There has been as of late a collective grumbling among architecture firms that today’s architecture students are not properly prepared for the daily challenges they are likely to face on the job. Indeed, over the past decade or so architecture has transformed into a multi-faceted process involving complex teams and clients demanding sophisticated solutions while staying on budget. The industry is also being transformed by evolving technologies that are changing the way buildings are designed, built, and used.
On the educational front, however, the pace of change has been slow. Many architecture degree programs throughout the world still place theoretical knowledge and creativity above practical, hands-on training and education.
Bridging the Gaps
As the architecture industry and the world it serves become more complex, the skills architecture students need to learn in order to effectively work in practice has without a doubt greatly expanded. Architecture students of today need even more business and management skills than ever. They also are expected to show up with a basic understanding of several complimentary disciplines, such as design, construction, and engineering, as well as tech savvy and the ability to communicate effectively in a variety of situations across various mediums.
Now, this is not to say that creativity and talent are no longer important. But these qualities need to be tempered with practical thinking, sensible problem solving, as well as comfort using emerging technologies while simultaneously appreciating its limits.
So, young architects need to bridge the knowledge gap, the technology gap, the team member gap, as well as the gap in their personal attitudes and perceptions versus that of their clients.
Seems like a lot? It is. Yet, many new recruits will find that they will need to bridge many of these gaps themselves.
Architecture Schools Have Been Slow to Adapt
In a perfect educational setting, traditional design courses would be supplemented with hands-on, cross-disciplinary projects that would combine knowledge from other related industries as well as preparation to consider the legal elements that affect the design process, such as zoning laws. There would also be an emphasis in gaining skills in project management, which includes time management, financial management, and collaborating with a team. While a few select schools are now offering projects that allow students to develop hands-on technical knowledge and engage with end users, clients and other professionals, these are still the exceptions.
Educational institutions seem to be taking their time adjusting their curricular so that all the focus on creativity is balanced with more practical, less sexy topics like budgets and construction management.
Given this, how can current students enhance an imperfect education? The answer is to first be aware of the situation and then to start thinking outside of the box. This may mean finding a good internship at a small firm, or deliberately taking courses that fall outside of the traditional architecture curriculum, or even spending some time working in other, related industries, such as graphic or product design.
The truth is those who go in to the profession with a more well-rounded approach to architecture are the ones less likely to get the dreaded pigeon-holed assignments. They are also the candidates more able to land the positions that enrich and advance their careers- the jobs that make them want to actually show up for work in the morning.
In short, architecture is not a passive profession. Those who approach it that way, expecting that their degree alone will give them everything they need to succeed as an architect, will likely find themselves woefully unprepared later on.