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Blog: Urbanism and Architecture – Karl Otto Ellefsen

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Introduction; European Architectural Education 2015 – A System in Transition

Our topic is Architectural Education 2030. Trying to figure out the future of Architectural Education is of course not an uncommon theme for this forum. Somehow one could say that this is THE theme. However, The European 2015 context for the discussion of Architectural Education seems more tense and demanding than the framework for our discussions in the earlier decades.    

This lecture on changes and instability in European Architectural Education was given at the 2015 EAAE Congress (European Association for Architectural Education) on the 28th of August. The headline for the Congress was “Architectural Education 2030”.


 

The academic Sigfried Giedeon in his inspiring book “Architecture – you and me” from 1958 states that:

“Everyone knows the reason why our period cannot find its equilibrium. It can neither control nor organize the possibilities that it has itself produced.”

Sigfried Giedeon

The quote is even more relevant today. Looking at the world and the European Continent, there is a crisis of everyday life and there is a luring ecological crises. This quote, however, might also be read differently as a statement in favour of the need of the discipline of architecture and the relevance of the architect. And as an input to the discussion on Architectural Education, really questioning whether we provide our students with the necessary skills and competences to interfere and act in this situation.

In the recent book Radical Pedagogies and the English tradition (RIBA Publishing 2015), edited by Daisy Froud and Harriet Harris (and we are glad to have Harriet Harris with us today), the editors describe the situation in Architectural Education in these years as a “condition of instability”. And some authors in the collection of articles are relative tough in their critique of exiting institutions:

“The intensity of self-belief among educators probably compensates for the shaky ground on which their assumptions are based”

Alan Powers, (Radical Pedagogies, 2015, p.3)

We celebrated Corbusier yesterday and Powers is very nearly reflecting Corbusier’s view on the inadequacy of the academic systems. Le Corbusier presenting himself as a self taught architect that came to be independent both of Academies and Polytechnics, but gained knowledge from practicing and by learning from the masters, the professionals, that he met in his youth.

As probably one of the academic dinosaurs that is subject to critique for self-belief and lack of critiques and I will like underline that:

The situation of instability and the anticipation of a possible reduction in both the funding and the duration of Architectural education across Europe certainly has encouraged a sense of collective openness to exploring other models of academic and professional delivery.

(also from the book by Harris, but lightly rephrased)

There has been elaborated a lot on experimentation in Architectural Education. However we have to admit, that not much systematically research has been done. Which is rather strange in a setting where research agendas and measuring research output seems to have been a main objective in leading schools of architecture.

Most scholarships discussing the history of education have focused on a particular school, pedagogical principals, era, or curricular component.

Establishing a more comprehensive history on European Architectural Education raises substantial historiographical problems, and is a very laborious task, taking into account the complexity of different regional and national traditions. But even the national histories are not written. In my home-region, where we love to indulge in our local specificities, there is no comprehensive history written either on Finnish, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian or Icelandic architectural education. Taken into account the amount of time devoted to research, and the large number of PhDs that we are producing, the only explanation I might find is that basically we think that we know what we are doing and that new knowledge is not needed.

There are of course certain very basic and influential studies that have been done. Ulrich Pfammatter; Der Erfindung des Modernen Architecten, (Basel 1997), conceptualized the long-lasting structural lines going back to the French Academy Tradition and the German Polytechnic Tradition. Joan Ockman, whom we also are very glad to host at this conference, has written and edited the first comprehensive study on North American Architectural Education: Three Centuries of Educating Architects in North America, (The MIT Press 2012). Ockman’s book involves the investigation of 30 schools, but Ockman, unlike Pfammatter makes no claims to be all encompassing. Rather she works against the tendency to produce canonical histories and intentionally (in her words) tries to, “to open up as many avenues as possible for future inquiry”.

What is important to underline at the start of this congress is the fact that

many different initiatives to explore Architectural Education are by now emerging. Our 2014 Congress included lectures on the work done by Beatriz Colomina and her doctoral students on a series of pedagogical experiments that played a crucial role in shaping architectural discourse and practice in the second half of the twentieth century. There is an interesting underlying conclusion to this work: (1) “As a challenge to normative thinking, these experiments questioned, redefined and reshaped the post-war field of architecture”, Colomina says and (2) The new educational models shook the well-established schools of architecture to their foundations. Although the experiments were generally limited to the margins of the architectural teaching they still had a lasting impact. “Much of architectural teaching today still rests on the paradigms they introduced,” Colomina claims. (Fundamentals Catalogue 14. Mostra Internationale di Architettura. Milan: Marsilio, 2014, p. 432)

In her view Alvin Boyarsky’s restructured curriculum at the AA in London, of which he was chairman from 1971–1990, can be regarded as a prototype. Boyarsky unceremoniously terminated the AA’s traditional approach, which placed the emphasis on professional training in the spirit of modernity, transforming the school into a marketplace for the exchange of knowledge and ideas. Tuition took place in independent ‘units’, led by internationally recruited teachers who often represented strongly opposing professional standpoints. The curriculum was seen not as something fixed, but rather as a body of knowledge, the form of which at any one time was shaped by diverging and opposing views about the discipline and profession of architecture, a surplus of ideas, publishing, and criticism. To navigate in the system, the students were urged to make personal choices; the intention being not only to supply practice with talented professionals but also with new forms of understanding and breath-taking ideas.

