Our education as design professionals extends far beyond university and continues throughout our professional lives. However, tertiary institutions are the primary source of our skills and it is essential that architectural education match the recent focus on the liberal arts tradition with the realities of the building and development industries.
The curricula of our architecture schools must equip graduates for their transition to professional life. They should also help counter the public perception that architects are elitist in attitude, have poor communication skills and are poor business managers. The pursuit of “high architecture” in a new building must be allied with an appreciation of the client’s needs and resources, with timely responses and with proper business administration. While some of these skills are best learnt in office settings, more rigorous objectives within university training and projects would assist. It is one thing to dream, and another thing to deliver, and both need responsible management.
Architectural courses are now grandly called “Masters” degrees, with often, I fear, little amendment to the syllabus. Some academics feel that professional business skills have no place in university education and I presume they foresee university being followed by an equivalent of the “College of Law” for those wishing to become practising architects. Under such a scheme a university degree might be relatively unrelated to the practice of architecture. I personally don’t regard this as an acceptable outcome; emerging graduates will benefit more from a carefully orchestrated sequence with appropriate input from the schools, the Australian Institute of Architects, architectural practices and other design-oriented enterprises within our sector.
Any student entering the new Masters degree should be intent on a significant architectural or construction industry career, with the university component linked to subsequent practice and industry internships and relevant lectures, all within an agreed framework. It appears that current concepts of professional practice training and resulting registration are too narrow for the needs of architects in the twenty-first century.
Abroad, the famous schools of architecture are known for their strengths and specialities. In Australia such individuality is only starting to emerge, and must be encouraged to offer students a range of industry career options and diversity within the profession. Among countries comparable with Australia (whose architecture programs are subject to peer accreditation), there is an understanding that such individuality is a good thing and that academic equivalency issues can be resolved.
To have our credentials recognized abroad, and for suitably trained overseas architects to be able to work in Australia, is a longstanding concern of the Australian Institute of Architects. A round table meeting of comparable countries was held in Canberra earlier this year, with a view to establishing a system of “substantial equivalency”. The Canberra Accord, as the agreement is known, is close to being finalized. It is hoped this will allow new global policies to prevail over former “closed shop” arrangements.
When sitting on a university appointment panel recently, I was dismayed to learn that the author of one of my favourite reference books was deemed ineligible as he lacked a PhD, and that candidates with business experience were presumed not to “understand the culture of the university”. Surely a more contemporary measure than academic record alone, for both universities and the profession, is an applicant’s ability to meet a range of real-life professional challenges?
I see a need for both architectural practitioners and educators to be broad-minded about the future. We need to clearly understand recent graduates’ career paths and needs to illuminate change within the accreditation and registration bodies and our industry. The training for registration, so appropriate forty years ago, undoubtedly requires review as career patterns for architects move in new directions.
National President, Australian Institute of Architects