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A HUNDRED YEARS OF ARCHITECTURAL EDUCATION
Article by Andrea Rincon
Year 6 Architecture

The beginnings of the Scott Sutherland School are found within a detailed Prospectus from as early as 1906, with part time classes for five years in disciplines such as practical geometry and drawing from the antique. Evening classes were also taught at the then Robert Gordon’s Technical College for those in full time apprenticeships within architectural practices. It wasn’t until the involvement of the Aberdeen Society of Architects, established in 1898, that architecture courses in Aberdeen began to be restructured. Full time architectural education did not come into fruition until 1913, with RIBA exemption. The school came to be the third in the UK, after Liverpool and the AA, to receive RIBA recognition.

In celebration of a century of accreditation it seems that now is a good time to examine our architectural education the development of which is currently up for debate within the RIBA and the UK Architecture Education Review Group. Currently the profession is seen as a precarious one, with those involved ever changing their image and significant roles within the industry. What architecture was in 1958 is very different to what it is now, which raises the question… why we are still upholding the same 55 year old model of education? Initially there was a great emphasis on construction and design within the curriculum, as well as a continued effort to allow no segregation between the two. An article in the Architect’s Journal dating 30 July 1924, written by R. Leslie Rollo, then Assistant lecturer in the Architecture department at this school makes a relevant point on the two subjects.

He declares that the school had, since its establishment, attempted to bring the two subjects together, design and construction, and admits that the students ultimately fall between the two main classes, especially in the early years where construction was not an integral aspect within the design classes, and the two were taught by different masters. Much of this tradition has not changed, with the segregation between architects and construction students still existing today, although conscious efforts are being made to eradicate this separation. It is perhaps this restricted environment which leaves many a student departing from university with a slight deficiency in their technical knowledge.

Peter Buchanan’s critique of architectural education questions whether students are being equipped with the necessary skills. Where are the courses for managing a business or attracting commission in a ruthless and competitive environment? Should schools teach students more skills in refurbishment and restoration or dealing with real-life briefs? Tailoring education to coincide with the changes in the industry would ultimately influence what is being taught. Architecture schools could greatly benefit with funding from the building industry. Many art schools already take advantage from this strategy by integrating students with the industry and introducing a vital link to the profession. While the hard earned results of many students culminate with shallow graphic exercises, learning the importance of tectonics and the art of building is left behind or out completely with many students falling short on the necessary technical experience.


It is time to re-design the education of architects in a post-technological society. RIBA President, Angela Brady has expressed her concerns with the current state of architectural education and recently announced that architecture should be recognised as a STEM subject technology, engineering and mathematics). When architectural education starts to lose its technical knowledge, it will lead to a loss in craftsmanship. In opposition to this, there are also those who question the specific purpose of architectural teachings. If the academic community holds a shared responsibility over all the changes that are happening in the world, then surely they have an obligation to raise intellectual and responsibly engaged architects. Esteemed Swiss architect Luigi Snozzi, during an AE Foundation lecture, shared his teaching philosophy. He believes that architectural teachings should not concentrate so much on producing professionally capable architects, but instead should focus their efforts on generating critical individuals.

He advocates that architecture is not a neutral discipline in relation to society, and his thesis upholds a political and ideological philosophy. In his own words “architecture must contain its disciplinary autonomy” and defend itself against the demands of professionalism in order to retain a certain freedom towards its overall critical function. As the basic principles within the teachings of architecture are questioned, there seems to be a divide on its demands; but are the students doing too much? Is there a way in which we can immerse ourselves in our projects and focus on all of the necessary ideas to produce a much more elaborate piece of work? Students will more than likely always prioritize the studio module, and so it seems a logical step to contextualise our education.

The studio project could be the centre of one module in which all other subjects are placed in context to the project, thus making the educational experience akin to that in professional practice. The time that students learn the most is not at their final crit when many may feel unsatisfied or disillusioned with their own project, it is the practical learning through one-to-one lessons in the studio where the critical understanding is best gained. The studio environment is where a student learns to integrate the various disciplines of architecture, and so it must remain the vital core within architectural education. To experiment is to scrutinize, to question(science, and trial a tentative procedure for the purpose of discovering something unknown. Since the 1960’s young teachers and architects (before they ever built anything) have used architecture schools to develop new ideas and practices.

Previous to this, the Bauhaus was used as a model in which to radically exercise different approaches to design education by combining various multidisciplinary art subjects. Schools became laboratories that generated innovative designs and influential new styles and movements. The AA is effectively continuing this practice and introducing a new initiative that brings back the legacy of the night schools from the 1920’s. The Night School has been called a speculative project which will deal with an alternative model of education and will be used to engage students with current issues to the profession. The programme dictates how education is not only present in schools, but it evolves as the students start their careers in architecture.