Donald W.Y. Goo

Architecture is inherently complex, given its role as reference point for what is happening at a point in time across multiple dimensions, including social, psychological, political, and economic considerations. The process of creating architecture is growing more complex as projects get bigger, as technology expands, as areas of required competency enlarge, as clients evolve from individuals to multiple entities, and as the marketplace becomes international. A similar ramping up is required in running a successful business in today’s competitive environment. All of this means that the graduating architect is under enormous pressure to know more and quickly assume greater responsibility than in years past.

In response, the University of Hawaii has developed a program that seeks to graduate doctoral students with the skills and experience needed to impact the field of architecture at its highest levels — individuals who have had the benefit of learning about architecture from within an international practice and who have been mentored by the president or managing director of that firm. UH’s Practicum Studio, which takes place in the sixth year of its D. Arch. degree program, requires students to spend up to two semesters in two international firms, exposing them to different practice approaches and leadership styles as well as to varying regions and cultures. Practicum students also take on a research and community service project as part of the program.

The underlying assumption of the Practicum Studio is that tomorrow’s architects will be most valued for their leadership, their thinking, and their understanding of the influence that culture has on design. Accordingly, today’s leaders are some of the most effective teachers of tomorrow’s leaders. As Practicum students sit in on operations, marketing, staffing, and design meetings as well as client presentations and performance reviews, they witness senior leaders deal with real issues using skills that involve team building and leadership. Students also see how good thinking leads to good design and how strong writing and speaking stem from clear thinking. These are important lessons for future architects that need to be not only taught, but modeled, too. Likewise, leadership and teambuilding — so crucial to professional success — are skills that can be learned and qualities that can be absorbed.

The design practices selected to host Practicum students include major U.S. firms that are part of AIA’s Large Firm Roundtable, with offices in London, New York, San Francisco, Honolulu, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and elsewhere.

The Practicum Studio at the University of Hawaii is the cornerstone of the nation’s first architectural doctorate degree approved by NAAB. While students can earn IDP credits for U.S. licensure, the experience is focused on the profession, not on the project, as an internship would be. Firm principals who serve as faculty and mentors are teachers, not employers. Thanks to a curriculum that integrates academic studies with professional practice and international experience, Practicum students are well positioned to become the kinds of creative, global leaders that the architectural profession needs.

Donald W.Y. Goo, FAIA, is a professor in and the director of the Practicum Studio, University of Hawai`i School of Architecture.