An Education Curriculum Set in the Past — Progressive Steps Towards a More Just Curriculum within the Architectural Profession and Beyond
In this essay I explore the question: is there a problem with the UK’s architecture education curriculum? In order to contextualise this, I briefly map the history of the Architectural Qualification, investigating its origins within the UK and through into the current architectural education criteria. I aim to better understand and deconstruct the prescribed education criteria of Parts 1,2,3 set out by the Architects Registration Board (ARB) within the Architects Act of 1997. This investigation into architectural education questions whether the curriculum responds to calls for social and environmental justice. Investigation into studies set up independently by universities such as ‘Race’ and Space at The Bartlett question whether universities are taking on the responsibility of integrating more just studies into their curriculum or whether the work is actually being done higher up in institutional and governmental bodies to integrate more progressive studies into the criteria. I also aim to briefly examine broader education curriculums within the UK looking at earlier school levels between Key Stage 1(KS1) — Key Stage 4 (KS4) to better understand the present situation of curriculum within the UK.
History of the UK Architectural Curriculum
In 1834 the Institute of British Architects, now known as the RIBA was founded on the basis of connecting the arts and construction together for the professional promotion of the architect and for the acquirement of knowledge. In 1855 a draft for a Diploma in Architecture was proposed to the RIBA council. This marked the first attempt to formally qualify and regulate the architectural qualification through formal education. But in 1964 it was reported that articled pupillage was still the most prevalent mode of architectural training. It was the pupillage that was thought to be the reason why the fine arts were not being integrated into the profession enough.
It wasn’t until 1904 when the RIBA acknowledged that the subject of architectural education should be taught widely and independently in schools of art and design. The establishment of the Board of Architectural Education allowed for educational qualifications to regulate entry into the architectural profession. The syllabus report commented that the teaching would provide an architect the skillset for scientifically sound construction and aesthetically beautiful design. These provided the formal foundations of the UK’s architectural education curriculum. One could question to what extent has the curriculum changed since 1904 and does this criteria meet the social practice required today and in the future?
Architects Act 1997
Today the architect’s education is no longer prescribed by the Board of Architectural Education with the abolition of the statutory Board in 1996. Along with the renaming of the Architect’s Registration Council of the United Kingdom, the Architect’s Regulation Board (ARB) was formed in 1997 subject to certain UK and European Parliament legislation. The ARB is responsible for both the architectural education criteria and the continuation of professional development during practice. These responsibilities of the ARB are set out in the Architects Act of 1997 which also include: the registration list of Architects, professional indemnity insurance and the investigation of complaints towards architects. Even though the RIBA validates the architectural educational programme at UK universities, statutory responsibilities of the architectural qualification criteria are held by the ARB within the Architects Act (1997) Section 4. Making the ARB the primary governing body for the architectural education criteria. The ARB is a public corporation of the Ministry of Housing, Communities + Local Government, allowing for the Act to be amended through government bills and consultations.
ARB Education Criteria
The Prescription of Qualifications on the Criteria at Parts 1, 2 and 3 published by the ARB Under the Architects Act 1997 sets out the education curriculum for UK universities that are teaching architecture. The criteria for parts 1 and 2 sets out 11 general learning objectives that should be taught. These include-
- Ability to create architectural designs that satisfy both aesthetic and technical requirements.
- Adequate knowledge of the histories and theories of architecture and the related arts, technologies and human sciences.
- Knowledge of the fine arts as an influence on the quality of architectural design.
- Adequate knowledge of urban design, planning and the skills involved in the planning process.
- Understanding of the relationship between people and buildings, and between buildings and their environment, and the need to relate buildings and the spaces between them to human needs and scale.
- Understanding of the profession of architecture and the role of the architect in society, in particular in preparing briefs that take account of social factors.
- Understanding of the methods of investigation and preparation of the brief for a design project.
- Understanding of the structural design, constructional and engineering problems associated with building design.
- Adequate knowledge of physical problems and technologies and the function of buildings so as to provide them with internal conditions of comfort and protection against the climate.
- The necessary design skills to meet building users’ requirements within the constraints imposed by cost factors and building regulations.
- Adequate knowledge of the industries, organisations, regulations and procedures involved in translating design concepts into buildings and integrating plans into overall planning.
When considering the past architectural curriculum, the goal of strengthening the connection between the arts and the built environment is clear. This focus on the union between design and construction is embedded in the 11 contemporary learning objectives listed above. The criteria text is presented in a straightforward, unproblematic account of what architecture ‘should be’ in the profession and of what knowledge, skills and understanding ‘should be’ achieved by students of the discipline. What is being taught and learned over the course of the degree is stipulated within ARB’s criteria. On the unchanging focus of architecture, I ask the question: is architecture the same discipline as it was in 1904; do the ARB’s 11 criteria accurately reflect the role a modern architect is expected to — or should be — performing ?
Is there a problem with the UK’s architecture education curriculum?
Though the ARB’s curriculum still covers the core artistic, structural and technical aspects of architectural design and practice, there is little reference to the social and environmental responsibilities of an architect. Social aspects are mentioned in three of the 11 learning objectives (2,5 and 6), and environmental considerations are scant, appearing in only two of the 11 (5 and 9) — the context in which the environment is mentioned in this criterion is the purpose of a structure to protect occupants from the environment. It is becoming increasingly important that the architect acquires knowledge throughout their studies which will ensure that their designs have minimal impact upon the environment, as well as protecting their inhabitants from it.
Socially, the position taken by the ARB is vague and insipid. In points 2, 5 and 6, the curriculum recommends that the student be made aware of historical needs and present perceptions.
