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Why Didn’t You Teach Me How to Practice? November 21, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, career, change, education, employment, IDP, pragmatism.
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19 comments

What architects don’t get from architectural education has to be made up in practice.

But can it?

That’s certainly the intention of Intern Development Program (IDP), the comprehensive training program created to ensure that interns in the architecture profession gain the knowledge and skills required for the independent practice of architecture.

Setting aside the validity in today’s economy of an independent – as opposed to integrated – practice of architecture,

Is the office the best place to train to become an architect?

In firms, these days, almost everybody draws.

And everyone is as close to 100% billable as humanly possible.

No more can architects consider themselves “knowledge workers,” unless that knowledge includes working knowledge of such software programs as AutoCAD or Revit.

With many architecture firms pared down to skeleton staffs, training is a luxury few can afford.

And teaching recent grads on a client’s dime is something most clients will no longer tolerate.

Building clients have never warmed to the idea that they are footing the bill for an intern’s education on the job.

As one senior designer said to me over coffee, rather loudly with an emphatic pounding on the table:

“Work is not school! Not school! Not school!!!”

Tell that to any firm that has set-up and administered a corporate university.

Building bridges

Neither academia nor practice, we’re beginning to see emerging entities that are starting to fill-in the gap, gaping hole or (for those attending Cornell) gorge between architectural education and practice.

Hybrid education. Just-in-time education.

Enroll in the equivalent of a four-year lunch-and-learn.

Don’t pass go don’t collect 200 dollars go straight to jail.

At the same time, we’re seeing bridge students who take-up architecture and engineering; or engineering and construction management; or architecture and an MBA, to help segue between academic and real-world pursuits while presumably making themselves more attractive to an employer.

Perhaps it is best that training – whether in continuing education or in practice – stay outside academe’s ivy walls.

Training is still seen by some as parochial, vocational.

In some academic circles “practice” is a dirty word.

Why sully your pristine education with practical consideration?

Some architecture schools won’t have practitioners on their faculty so as not to infect their student body, as though practical considerations were a disease.

This, despite the fact that practical knowledge is a job requirement on the road to becoming a full-fledge professional, every bit as much as residency is for a doctor.

Before building-up $150,000 in student loans, would-be architects – in most states – know that they will have to pass through an apprenticeship prior to sitting for the licensing exam.

Remind me: What exactly did you get for your $150,000 education?

Learning in school vs. learning in the gap vs. learning on the job

Architects like to think that they are alone in many things, not the least of which is their inadequate education and training in the face of a constantly moving picture of practice.

They are of course wrong: they have plenty of company.

This is evident in the many parallels with other areas of study.

Just consider these quotes:

“What they did not get, for all that time and money, was much practical training.”

“Schools have long emphasized the theoretical over the useful”  

“Professors are rewarded for chin-stroking scholarship”

 “They are (practitioners) in the sense that they have…degrees, but they aren’t ready to be a provider of services.”

First-year associates at one…firm “spend four months getting a primer on corporate (practice.) During this time, they work at a reduced salary and they are neither expected nor allowed to bill a client. It’s good marketing for the firm and a novel experience for the trainees.”

“This has helped to hasten a historic decline in hiring.”

“The essential how-tos of daily practice are a subject that many in the faculty know nothing about — by design.”

“One 2010 study of hiring at top-tier…schools since 2000 found that the median amount of practical experience was one year, and that nearly half of faculty members had never practiced…for a single day.”

“The academy wants people who are not sullied by…practice.”

“Where do these students go?…There are virtually no openings. They can’t hang a shingle and start on their own. Many of them are now asking their schools, ‘Why didn’t you teach me how to practice…?’ ”

These are just a few quotes from the New York Times article, “What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering.”

They  sound remarkably – and uncomfortably – close to what architecture students go through.

What is one thing you wish recent graduates, interns or emerging professionals were taught in architecture school?

  • A better understanding of ___________
  • Greater familiarity with ____________
  • Deeper knowledge of  _____________
  • Basic skills, like how to perform ______
  • A stronger grasp of _______________

Let us know by leaving a comment.

The Heights Report November 16, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in books, infrastructure, technology.
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6 comments

Here are 17 very good reasons to read Kate Ascher’s new book, The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper.