Few schools were sufficiently free, or had the resources, to introduce the extensive changes of the kind adopted by the AA. But the ideal of establishing a diversity of approaches to architecture (the more the better) and of linking teaching to the broader theoretical discourse, such that it could drew strength from every corner of academia while still respecting all professional considerations, might have paved the way for a transformation of architectural schools as an institutional category. The critique of standardized curriculum and career-oriented training made its mark. The new strategies were aimed at diversifying the available trainings. Students should be enabled to determine their own education, while the schools should serve as critical thermometers that test the temperature of architectural production.

The ways in which institutional profiles gradually changed might be comparable to the educational impact of the Bauhaus model for architectural training, which was a source of inspiration in the 1930s and the first two post-war decades.

Daisy Froud and Harriet Harris call their book on Radical Pedagogies and the British Tradition: “a snapshot of a system just before transition” and therefore also “a book designed for immediate obsolescence”. Europe’s schools of architecture, which were last significantly overhauled in response to the ideals of the 1970s and 1980s, are once again under renewed pressure. This is primarily a result of the financial crises that have hit Europe in recent years.

Stressing the marked, stressing the disciplines, the practice and the schools.

The building boom around the turn of the millennium put architects in high demand and this is still the case in some parts of Europe, like Norway, Turkey and at the moment also in Great Britain. The schools grew, both in size and numbers. In Turkey, where the bubble has yet to burst, I understand that there is still something in the order of 100 registered architecture courses that supply academic degrees.

More comprehensively, the following facts about what is happening at the moment is known to most of us:

– Reduced public budgets
– Reduced intake and reduced capacity
– Reduction in the quantity of schools
– Creative initiatives for new funding
– Stronger competition between schools

The EAAE questionnaire, sent to all member schools before this congress, tried to investigate actual changes, which have been implemented in recent years, and we find:

– A strong process of Internationalization
– Adaption to the Bologna Principles
– Research orientation
– Interdisciplinary
– Changes in curriculum; academic studies/professional training
– A tendency to specialize

  1. Strong process of Internationalization

The schools are seeking compatibility, not only in Europe but globally. An overall intention is to profile the schools in an international educational marked and to

prepare students to work in an international context and in a globalized labour marked. This means that English more frequently is the preferred language in Architectural Education. Studios are given an international profile and international master’s courses are run in partnership with European universities. The possibility of transferring credits between universities is taken care of, and eventually the studios are run as double-degree programmes with other countries in Europe and schools on other continents. Different transparent systems of quality management of educational activities are introduced.

  1. Adaption to the Bologna Principles.

Most countries and schools have adapted to the Bologna model, Bachelor, Master and PhD, generally a structure of 3+2+3. The adaption has often led to a profound reorganisation of the structure of courses and thereby a discussion on the substance of architectural education.

  1. Research orientation.

The schools of architecture adapt to European University Policies. One headline has been to strengthen European Universities as Global hubs for the production of knowledge, creativity and innovation. The intention being to establish a new global role for Europe after industrial production was relocated to other parts of the world. Europe was strangely pictured as the brain and the rest of the world as hands, somehow forgetting that hands and brains do not work separately.

This policy has been vigorously followed up by the universities leading to profound changes in the systems for funding and reward of achievements. One of the strangest consequences observed is that (in many European Countries) an academic doctoral degree is required to gain a permanent professorship in schools of architecture.

By now, well into the second decade of the 21st century, we can trace some reactions to these policies. Industrial production and systems for production are in modernized modes, returning to Europe. Not only intellectual skills are needed to bring this continent on track. The discussion on the relationship between academic teaching and professional practice is, seen in this light, not only a discussion on practicalities, budgets and spending, but also a rather profound discussion on what architectural knowledge is all about.

  1. Interdiciplinarity

In one of the polls conducted by ENHSA asking the profession what they were looking for when hiring new candidates, the ability to work together with other professions and disciplines was ranked very high. Also due to intentions of widening the scope of architectural practice, we find a consolidation of a widespread awareness concerning interdisciplinarity. Significant attention is given to knowledge about social sciences and the need of establishing a closer relationship with society and societal challenges. This is reflected in the curriculums of most schools.

  1. Length of studies, relationship between academic teaching and professional training.

Concerning the new proposal to introduce an alternative to 5 years (3+2) with four years of study and two years of professional training, the results of our questionnaire are clearly in favour of maintaining the full 5 years. In some cases there are also 6-year programmes, the last year being a professionally oriented master’s programme.

