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Revolution: A New Proposal to Reform Our Broken Architectural Education System

Ross Brady Ross Brady

The current system of architectural education is woefully out of step with the profession it serves. Prohibitively expensive relative to average salaries, unreflective of actual workplace functioning and out of touch with the rest of society, it threatens to keep the profession of architecture stuck facing the same problems it has today for decades to come. To correct these circumstances, radical solutions are needed. This is one proposal that could make the current system more efficient and help the profession become more economically, socially and culturally balanced.

A Two-Part Course

The crux of this proposal is to reorganize the structure of architectural education by splitting it into two separate portions. Similar to the way medical education is conducted, the first portion (think “Pre-Arch”) would consist of a typical four-year college degree focused on all aspects of the technical, practical, historical and theoretical but eliminate the design studios currently ubiquitous among undergraduate architecture programs. The “Post-Arch” portion would function like a finishing program consisting only of design studios, inclusive of any necessary seminars or theses development.

Milstein Hall by OMA, Ithaca, New York

In the “Pre-Arch” portion, the primary benefit comes from a savings of time and material investment relative to the opportunities the degree bestows. Under current laws and standards for architects (considered in relation to the United States), it’s entirely possible to educate someone in a four-year, classroom-based program, completely devoid of independently oriented design studios, that meets all legal requirements for eligibility in the IDP program and puts them on the path to licensure.

Save Time, Save Money

As most Bachelors (and non-baccalaureate Masters) architecture programs are currently five years in length, the elimination of a full year of schooling is a noticeable cost savings. Combined with eliminating the considerable expenses made necessary by design studios (drawing/model-making supplies, computer equipment, etc.) over a four-year period, the total price of a base architectural education would drop substantially in this system, making the profession accessible to students from a much broader range of socioeconomic backgrounds than it currently is while touting a price tag more closely aligned with average architects’ salaries.

Architecture studio at the Tyler School of Art; via Temple University

Increasing the depth and width of technical, practice-based education before stressing independent design is reflective of the way responsibility is accrued in a professional setting. Such a shift in focus would provide college-age architecture students with an education specific enough to become an architect yet broad enough to easily transition into a related field (such as construction or real estate) after their initial four years if they decide not to pursue architecture — a decision that often requires additional degrees in today’s system.

Finally, the “Pre-Arch” portion of this model would allow time and flexibility for young architecture students to become better integrated with the student body of a typical college campus than they usually are, helping erase an “us versus them” mentality that seems to surround the culture of many architecture programs. Over time, this shift in perception would trickle up into the highest levels of the profession and help bridge a gap between the way architects view their works and the way the rest of the world does.

A Pathway for Talented Designers

The “Post-Arch” portion of this model can be seen partially in the graduate schools of today, except that without requiring a graduate degree to become a licensed architect, application volume would drop drastically. With a much, much lower volume of applications than today’s design schools, “Post-Arch” programs would be incredibly efficient at attracting only those who are fully committed or driven to becoming expert designers, providing a necessary capstone for those wanting to lead the profession.

Architecture studio at Yale; via Wikipedia

This addresses notions of equitability, as well: A relatively small, studio-only “Post-Arch” system could allow design schools to utilize a higher percentage of their endowments per student. At its best, this condition could allow the “Post-Arch” portion of the model to fund students in a similar manner as Ph.D. programs, ensuring that truly talented designers who complete the “Pre-Arch” portion would most likely be able to achieve the “Post-Arch” portion for free.

This proposal is considered around the education system of the United States but parallels to other countries abound, as well. In any case, this model has the potential to bring architectural education into closer alignment with the workings of the profession itself, making the entire sphere of architectural practice more socially inclusive, economically efficient and culturally accessible.

Top image: architectural review at Yale