Let’s start by addressing the stalemate between the Academic and Practice communities about which institution bears the responsibility in helping entry-level architecture professionals achieve practice-ready status.
DesignIntelligence offered me an opportunity to share some thoughts on the subject of design practice and education. This offer came at a perfect time since I was in the midst of a collision course—first, participating in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture’s NAAB accreditation visit and at the same time reading a small book on typography entitled Stop Stealing Sheep that deals with the subject of the lack of individuality in our pursuit of standardization. You probably see where I’m headed.
Have we become so prescriptive in our structure of the academy and our practice that we’ve snuffed out the entrepreneurial encouragement that will ensure innovation and individuality? Design is the subject of inventiveness. If you believe the Richard Buchanan (Head of Design, Carnegie Mellon) statement that design “is the liberal arts of the information age,” you have to agree that we can’t afford to inhibit innovation during this critical time. Today design may have its most potent impact since the Industrial Revolution.
To move this dialogue away from just a rant, and in favor of “Intelligence,” I suggested a dialogue between Don Hanlon, Chairman of the School of Architecture, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and myself to pose the question: Is anyone meeting their obligation—academy or the profession? Let’s start by addressing the stalemate between the Academic and Practice communities about which institution bears the responsibility in helping entry-level architecture professionals achieve practice-ready status.
Don Hanlon:Historically speaking, the academy did not perceive its role as preparer of students to be practice-ready, but rather to encourage good, critical thinking. The majority of people in senior leadership in the academy still value this historic role. While there’s universal concern about the disconnect with the needs of practice, very few are convinced that the university is the place to receive practice-ready skills. In addition, with the introduction of technology into the architectural discourse, schools have to levy more time and resources to teaching students technological literacy. As a result, the time to provide a broad-scope education is eroding and teaching skill sets for practice is moving farther away from the mission.
Neil Frankel:Today, practice feels the pinch. At one time firms saw it as their responsibility to prepare incoming architects for the rigors of practice. Internships, mentoring programs and on-the-job-training were very common professional obligations borne by the professional community. Today, limited resources and the effect of speed in the delivery of design services have reduced the practitioner’s ability to meet their obligation to entry-level professionals. If you want to see how much trouble we are in, just pick up the Sunday want ads that are filled with firms looking for CAD operators—only. Where then is the alignment of education’s goal of critical thinking to the needs of practice?
We need to correct course. Because of the degree of dissatisfaction on both sides of the dialogue (and not just about defining “practice-ready”) there has to be the establishment of an ongoing platform for general curriculum discourse. It is not enough for this discussion to occur only at the senior level of firms and within university faculty meetings. We must include all the stakeholders to address a strategy that satisfies expectations and penetrates both pedagogical and professional practices. It demands a cultural shift. All those associations and armchair critics need to form a confederation/ senate meeting regularly to build the strategic framework for success.
DH:Ongoing discourse is the key. I know the AIA and ACSA take on this subject from time to time, but I agree, there is no penetration where it counts. There does exist a strong motivation to redesign architecture curriculum, but it relies on the leadership of the faculty who are disadvantaged in that they lack a working knowledge of what are the future goals.
NF:It’s also true that senior leadership in practice is disadvantaged in that they don’t know what to expect from new hires and how to encourage them. The value equation could alter the commoditization of architectural services and redefine the expectations of our sponsors and clients.
DH::The high degree of collaboration that occurs in practice is absent in the University setting. We are still teaching the master-architect/slave model which is antithetical to collaborative work. The role of the academy is to train architects to think critically, but being able to bring this literacy into real world situations requires us to re-examine our own teaching methodologies to encourage team building.
NF:The absence or superficiality of independent research at the undergraduate and master’s level is critical in the advancement of the profession but is minimized in design education. In the few instances that it exists within a university program, the research generally stays in the academy and doesn’t filter into application or practice. We need an agenda that teaches the skill sets to do independent research and how to communicate the findings in 21st Century language. As practitioners, we also need to integrate research into our own practices—it is the perfect way to broaden the value proposition of architecture and to build the profession’s unique body of knowledge.
Aside from a balanced curriculum, the real role of the faculty is building literacy. But as a profession we need to realize that education doesn’t begin and end at the university—that’s just one stop along the way. There is a great opportunity to intersect practice and the academy around the subject of continuing education. Together, we need to take a critical look at the curricula of continuing education. Presently it is uninspired, to say the least. It requires a curriculum approach that addresses not only compliance issues, but supports the idea of encouraging design literacy. We need to re-couple upstream and downstream. How does K-12 fit into the University focus, what remains with the academy when practice commits to its responsibility? We’re not going to keep the kids in a 10-year degree program costing $400K. The profession must carry its burden.
DH:This is a critical role of the education system: to instill in students the idea that university education is part of a continuum of education. It’s the just the starting point. The half-life of university education is diminishing and will continue to do so rapidly as the complexity of the architect’s work expands. It’s about infusing professional responsibility into the education discourse, to realize that college is a step in the process that requires all professionals to continue educating themselves throughout their career.
NF:What do you think students expect from higher education?
DH:Their expectation is aligned with the pedagogy of the school they’ve chosen; either practiced or theory-based. There is definitely a cultural idea about architecture that stems from a romantic notion of the profession. It is the myth that stalls the ability for the educational agenda to expand—a self-fulfilling prophecy centered on the notion that the architect is object focused.
NF:Students build their expectations based on where or how they were encouraged into the area of study. The romantic notion that is design studio culture is perpetuated because neither the academy nor the profession celebrates alternative tracks for the architect. It is still all about the studio experience and the act of design is most revered. What students should know is that the potential for the repositioning of architecture into positions of value and leadership with our clients is based on our ability to act strategically in our professional engagements.
Looking ahead 10 years, I have optimism that the young people in design school now (or just entering the profession) frankly, aren’t going to put up with this. They are comfortable with the technology and see it as a great tool. The profession has to get current and provide a launch pad for these kids to use that potential. And our clients are waiting for it—a broader definition of design—that includes expanding services like design policy, politics of construction, branding and strategic planning to name a few. So you better believe if we don’t do it, the client will find someone else who will.
DH:The same is true for educators. The new generation that will take the place of the current leadership will erode the myth that has held design education back for so long. No longer can the teacher teach what he or she has been taught, but instead they should gladly take on the challenge of opportunity and not accept standardization. Future educational leaders will position their teaching to be more entrepreneurial and expand the definition of architectural education.
NF: Practice and education are more closely aligned than we may think. Both communities are looking to build on the architect’s ability to be critical thinkers and own a broad literacy around the subject of Architecture. Continuing education could be better termed lifelong learning—an important bridge to build that will offer the profession unique opportunities to expand the training, knowledge and the cultural influence of the profession. In order for this agenda to move forward, dialogue must begin and be ongoing and it must penetrate all the stakeholders—educators, practitioners, students and clients. Don’t wait, do it now.
Frankel previously held the position of Director of Interiors at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill/Chicago prior to accepting the Distinguished Visiting Design Critic position at the graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In addition, he is the Design Partner of Frankel + Coleman, an independent studio for the practice of design, journalism and gratification. Frankel is the only practicing architect to be a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, International Interior Design Association and Design Futures Council.
Hanlon is the Chair of the Department of Architecture at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. For the past 20 years he has been a studio instructor in Architectural Theory and holds a Bachelors in Architecture from Cornell and a Masters in Architecture and a MBA from the University of Washington in Seattle.