The discussion on the need to make the candidates more professional and to strengthen the relationship to the profession seems to be on the agenda in all schools. In the curriculum this takes on many shapes: from external training periods for students, and the opening to situations of direct relationship with “real” customers, to more profound reactions to academization of architectural education. A few schools intend to get rid of the academics, substituting them with practitioners, and teaching the students by involving them in practice at the offices.

In some countries there has been a tradition of at least 50% of the staff with proven professional experience. Adapting this principle is for many schools a way to improve their relationship with the architectural profession.

The process is not leading to a “global studio” or a “global curriculum”.

One might say that the student-projects look the same all over, ideals are global, but this could also have been said about the schools of architecture right from the start and the discipline´s involvement with classicism. When the Bologna Process reforms came into effect some ten years ago, with the aim of making Europe’s variegated educational systems more compatible with one another, many believed that architectural training would become more uniform. But, the opposite has happened.

Rather the situation is that schools try to keep and develop their own identity, defining a “local” strategy to be able to cope with a “global situation”, to distinguish them and highlight their originality.

The global market for education, the need for an abundance of applicants, and external threats of reduced funding have encouraged schools to cultivate their strengths and competitive features, and to emphasize their individuality and distinctness.

Accordingly, differences between educational institutions in the architectural field seem to have grown. At the least, the objectives of the various schools have begun to diverge, making their differences in emphasis easier to notice.

  1. A tendency to specialize

This tendency is not very readable in the results from the EAAE questionnaire.

Looking behind the obvious facts and at the structure of curriculums, we find a big difference in the weight, measured in credits, put into the teaching of architectural design, the amount of credits put into the theoretical part of the curriculum, and the differences in weight on technical knowledge, social sciences and the humanities.

I would rather not end up with doing categorizations of European schools, but at the start of this seminar, an illustration of a fragile typology of prototypes/tendencies/schools, might be operational:
Professionalism
Research Orientation
Educating specialists, not architects
Widening the field – new roles for the architect
Architecture as an artistic discipline

  1. Professionalism

One seemingly simple and dependable response to the challenges facing the European schools is to transform architectural training according to a vocational approach, with the aim of creating only the kind of graduates it is assumed (with a high degree of uncertainty) that the industry is likely to need. In other words, to clearly tailor the training towards the needs of the profession and to produce architects who can hit the ground running from their very first day of employment. Many that takes part in the debate on Architectural Education, practicing architects first and foremost among them, believe that teaching is most effective when following the requirements of the profession, which it can do when offices are hired on to do the teaching. Seen from this point of view, academia is, strictly speaking, unnecessary to architecture, as a practical subject. In a climate where far too many are being trained, with little prospect but unemployment, and educational ministries are clutching the purse strings ever tighter, this logic meets with ready agreement and chimes in nicely with the fundamental values of, for example, the polytechnic tradition of training architects. The European Union’s reduced requirements for architecture training, which grant formal qualification after four years of academia in addition to two years of practice, are based on the same argument.

  1. Research Orientation

Other schools are taking the opposite approach, restricting, or even doing away with, BA courses and linking their MA degree programmes to architectural research. Some prestigious English and continental universities have opted for this path and now present themselves primarily as research institutions.

  1. Educating specialists, not architects

A third alternative is to break down and dilute the all-around, comprehensive architecture training and to offer instead the MA in architecture in a range of academically varied specialisations, such as sustainable building or real estate development. In this way the schools open up new student markeds, and are even able to establish private funding from interest groups. For most of us, however, this way of transforming architectural education is rather problematic, because leaving the comprehensive nature of architectural education, somehow do away with the architect.

  1. Widening the field – new roles for the architect, not master-builder, not planner.

A fourth way in, which a university can adapt to the demands of society and the workplace, is to expand the academic curriculum. The Dutch response to reduced demand for architectural services has been to claim that, as a discipline, architecture is of relevance to far more fields of social activity than just the designing of new buildings. Architecture is a discipline that can synthesize, and draw conclusions from, a broad and complex body of specialized knowledge. One characteristic of design work is that it is ‘iterative’; in other words, it is conducted as an investigative process that gradually approaches its conclusions in a cyclic fashion, progressively ticking off all aspects of a given task. Finally, creative methods and processes of this kind deserve to be the theme and focus of architectural training more than they were in the past. Architects should be used widely to illuminate and even solve societal challenges. The significance of the training in nurturing architectural form, on the other hand, might be relegated.

  1. Architecture as an artistic discipline

The fifth typology can be seen as a rather conservative attitude, trying to limit architectural education to what architects used to be good at doing. For instance putting more weight on skills of hand drawing. And sometimes combining this with preparing students for the more traditional role of the architect. Also this strategy might be a success if the curriculum is able to prepare the students for a practice, which to a very high degree demands interdiciplinarity, negotiation and argumentation. The balancing act between respecting an educational tradition while at the same time craving the new is hard to achieve.

What we all know, and should remind ourselves about is of course that:

Teachers are far more important than curriculum, and

educational environment is far more important than the organisational structure of an education.

Reading Le Corbusier in this way, he was perfectly right.

Milano 28th of August 2015

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