Whoever coined the phrase “Those who can’t do, teach” clearly didn’t go to architecture school. Anyone who’s been through today’s system of architectural education can attest that there is a heavy overlap of architectural educators and working professionals. Practitioners who teach concurrent with active architectural careers are a common sight in academia — a crossover that seems to be an integral aspect of the field.
Robert Stern with Students at Yale; image via Yale
So what does this mean for the profession? There’s a host of effects that may or may not be readily apparent, but one observably significant facet is that architects who both work and teach are positioned to wield much greater influence over the profession than those who only practice.
In this light, there’s some noteworthy parallels in different academic posts and the professional ranks they tend to correspond with. These comparisons aren't steadfast, but they do occur often, illustrating that any working architect can participate at some level of the education system, shaping the future of the profession in the process. These parallels bear examination and are listed below according to various academic positions.
Amale Andraos, dean of Columbia’s architecture school; image via Archinect
Dean or Department Head
In academia, those at the helm of an architecture school or specific program of study chart the course, content and major themes of architectural education itself. If they also work, they tend to chart the direction of the profession, too, as individuals who are fully involved in both academia and practice at this level tend to be firm principals and owners.
Because they direct the course of education, they’re aware of rising trends and concerns in the field before they matriculate into the workforce, and the opportunity to use the schools they head as talent pipelines for their own firms means they can shape the persuasions of their own employees years in advance. Add in the networking opportunities that come with playing personal host to big-name guest lecturers and the ability to list every other dean of architecture on Earth as a counterpart, and it’s no surprise that educators who double as practitioners at this level hold substantial influence over the profession.
Arch school studio teachers and students discuss a project. Image via Penn State University
Studio professors spend the most face time with students compared to any other educator in the system by far and as such have the greatest influence over the practices and methods that will follow today’s future architects into tomorrow’s profession. If these educators also work, they’re often sole practitioners or midlevel architects at a local firm, as the position benefits from someone with a seasoned working experience who hasn’t advanced so far as to be removed from the grind of daily project management.
In this sense, holding a post as a studio instructor can offer architects an opportunity to explore ideas they might not be able to advance in their work and can be as much a creative outlet for them as it is for the students. Like deans and department heads, working studio teachers may also capitalize on their positions as a hiring pipeline for their own practices, but at this level, the primary benefit for their careers is often cited as exposure to fresh (if also frequently underdeveloped) ideas put forth by the students and the invigorating effect an academic environment can have on their professional lives.
Jan Gehl, architectural researcher who also teaches; image via the Toronto Star
Holding a fairly small role in terms of time spent with students, professors who exclusively teach non-studio classes still play a noteworthy part in shaping the culture of the profession because the topics, theory and case studies introduced in their classes frequently serve as inspiration for student design work. If they practice, it’s often as sole owners or on part-time, project-based work, similar to studio professors, but if they’re recognized as technical specialists, then they may work in a different field, such as construction science or a form of engineering.
Also similar to many studio professors, non-studio teachers frequently work in the unique capacity as researchers or authors. Depending on the level to which these efforts are backed by a university, performing commercial architectural services, even sporadically, might be a way to help fund their research projects or to gain relevant experience for making grant applications. As their academic work pertains to the profession, they tend to influence which architectural theories are kept alive and advancing or which new and unusual practice-based, technical knowledge is communicated to design students.
Arch School Jury; image via Woodbury University
The beauty of architecture school review juries is that anyone can be on them and there are so many available that almost any interested party can participate. This is a fantastic opportunity for practicing architects to step away from the office and talk exclusively about ideas for a few hours. For professionals who may spend the bulk of their days juggling phone calls or poring over door schedules, this is nothing short of fun.
While their comments might have a lasting effect on a student’s ideas, in turn affecting the way that student ultimately practices, the primary impact open juries have on the profession is their tendency to reinvigorate the imaginations of architects who participate as critics. Expanding the design consciousness of working architects with the current zeitgeist of architecture schools will often reflect in their day-to-day work, even if only for a short while. Beyond that, review juries are often a great way for practicing architects to network with each other, potentially sparking new collaborations and increasing the interconnectivity of the profession.