We ask which architectural school is producing the best graduates based on experience with new hires; for the first time in four years, Cornell University has fallen from the top position.

After three years at number two, Harvard University’s School of Design has been ranked as the best program in the United States, in our annual poll of working architects.

We ask which architectural school is producing the best graduates based on experience with new hires; for the first time in four years, Cornell University has fallen from the top position. (see graph)

The poll speaks for itself; 150 leading firms participated. We also yearly ask the same question of interior designers. But perhaps more interesting are changes either in progress or just implemented at some of the nation’s most venerable design schools. At Georgia Tech, they’ve begun a new industrial design master’s program; at the University of Cincinnati, the gradual elimination of the bachelor of architecture degree is being replaced by an M.Arch; and a tougher interior design curriculum went into effect this fall at Parsons School of Design. And at Harvard, their new chair is a woman, Toshiko Mori, who has hit the ground running, serving on a number of high profile oversight boards and national projects, including the jury that selected firms to rebuild on the site of the World Trade Center. Last month, she was selected to design a new Visitors’ Center to stand near Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin D. Martin House Complex. At Cornell, it’s been a high-profile year for news, most of it the kind colleges don’t want. Students and alumni and faculty are protesting what began as a July memo from university President Hunter R. Rawlings, that suggested breaking up the college of art, architecture and planning and reinserting the disciplines under other colleges at the University. At this date, the issue remains unsettled.

The campus newspaper the Cornell Daily Sun, at one point called the move a sneak attack, launched during summer break when students weren’t around to protest.

According to the Sun, Rawlings and Martin cited a lack of “intellectual and academic integration” as the key motivation, and that the dissolution “could thereby realize administrative and budgetary savings.” In these days where college endowments are being starved by stock market declines, Cornell is probably not alone in seeking ways to cut administrative costs. (See a related sidebar by the dean of College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Washington) Also Cornell announced this summer that its relationship with Steven Holl to design its new architecture school was dissolved, all very professionally. But it was a public break with one of the nation’s most prominent architects, who in October unveiled two other major works for academia, one at the University of Minnesota and another at MIT.

Eliminating the B. Arch is something NAAB seriously discussed in 2000, but tabled. The issue is due up again in 2003. The University of Cincinnati’s School of Architecture and Design is already doing so. Its bachelor of architecture degree (established in 1925) will gradually phase out over the next five years. A new master’s program will award degrees to its first graduates next June.

Plans are for 56 students to enter the graduate program each year. A Bachelor of Science in architecture along with a small post-professional Master of Science in Architecture will create an architectural student body of about 440, said the school’s director, Daniel S. Friedman. Another 180 students will enroll for a Bachelor of Science in interior design.

Shaking out the curriculum is a way to adapt to the realities of how architecture is practiced now, Friedman said. The new master’s allows more tailored academic concentrations and “integrates graduate academic experience with our cooperative education system” which involves paid firm work here and abroad.

“We seek to equip students to assume a larger role in the management of building economics and prepare them to lead more phases of the building production process,” Friedman said, “to prepare architects to take greater responsibility for the long-term economic and environmental consequences of construction, including the re-use and maintenance of existing buildings.” Also, there is an emphasis on more collaboration and flexibility for “stronger connections between design innovation and the administrative and managerial dimensions of practice.”

Parsons School of Design is known for its art and fashion alumni (Edward Hopper and Donna Karan both matriculated there.) But its setting is also the ideal “laboratory” for studying urban design, said architecture department chair Peter Wheelwright who’s finished his first year as chair, after two years as acting chair. Parsons is in the process of “folding” its interior design program into its architecture curriculum. “To practice in New York is to do a great deal of interiors,” he said. “We’re trying to reinvent the relationship between interiors and architecture” and remove some of the historic antagonism between the fields. This has involved rewriting the interior design curriculum. This fall, students from both disciplines take the same courses for the first year, electing to pursue one or the other at the end of their sophomore year.

“There isn’t, frankly, a scholarly tradition in interior design,” Wheelwright said. Parsons is one of a handful of schools that offer a master’s in lighting design, which he called something of a bridge between interiors and architecture. Work on the interiors program has delayed plans to structure another master’s program in landscape/regional urbanism, Wheelwright said, but he anticipates it’s coming soon.

Wheelwright disagrees with those who say the profession needs to compartmentalize, specialize and turn out graduates who are seamless professionals equipped with everything from management skills to budgeting know-how.

“I don’t think schools of architecture should mimic the profession, or fill its curriculum with courses that ostensibly ‘prepare’ them for practice,” Wheelwright said. “I don’t support that at all. I believe we should teach students how to think first, and in particular, to think about doing architecture.”

As for the registration process, Wheelwright said. “It actually doesn’t do very much to make them more professionally suited.” An NAAB accredited architecture program involves working with and being taught “by 50 or more professional architects,” he said. “and I do not think the examination process adds anything more to that.

“I support the ACSA,” he said. “But I have some difficulty with professional organizations. I think, at times, they can slow down the evolution of creative thought.”

The School of Architecture and Community Design at the University of South Florida has seen its enrollment triple over the past three years, according to director Stephen Schreiber. Its Master of Architecture program was originally designed as a four year program for students with bachelors degrees in non-architectural subjects.

“Last year, we made curriculum adjustments so that students with two-year associates degrees in architecture can enter directly into the four-year Master of Architecture,” Schreiber said. The school also adjusted curriculum to allow for an accelerated degree, where students with 4 or five-year architecture undergraduate degrees can complete the program in 1.5 to 2 years.
And at Georgia Tech, the College of Architecture at the Georgia Institute this fall launched a two-year master’s degree program in industrial design. It’s the first such design degree offered among Georgia’s public universities and one of only a handful offered in the Southeast,” said college spokesperson Sean Selman. More than 20 students have signed up for the program already, he said. Associate Professor Lorraine Justice, director of the Industrial Design Program, said the program has been developed to meet a growing need in the economy, both in Georgia and nationwide. She said job growth in industrial design continues at a break-neck pace, and design programs throughout the country are not producing enough designers to fill industry needs. Also, about two years ago, Tech began using a new system for incoming freshmen called the Common First Year, developed by Associate Dean Sabir Khan. The goal is to give incoming freshman a broader experience across the spectrum of program offerings, so that they can better decide what type of degree they might want to pursue.