The architecture graduate shows have been and gone, with offerings as impressive as ever before. The rigour and dedication on display celebrates an education system in rude health. But the question still nags me, what is this process actually training us for?
Currently the output (while spectacular) is focused on pursuits with real world constraints conspicuous by their absence. My concern is that this fails to prepare students for the task-based competencies that are expected of them when they join the workforce.
Learning to think critically and working to a high standard are important 'coming of age' processes, but the education system has to acknowledge the changing demands being placed on the profession as a whole. In the last fifty years our role in the construction industry has changed dramatically, but our education system has failed to react.
One aspect of the system in need of reform is the way universities teach technical drawing and digital presentation skills to architecture students. In my case, there was a room where the computers were loaded up with all the latest software, we were given two introductory sessions in Vectorworks (a drawing package popular with architects), and that was it.
The question is, why are the tools of the architect's trade being treated so lightly during our training? Whose job is it to train us in CAD or teach us how to draw diagrams? Is it the university, or do I need to teach myself?
Drawing setup, research skills and graphical presentation are vital areas of competency for new graduates, and should be taught formally, if not in university then as part of a practice-based placement system (See my essay Work Placements for The Student's Benefit, not their Employer's). While every practice has a different approach to information production, the output must always meet an industry standard in terms of content and quality.
Why haven't we created an infrastructure for universities to incorporate technical training into their curriculums? The major software companies already supply student licenses and self directed training guides/courses are readily available. Architecture schools and the RIBA need to set up an infrastructure to manage self-directed skills modules. Student's would complete modules in stages, and their progress would be recorded on the university's assessment database, allowing the administrators to keep up to date records of who is doing what.
I recently bought an Autodesk Revit tutorial and am in the process of teaching myself one move at a time. The course takes you chapter by chapter, developing a Revit model of an office building as you go. It was rewarding to watch my skills grow and see the results in a completed Revit model, modest as it is.
I will admit that enrolling students into a RIBA accredited, self-taught online curriculum would create some additional administrative work for the institutions. But compare this to the burden on employers who have to regularly de-train bad habits from self-taught students, and the collective gain to the profession is plain to see.
As the accreditors of our education process, the RIBA need to enforce this training by adding technical competence to the course requirements. The affordability and relative simplicity of today's online learning systems make this a practical and accessible undertaking. When Harvard University launched a similar framework a few years ago, the number of online enrolments surpassed the total number of students who had attended the physical university in its kentire history!
Competence in the core software packages is a major practical skill that is required from day one and has to be prioritised if we are to produce valuable and useful architecture graduates. If this training is used to enhance the rigorous design processes seen in degree shows, we can be confident that we are equipping graduates with the professional and technical skills to be effective and dynamic architects.
What was your experience at university? Were your technical skills tutored, self-directed or did you learn from classmates? Should universities and the RIBA be more pro-active in ensuring their graduates gain these basic competencies? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.