudgeonly anti-institutional stance, but on a fear that unless we change the structures and values of architectural education within the next few years, there will not be much left for us to pick over in 20 years time.

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Jeremy Till is Dean of Architecture and the Built Environment and Professor of Architecture at the University of Westminster. His extensive written work includes Flexible Housing (with Tatjana Schneider, Architectural Press 2007), Architecture Depends (MIT Press 2009) and Spatial Agency: other ways of doing architecture (with Nishat Awan and Tatjana Schneider, Routledge 2011). All three of these won the RIBA President’s Award for Outstanding Research, an unprecedented sequence of success in this prestigious prize. As an architect, he worked with Sarah Wigglesworth Architects on their pioneering building, 9 Stock Orchard Street (The Straw House and Quilted Office), which has been extensively discussed and won the RIBA Sustainability Prize. In 2006 he curated the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale.

In 2012 he was appointed to be Head of Central St Martins College of Arts and Design, University of the Arts, a position he will take up in August 2012.