Big Ideas on Campus
Architecture education must change to keep up with the evolving profession.
As sure as the Harvard–Yale football game (or just The Game to its passionate alumni) is played every November, so does RECORD bring you our annual Top 10 architecture school lists. The rankings of undergraduate and graduate programs, from a survey undertaken by the Greenway Group, are a lot less suspenseful than The Game—Harvard's Graduate School of Design comes out on top almost every year, unlike the college's performance in football over the decades. But the two rivalrous architecture schools, Yale and the GSD, along with Columbia, MIT, and Cornell, have been shoving each other around the field for the last several seasons, to land somewhere in the top five slots.
What has changed, however, is architectural education. Various programs have different strengths, but digital design and fabrication, sustainability, and the phenomenon of globalization are having a big impact on the training of future professionals. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—or STEM—are increasingly central to architecture curricula. “The trend indicates that art and theory are less important,” says James P. Cramer, Greenway's chair. “The highest-paid careers will be in the STEM domain.”
Offering more courses in those areas, while also reflecting the growing importance of urban design, global practice, business skills, and interdisciplinary work, have made the job of dean at an architecture school tougher than ever. These days, Mohsen Mostafavi, the dean at Harvard, is looking to university programs across campus to shape the education of his students and broaden their understanding of how design can engage disciplines such as medicine, public health, education, and law. “The practice of architecture can't just focus on being a service sector, waiting on clients to come to us,” he told RECORD “If we're going to be effective, we must gain greater importance as designers.”
But if architects are seeking a bigger role on the world stage, the profession needs to better reflect the world—and diversity should begin in the schools. According to a report cited by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, 43 percent of students enrolled in accredited B.Arch., M.Arch., and D.Arch. programs in 2012–13 were female—still shy of 50 percent, but a lot more than the 26 percent of licensed architects in firms who are women. (And the numbers for African Americans in schools is far lower.)
In other areas of education, the representation of women falls short too: about 19 percent of architecture deans are female, and only one in four guest lecturers is a woman. The Topaz Medallion, awarded each year to someone who has influenced “a long line of students,” has been given to a woman just twice in nearly 40 years: to Denise Scott Brown in 1996 and in 2009 to Adèle Naudé Santos, who just stepped down as dean at MIT.
Yet we're hearing the strong voices of women about shifts to a broader set of ideas and aspirations in architectural education, which could help attract a wider range of students (if only tuitions weren't rising so fast and burdening them with debt). Among the great speakers at RECORD'S 12th annual Innovation Conference in New York last month was Amale Andraos, the new dean at Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, a proponent of interdisciplinary study and global experience. The Paris-based architect Odile Decq not only gave the audience a close-up look at such projects as her new office building in Lyon, France, but spoke about the architecture school she has just started in that city. Called the Confluence Institute for Innovation and Creative Strategies in Architecture, it departs radically from most of Europe's architectural education, which has been increasingly standardized by the Bologna Process, guidelines under the European Union that seek to “harmonize” higher education across borders.
The boundaries that Decq's school means to tear down are those that constrict ideas. She emphasizes architecture as a way of thinking and acting, both ethically and entrepreneurially. Who can be a student there? “Anyone can apply,” says Decq, “but only if they want to change the world.”