A hard-headed look at architectural education

In the latest issue of RIBA Journal (not yet online) Maria Smith argues very intelligently about architectural education. The gist of her point is that architectural students need to be taught to do architecture before either having creating flights of fancy or venturing into practice. 

'A key problem with architectural education,' she writes, 'is that from day one, students are asked to subvert architecture, something they know almost nothing about.' Instead, she argues, their first year should be 'an intensive crash course offering a foundation to everything from historic buildings to insurance requirements.' She compares this approach to musicians learning to play the piano before they can compose, or to Picasso, who learnt an academic style before becoming the fully fledged original that he was.

One could discuss the training of artists, which now is far less disciplined, but that is another issue. And artists make works that people may want but don't need in the way that they need buildings.

Smith's argument is that, with the right 'foundations' in place, architectural students could progress far more quickly to being ready to work, doing some design along the way. And if the course were shorter, they wouldn't all need rich families.

This would be an interesting but unsurprising argument if it came from some jobsworth of an architect producing serviceable but uninspiring buildings. But Smith's practice, Studio Weave, which she runs with Je Ahn, couldn't be farther from that. It is all about imagination and quirky ideas and many of the projects, such as the Lullaby Factory at Great Ormond Street, shown hereare, while definitely architecture, short on the demands of plumbing etc.

So if Smith is arguing - and she does so very cogently - for this more disciplined approach, it is really worth paying attention.

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