1. You might recall Ascher is the author of The Works: Anatomy of a City, the book that made city infrastructure alluring, visually appealing and fascinating.

2. You can find the book, The Heights, 39% off here

3. As with her previous book, The Works, the chapters are divided into sections but are presented in a building “directory.” Here, the sections are represented by elevator buttons, in reverse order, with the later chapters at the top and the intro at the bottom of the page; the section titles (“dreaming it,” “building it”) are helpful and especially, clever.

4. The pages have lots of white space – not cramped with info the way some reference books are (that understandably remain on the shelf.) Here the white space allows you to make connections, between the words and images, and between the images. It also frees your mind up, allowing it to dream up ideas of your own.

5. At first blush, the graphics in particular may remind you of those reference books in the 00’s section of the Dewey decimal system in the library. Ignore this association: it is false. The book opens with an acknowledgment of the current economy, placing the subject firmly in the present without dating it. And that perhaps is the strength not only of the text, but the nearly-realistic images: they serve to make the contents of the book feel both timely and timeless. Hard to do – this book pulls it off.

6. The range of skyscrapers that are studied and analyzed is mindboggling. Sure, there are the usual subjects – but the most contemporary examples of this building type are also represented.

7. People who follow my blogs know that I love to ask questions. This book is chockfull of them. And best of all, Ascher does a remarkable job of responding to them:

  • How are these services-considered essential, but largely taken for granted- possible in such a complex structure?
  • What does it really take to sustain human life at such enormous heights?
  • How do skyscrapers sway in the wind, and why exactly is that a good idea?
  • How can a modern elevator be as fast as an airplane? Are skyscrapers in Asia safer than those in the United States, and if so, why?
  • Have new safeguards been designed to protect skyscrapers from terrorism?
  • What happens when the power goes out in a building so tall?
  • Why are all modern skyscrapers seemingly made of glass, and how can that be safe?
  • How do skyscrapers age, and how can they be maintained over decades of habitation?

8. According to an interview, Ascher says that The Works: Anatomy of a City was inspired by David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work. You can see how the Heights might have been inspired by another David Macaulay masterpiece, the 1987 book, Unbuilding.

9. Compare The Heights with another work on a similar subject: Skyscraper: The Making of a Building by Karl Sabbagh which worked primarily because it told the story of a single skyscraper, at a particular time and place, and was the subject of a PBS series. The Height’s strength is that it provides both a more general overview while at the same time delving more deeply into specific topics related to the building type.

10. I was a skyscraper designer for many years and taught the subject in an architecture masters university program. The bottom line: Ascher knows her stuff.

11. Readers of my other blog BIM and Integrated Design – and book by the same name – know that I can go on and on about all things integrated, especially integrated building systems. Heck I even taught and integrated building science and design studio for many years to masters students. I mention t his because Ascher’s book explores the integrated and interconnected systems “that make life livable in the sky.”

12. Reading the book about high-rises is a lot less risky than trying to design or build one. Especially when you can read an excerpt of the book here.

13. The author will be giving a book talk in NYC on Dec 1 and its always better to have read the book (plus you can have her sign your copy)

14. Check out this Kate Ascher Book talk featuring The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper at the Skyscraper Museum in NYC or, if in California, you can see her here a few days later (and get a sneak peek of the super-tall author)

15. The author, Kate Ascher, is an urban planning and development expert – not a structural engineer OR a journalist. Ascher has a Ph.D. in government from the London School of Economics and a B.A. in political science from Brown University. You are benefitting from a big-picture view of the skyscraper that helps the reader see how every part of the building is interrelated.

16. In The Heights Ascher talks about the many issues that engineers must take into account when delivering a tall building. Had skyscraper engineer, William J. LeMessurier, the engineer at the center of the fascinating case study (“What’s an engineer’s worst nightmare?”) The_59_Story_Crisis, had a copy of The Heights – maybe the Citicorp near-fiasco never happened?

17. Curious about what prevents you from falling to your death in an elevator? There’s a fascinating chapter on elevator safety.

Even if you suffer from vertigo or have a fear of heights, read Kate Ascher’s new book, The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper. It’s a whole lot safer than building one and a lot more informative and fun.