DEBATE: Education in Architecture: Global Difference

Catching up a bit on posting events that I’ve recently attended. The first of which was the Peter and Muriel Melvin Debates held this year with the theme of Education in Architecture: Global Difference. The last of three debates on the international condition of architectural education, this session presented models from Europe, South Africa and South America.

The presentation kicked off with a presentation by The Bartlett’s Neil Spiller. Quoting Walter Benjamin with ‘We must wake up from the world of our parents’, Spiller called for a radical departure from traditional methods in which we ‘must think politically about practice and education, not just economically’. He did however have full confidence that his school was already successful in achieving this with their students.

Vittorio Lampugnani, a professor of history and theory at ETH Zurick, spoke about training architects as generalists, with the university playing the role of enabler so that students can be more free. ‘You don’t learn a recipe, you learn the method’ he went on to say, highlighting the need for a greater transparency in the past-work of teaching staff. By allowing better access to knowledge the university system is opened up for innovation.

The lectern was then handed over to David Dunster who’s informative speech began with a comparison of tuition fees amongst the top schools of architecture. One can’t assume that the teaching style of Yale, who annually receive ‘$59,000 per student’, is superior to other schools of architecture with poorer access to world-class facilities and internationally renowned teaching staff.

Dunster moved on to a study he had made on the websites of 25 architecture schools, which nearly all proclaimed that they have a focus on ‘the sustainable’. ‘The word which has no opposite is virtually useless’ he said summarising the general banality of school ethoses. Architecture used to be taught to yeargroups of 30, however now there are 300 in a year and so they must be split up into units which ‘denies discourse and denies disagreement’. Dunster ended with two suggestions, that students should be taught the confidence to take a position and then be wiling to change and that schools should ‘only teach people who want to be architects’.

'There are too many architecture schools in the UK…and not enough interested architecture students.' Neil Spiller commented, an opinion made true by an obviously missing contingent of architecture students at the event.

Jo Noero, Director of the University of Cape Town School of Architecture and Planning, engaged the crowd with stories that dealt with apartheid and the problem of black representation in schools. Noero followed Dunster with an argument for further uniting practice and teaching, a model that he himself had successfully led for over thirty years, getting away from the studio and promoting collaboration, cultural theory and ethical practice.

Adriana Cobo of Greenwich compared the UK and Columbia, where ‘qualification is equivalent to registration.’ and practicing architecture is fiercely political.

The RIBA’s Director of Education David Gloster eloquently considered the institutes role as ‘peripatetic provider of perspective’ and broadly gave their direction for 47 schools in the UK and 94 overseas.

As the afternoon roled to an end Sean McAllister of Project Context asked whether schools of architecture should be dissolved and Paul Finch suggested that there should be a return to the importance of teaching architectural history. In my opinion architecture students need to get physically engaged with a larger variety of important issues, from politics to economics in scales ranging from their classroom to entire countries. The role of the architect is changing and it is vital that education changes with it.

Tags: RIBA