Architecture Schools Struggle to Prepare Students for a Rapidly Changing Profession

Event: Deans’ Roundtable and Exhibition Opening: “Arch Schools 2009: Visions of The Future”
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.17.09
Speakers: George Ranalli, AIA — Dean, City College of New York; Mark Wigley — Dean, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation; Anthony Vidler — Dean, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science & Art; Urs Gauchat, Hon. AIA — Dean, New Jersey Institute of Technology; Judy DiMaio, AIA — Dean, New York Institute of Technology; William Morrish — Dean, Parsons, The New School for Design; Thomas Hanrahan, AIA — Dean, Pratt Institute; Stan Allen, AIA — Dean, Princeton University; Evan Douglis — Dean, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Marilyn Jordan Taylor, FAIA — Dean, University of Pennsylvania;
Moderator: Robert Campbell, FAIA — Architecture Critic, Boston Globe
Organizers: Center for Architecture

“There is a perception that the world of architectural teaching and the world of architectural practice are changing more rapidly now than they usually do,” said Robert Campbell, FAIA, architecture critic for the Boston Globe, in his introduction to the AIANY’s fifth annual Deans’ Roundtable. In recent years, he posited, students have become far more diverse in terms of nationality, ethnicity, and economic background, and have grown increasingly concerned with environmental and social responsibility. Rapid technological progress has led to significant changes in many curricula and created a widening gap in computational prowess between students and instructors. At the same time, lines have blurred between traditionally distinct disciplines such as architecture, urban planning, and landscape design. While the ten assembled deans accepted Campbell’s general assessment of the issues facing architecture schools, their interpretations of the specific nature of the changes taking place differed, as did their thoughts about how to respond.

One of the liveliest debates centered on technology. Several speakers claimed that hand drawing was a fundamental part of architectural education; but others, such as Princeton’s Stan Allen, AIA, said it was time to move on. “I think we can talk about certain fundamental ideas of spatial imagination — the ability to think three-dimensionally, an understanding of projection systems, and so on — that belong historically to the culture of drawing…. you can get at all of that in a much more sophisticated, and, I actually think, faster, way through computation.”

Columbia University GSAPP’s Mark Wigley agreed with Allen, calling the hand-vs.-computer debate “unbelievably reactionary and unnecessary.” However, he expressed confidence that the wide diversity of educational philosophies and approaches found in different schools augured well for the future of the profession. “One of the great things about schools of architecture in the U.S. is that they’re all so different, and that to some extent they’ve managed to resist the forces of standardization.”