THEME: The Future of Architectural Education

How Will Architects be Educated in 20 Years Time?

BY Ruth Reed | 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 future of architectural education will be one of increasing collaboration across the built environment.

Breadth of knowledge and strategic understanding of the agenda for development will be as essential as the passion of the designers and the technical knowledge of those that construct the buildings. All of this should be supported by shared research that improves the prediction and the performance of the building.

There is nothing new in the premise that architects, engineers and surveyors, educated together for at least part of their early years in higher education, will acquire some of the knowledge and understanding of the cognitive processes of the other disciplines. The need for teamwork is understood in order to prepare the student for the reality of their future working lives. However, attempts to harmonise the early higher education experience have frequently reduced the teaching to a common denominator rather than led to enriched understanding and, as a consequence, have prompted a retreat back into the silos of the individual professions in order to restore the level of educational outcomes and to redefine the uniqueness of the offer of each profession. It has driven us apart rather than brought common understanding.

What has rarely been attempted is harmonisation of high-level knowledge across the built environment professions with the result that each discipline’s knowledge and values are held in common across the team. Future success depends on the recognising that teambuilding needs to share reliable research data and have effective top-level management, not just early-learning.

It is not easy to arrive at the point that each member of the team – across the design, detailing and delivery of a building and its subsequent management – will subscribe to common values such as its environment performance, flexibility for long-term use, ability to inspire users and to be a careful component of a wider urban design. There are ingrained behaviours and different perceptions of what a successful outcome for the project might be. Others in the team might say that cost effectiveness, ease of maintenance and profitability were the key measures of success. At the moment we are all trained to support our values against those of others not to share them, an education that defines and holds values across the team will make the process more effective without diminishing the outcomes.

Such an education must be supported by research that gives certainty to those values. However there is a paucity of research that supports even widely held beliefs, for example, that we are all nurtured and sustained by beauty in our environment; that well-designed buildings and places enhance our happiness and well-being. There are several reasons for this; not least is the complexity of the drivers that shape our cities making cause and effect impossible to extract from complex and conflicting data. However it is necessary to understand and support these desirable attributes in order to hold them in common with the rest of the team. The next 20 years should see research into these areas drawing on the skills of social scientists and health professionals to untangle the web and uncover irrefutable truths.

The new ability to identify and support tangible attributes for new buildings is the built environment’s greatest opportunity. To date the only prototypes we have been able to test are the completed buildings and the results of this research have not necessarily supported anyone’s agenda for the buildings. Our new opportunity is Building Information Modelling. BIM will bring us to multi-disciplinary working and drive forward effectiveness. High-level knowledge that will be obtained by testing the virtual model can support shared objectives across the team. This needs careful and strategic management to avoid distorting values in the outcomes, there is a danger that without shared objectives early outcomes from the BIM process will reflect whichever team member has had control. The need for our new multi-disciplinary education is already pressing.

In 20 years time architectural education could be seen as one component of a built environment education that is, to coin a term from the designers, T-shaped; a specialism within a faculty sustained by high-level research across the built environment and that is undertaken collaboratively with a shared objective of excellence. There may well be a common professional qualification for all built environment professionals, with identified specialisms that can be developed or supplemented throughout a career. This may even lead to a merging of professional institutes. In such an educational environment I do not fear for the values of architecture whatever name they go by, the attributes of architects are broad and deep, they also now need to be collaborative.

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Professor Ruth Reed is the Immediate Past President of the RIBA and Course Director PGDip Architectural Practice (Part III) at Birmingham School of Architecture, BIAD, Birmingham City University.