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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.

Architecture’s Two Cultures II May 10, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, identity, pragmatism, technology, transformation.
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2 comments

Not everybody agreed in my recent post that architecture’s two cultures are “high design” and “high delivery.”

But there was a consensus that there is indeed a rift in the profession.

A split that starts with the way we are trained.

I taught architecture from 2001-2007 in the graduate program at The School of Architecture at the University of Illinois Chicago.

An ARE refresher course, a Professional Practice course and the Integrated Building Science/Design Studio with Dan Wheeler FAIA.

For all the prep work it entailed, and the marathon 4-hour classes, I especially loved teaching this last course.

More importantly, I believed we had discovered the Holy Grail that would successfully bridge education and practice.

I was wrong.

In 2006-2007 Sarah Whiting served as visiting critic and at the school year’s end, she presented her observations of the school to the faculty.

Which boiled down to this: it was neither fish nor fowl.

Neither known for design nor technology, the school, in her eyes, fell something short of either.

There are a number of ways the faculty could have reacted to this information.

East coast elite academic theorist frowns-upon industrious Midwest architecture program,

Was how they chose to take it.

Her comments played to the low self-regarding intellectual underachiever in every Midwesterner.

The faculty took it hard and were faced with a choice:

Don’t even try to be all things.

Pick one and run with it.

Director Robert Somol soon after came on board and brought with him a culture change.

Taking sides

Integrated Building Science/Design Studio was a tough course and made demands on the students. No doubt.

Stretching their design and technology chops at one and the same time, the pressure took a toll on its students.

That said, their design projects were both innovative and real, the outcomes admirable.

But with their new director the direction was clear:

You can’t be both great and real.

Choose one.

Choose great.

Because real’s not our brand

Cool won out over cool + buildable in school.

Just as cool wins out over cool + billable in the profession.

I personally am looking forward to when the pendulum swings back toward reality, as it inevitably does every 10 years or so.

When style goes out of fashion.

I plan on heading-up the integrated design program when it does.

You’re invited to stop by to sit in on the design reviews.

We’ll be inspiring future architects who are needed by the world, not just by other architects.

The school got rid of these courses because they didn’t fit the brand.

And what is the brand?

High design.

Architect, what is your brand?

World, what is our brand?

What we talk about when we talk about integrated design

One year, after an end of year graduate design jury, I was asked by my fellow instructors to select from the 60 student’s 30 projects what I believed to be the strongest design.

My first mistake was going first.

Given the combined, integrated building science/design studio make-up of the course, I selected a project that I felt was the best from both perspectives:

Strong design/strong buildability.

The project was good, even excellent, on a number of levels; and it had integrity.

It was a project that, if built, would have improved the world in some small way.

That could not be said of every project.

Wrong answer.

The 3 other instructors, in cahoots, selected a pure Miesian jewelbox – a project that, to anyone outside that room, would be hard-pressed to distinguish from a dozen others.

But the consensus was telling:

What we talk about when we talk about integrated design is style.

Say what?

In the May 2011 Architect magazine is an article entitled A New Theory War?

The fact that the title ends with a question mark will prove telling.

“If academic debates over style have quieted,” the subheading reads, “a divide persists between the proponents of practice-based and theoretical instruction. Two prominent educators argue the respective merits of these approaches.”

Or do they?

Ted Landsmark, President of Boston Architectural College (BAC,) wrote about practice in Learning Through Experience.

Anthony Vidler, Dean, Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union wrote a piece on theory entitled Thinking About Architecture.

It becomes almost immediately apparent that something went awry in the execution of this article.

The fact that the two are arguing for the opposing side may have something to do with it.

Or the fact that these educators are supposed to be debating how much importance theory should have in a curriculum,

Except nobody appears to have bothered to tell them that that was the assignment.

Read the article.

Whether a typographer’s mess-up or editor’s oversight, the practice piece is more theoretical than the thinking piece.

And vice versa.

In the practice piece, Landsmark – who is supposed to be speaking about practice-based instruction – provides us with a veritable shopping list of the latest buzz words and smorgasbord of cited sources and unnecessarily complicated explications.

There’s mention of “design thinking,” “theoretical constructs,” “students…working in empirical contexts” to “reverse the degradation of our ecosphere.”

The word “architect” or “architecture” doesn’t occur until the 4th paragraph.

Where is “building science,” “building technology,” “professional practice,” “collaboration,” “integrated practice,” “integrated teams”?

The piling-on of terms doesn’t answer the question:

Does practice-based learning have a prayer against design theory?

In comparison, Vidler’s piece is vastly more practical and practice-minded, well-reasoned and balanced.

And his was the theory piece.

“There seems to be little argument that practical wisdom holds a necessary place in the curriculum,” opens the second paragraph, putting an end to any doubts.

And any reason to continue reading.

With this article there was an enormous opportunity to discuss the strengths and weaknesses, benefits and challenges, of the two cultures.

And how together they might lead to the architect’s renewed leadership position in the industry.

And that opportunity was squandered.

We’re left hanging with the question, unanswered.

And – as with the integrated studio tossed aside in favor of the brand – a sense of loss for what could have been.

If only we had chosen what is real with what we know to be great.