Architect’s education and its thousand emergency exits
*Cover photograph: image processed by Rodrigo Almonacid © r-arquitectura; original source: “diego3336” – Flickr
Let’s make no mistake from the beginning: education in architecture is being dangerously devalued. At a time when society is subjecting itself to on-going self-criticism, Schools of Architecture have yet to react to the demands not only of society but also of the industry. Nor has the profession (the Spanish Council of Architects’ Associations (CSCAE) or the various Architect’s associations, etc.) shown any interest in contributing its vision of the state of the profession to amend errors or introduce new areas of knowledge that are definitively present on our horizon, such as urban ecology, bioclimatic design and sustainable building, refurbishing design, the protection of architectural and landscape heritage, furniture design and so forth.
Criticism of the new “Bologna” curricula implanted in Schools of Architecture does not end with the extent to which degrees legally enable one to practice. It goes farther than that. University departments have not structured post-graduate studies such as Master’s programmes or specialisation with an overall view to vertically aligning the three academic levels (degree>Master’s>Doctorate). The result is a hodgepodge of various and sundry degrees that often disappoint students’ expectations and can only be explained from a money-making standpoint currently prevailing in university studies. The struggle to pull in customers to secure the economic viability of many departments means that postgraduate courses of study are reduced to little more than a vile competition for favours from the recent graduates, anxious to enhance their CVs with “new medals” that will ensure them successful careers.
Best to not even mention the doctorates. In the area of research in architecture they are justified only to acquire the paperwork one needs for registering a thesis rather than for taking legitimate interest in contributing to one of the lines of research open in the department in question – which by the way never exist as such in our Schools of Architecture. Given that in Spain this maximum level of qualification has no bearing whatsoever on one’s career with the exception of university teaching, and given that new positions for professors are blocked in actual practice due to an excess of civil servants or “associate” professors (cheap labour at the end of the day), it should come as no surprise that the only ones interested in research are some of those very same low-cost professors and a stray intern here and there, as long as the internship grant ensures survival. Of course politicians and deans talk until they are blue in the face of felicitous research, the path towards the quality jobs of the future and bla-bla-bla…
Amid all of this chaos, it should come as no surprise that Schools of Architecture have jumped on the education bandwagon, latching on to the logical demand for life-long-learning that the profession needs. The true reason is more monetary than anything else as attempts are made to improve the operating accounts in each provincial demarcation by hosting training courses of every size and shape—we have even had cocktail formats, we’ll have you know—, only to cover the expenses involved in keeping the sumptuous school buildings open. Members of the architects’ associations are content with quick courses to get up to speed on this or that issue when what would be natural is for that training to given by highly qualified professors and for participation to be duly, officially recognised on the learners’ resumes. This professional training niche has not been covered on a consensus basis either by the Schools of Architecture or by the architects’ professional associations, both of which should be interested in achieving the highest possible quality education for architects, isn’t that right?
We continue to try to solve the problems we have at home with “emergency exits” when what we need now is to courageously face the challenge of refurbishing its foundation.