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Poll: Schools Need to Get Real

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

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Architecture schools in the UK are doing a poor job of preparing students for the real world and real architecture, a new poll concludes.

Employers and students alike say that schools are too focused on the theoretical, rather than the practical, and theat students need more time in practice to prepare for the workplace. And students, at least, want more grounding in specification writing.

Photos, graphics unless noted: RIBA Appointments Skills Survey Report 2014

Architecture students say, and employers agree, that new graduates are not ready for the workplace after architecture school.

The poor grade comes from a poll conducted by the National Building Specification (NBS), a division of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) that has produced, among other things, the national standard specification system for the UK.

Getting Practical

The new RIBA Appointments Skills Survey Report 2014 polled 150 employers and almost 600 students and recent graduates. (RIBA Appointments is the institute's recruitment arm.)

In general, the responses overwhelmingly reflected a call for more practical training and alternate routes such as apprenticeships into the architecture profession.

"Both employers and students are critical of architectural courses because they put theoretical knowledge ahead of practical ability and the courses are too expensive," wrote report author Jenny Dobson of RIBA Appointments.

The findings parallel those reported in a 2011 report, Dobson says.

'You'd Never Build What We Design'

The complaints about cost and training have major implications for the profession, the report says.

Atrium / svariophoto

"We were often told that you'd never be able to build most of what we design in school, so why encourage it?" wrote one student.

"If architecture is to be diverse, reflective of the community it serves, then the ability to pay (or accrue debts for) high fees over many years should not be a criterion of qualification," the report says.

Worse, those pricey programs are not preparing students, the survey found.

A full 86 percent of employers and 82 percent of students agree that graduates "lack the knowledge to build what they design." And nearly as many (80 percent of employers and 73 percent of students) say that new graduates "lack the practical skills needed to practice architecture."

Nearly four in five employers and students agree that students "should spend more time learning in practice."

"Teach more about the realities of practice and less blue-sky thinking," wrote Charles Weston Smith, a student at the Canterbury School of Architecture at University for the Creative Arts.


Employers (dark blue) and students (bright blue) showed strong agreement on key questions.

"We were often told that you'd never be able to build most of what we design in school, so why encourage it?"

The Right Stuff

Two-thirds of employers said they "often struggle to find someone with the right skills and experience."

And surprisingly, in this software-saturated age, one of the skills that firms want is hand drawing.

"Ban CAD for a term, and make students draw/sketch," wrote one employer. "This skill is almost gone."

The report called hand drawing "a dying art, but one which is valued."

Writing skills—both general writing and writing specifications—are also of "increasing importance" to both students and employers.


Hand drawing is "a dying art, but one which is valued"—and should thus be taught, employers say.

Nearly six in 10 students says that coursework should cover specification writing in more depth; nearly half of employers agree.


The report notes "some consensus that a degree of recalibration of architectural education may be needed. ..."

Indeed, said one respondent: "I can think of no other profession where new graduates must wait a decade or more to be given significant responsibility because they have not acquired basic skills in university."


Tagged categories: Architects; Architecture; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Good Technical Practice; Specification writing; Worker training

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