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Take Five: Should Architectural Education Change?

By Robert Ivy, FAIA
AIA EVP/Chief Executive Officer

Do you know how architecture schools plan their curricula? Do you have any idea what the National Architectural Accreditation Board (NAAB) does, or how it sets standards for architecture schools? For years, I did not. If you are like me, you made it through architecture school intent on practicing and seeing projects realized. Early in my own career as a busy practicing architect who occasionally taught, I sidestepped thorny questions like credit hours or how many studio hours seemed equitable for any instructor. The practice of architecture seemed demanding enough, and teachers, who are paid to do so, should be the ones to care about curricula.

And yet, fundamentally, all of us do care. As architects, we are concerned that schools of architecture keep pace with the needs of practice. Consistently, like Oliver Twist, we cry out for more from the schools, asking them to give us creative minds to solve architectural problems that come across our desks. Increasingly, we are asking the schools to provide some grounding in real-world business practice, and greater technical familiarity, or cross-disciplinary leadership. Ironically, our requests come at the same time that university budgets are stretched to the breaking point.

Which brings us back to the NAAB. Aware that teams representing the NAAB visited schools on a regular rotating basis, and that preparation took an immense amount of energy and time on the school’s part, I nevertheless remained blissfully clueless as to the nuts and bolts of accreditation.

All of this snapped into focus during my first visit as a voting member of an accreditation team visiting a Northeastern university recently, during which we immersed ourselves in the entirety of the curriculum (including those troublesome credit hours) and then evaluated how they compared to the accreditation criteria set forth by the NAAB. Did the student work measure up? Was it demonstrated in the actual representative projects? Did the school possess the proper resources in faculty and physical facilities?

I quickly learned that the matrix of NAAB criteria placed strong demands on faculty, and that regardless of my previously naive perspective, it already demanded much of all concerned. Furthermore, those criteria would not easily change, because any individual alteration in the curriculum precipitated reevaluation of the whole. It was sort of an educated version of Whac-A-Mole: If you knocked one thing down, another question or demand popped up.

All of this rumination about the NAAB leads to the next step and how the AIA is engaged. Next year, the NAAB will convene the Accreditation Review Conference, during which all the rational criteria and the ways of gauging school effectiveness will come under scrutiny and can be changed. The NAAB and four other related organizations—the AIA, the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS), the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB)—all will weigh in on the future of architectural education.

Currently, we at the AIA are engaged in research, polling many of you for your points of view about the future of the profession, and how architectural education should meet a changing set of demands. Perhaps you have participated in the quest via surveys, interviews, focus groups, Twitter chats—you name it. We need everyone’s perspective.

The result of this concerted inquiry will be a white paper that will form an important component of the Accreditation Review Conference. The ACSA, AIAS, and NCARB are exploring their own constituents’ points of view.

Here are a few of our initial findings of need:

    • strategies that encourage paths to licensure in the schools;

    • ways to advocate for practice in accredited programs;

    • more practitioners in the schools;

    • bridging the divide between practice and the schools;

    • and many more.

If those findings already resonate with you, stay tuned. The AIA is assuming a role for you—the practitioner—to help forge an outlook on the future of practice as you outline it, and to help set the guidelines for effective preparation of a new generation of professionals. It will not happen overnight. The findings will not surface into established curricula for five years. Changing universities, and the courses they teach, equates to watching small trees grow.

However, we’re sowing the seeds now and preparing for change. Keep practicing, and occasionally teaching, give advice and input when asked, and look for a positive outcome. We are working on this vital aspect of our shared future together.


Robert Ivy, FAIA

Photography by Noah Kalina


Back to AIArchitect September 14, 2012

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