In an interview with Adam Walls from The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, he commented that the curriculum “is in fact a very narrow, white, western perspective and epistemology, as universal, or the pinnacle of civilisation and so on”. I agree to the extent that architecture and its practitioners have become more socially and environmentally aware than is currently represented at an institutional level. The onus is on educational institutions to take a step away from a historical and reactive approach to teaching and to educate current students to meet the needs of the future built environment.
When analysing specifically how this criteria of both parts 1 and 2 is broken down separately through the ARB Graduate Attributes for Part 1 and Graduate Attributes for Part 2 we can question the process and approach to an architectural education in the UK. The attributes for part 1 appear prescribed, technical and traditional with the basis of art and construction highly apparent in the 6 outlined criteria. The approach operates within a framework of a means-end process, paying little attention to the wider scopes of education. It conceptualises the beginning of the architectural education as a technical process of skills acquisition, for which there are step-by-step instructions, with radical and diverse opinions given little to no room. The ARB Graduate Attributes for Part 1 should incorporate more critical social and environmental teaching.
The part 2 attributes encompass more critical understandings and thinking. However, the question of whether this critical thinking should be integrated at an earlier level of education responds to questions around the lack of social and environmental criteria within the architectural education. Our group proposal — ‘The Spatial Practice Bachelors and The Unions of Spatial Practitioners’ proposes that Part 1 attributes take on a border and more critical learning curriculum. With the recognition of the very real barriers which we face within the UK’s construction industry in relation to sustainable, economic and social practice, it is essential to re-examine the education system. That is why we are proposing a broader educational foundation; an integration of social and environmental considerations into the already present technical aspects of Part 1. Having an elementary knowledge would make masters level education more intuitive. However, in the need to become progressive, there are still hangovers from the foundation of the institution in imperial times. It is important to constantly recognise this in order to ensure that a more just curriculum is achieved. Adam Wells warns that “some members of staff within architectural education still think race is irrelevant to their fields, particularly those in design or who are more quantitative or technological in their approach (the ones who still set briefs about “pioneers” and “explorers”!)”. This concern further highlights the restrictive progression of an architecture profession structured on just the understanding of design and construction.
‘Race and Space — The Bartlett, UCL
In January 2020 The Bartlett, UCL Faculty of the Built Environment released a new curriculum — ‘Race’ and Space for both students and teachers within the architecture education. The UCL curriculum independently responds to the failings within the architecture curricula that at present “generally avoids issues of ‘race’ despite a strong and inextricable link between ‘race’ and space”. With the interest in gaining a broader understanding of the hopes and current realities of this curriculum, I spoke with Adam Walls, a curator of ‘Race’ and Space. The curriculum is currently designed for self-directed study, however there is a future intention of integrating it within the formal teaching at The Bartlett. In questioning how this specific curriculum relates to the wider architectural education of the UK and why not more of these courses are integrated within the UK’s architectural programme, it was highlighted that “architecture and architectural history have traditionally been — and still are for the most part — some of the whitest disciplines and professions imaginable”.
‘Race’ and Space is a curriculum inspired by ‘Race, Space and Architecture’, a previous curriculum developed at LSE by Huda Tayob and Suzanne Hall. When I asked who encouraged the development of this curriculum at UCL, Adam went on to answer that ‘Race’ and Space was driven by students and individual staff members. That the RIBA/ ARB had no involvement in its genesis. It was acknowledged that they “remain a deeply problematic institution, and [are] a large part of the problem with architecture in this country”. Even though UCL’s curriculum shows encouraging developments, it’s crucial that the ARB and the government incorporate specific education criteria for curriculums like these. This recognition of these governing bodies is important in order to prevent other UK universities missing curriculums like ‘Race’ and space in their teaching outlines.
Key Stage 1 — Key Stay 4 Curriculum
The lack of these social and environmental topics is not definitive to just the architectural curriculum. Other university courses such as History and Geography are also voicing concerns of the lack of social and environmental studies within these degrees as well as concerns over lacking knowledge on these topics within primary and secondary school education. As Deana Heath, a Reader in Indian and Colonial History at the University of Liverpool, UK raises “as an academic who teaches modules on South Asian, imperial, colonial and global history, I face an uphill struggle at the start of each new academic year. Many of the undergraduates who greet me know virtually nothing about any of the subjects I teach. These are students who are educated through a school history curriculum that focuses almost entirely on English political and religious history — with bits of 20th century European history thrown in”. In order to better integrate more social and environmental studies in higher education across a broad range of courses, it is necessary that students gain a good understanding and basis to critical thinking in earlier stages of education. These topics should not come as a ‘first’ during university studies. “Taking race and colonialism seriously leads to a complete re-valuation of pretty much everything we think we know — they were and still are key determining factors in the development of modern science, architecture and history”.
How can Curriculum Move Forward?
In response to my opening question — is there a problem with the UK’s architecture education curriculum? I think it is fair to say yes, the curriculum of both architecture and school is lacking in progressive and just criteria which doesn’t respond to the social and environmental needs of today. The architecture curriculum continues to rely on a traditional education criteria for the qualification of architects within the UK, lacking in vigour and not meeting the needs required to work sustainably within the profession post-education. Work towards the inclusion of these social and environmental units within the education curriculums are starting to be carried out through the independent work of students and teachers. However, it is imperative for institutional and governmental recognition and leadership in the radicalisation of UK education.
With the UK having now formally left the European Union there is opportunity to review and amend regulatory systems within the ARB. Current consultations are being carried out seeking views on amendments to the Architects Act 1997 following the Building Safety Bill. There is now the ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to seek a similar amendment to the Prescribed Criteria at Parts 1, 2 and 3 within architectural education. It is fundamental that we re-read the foundations of what we think we know and enable new foundations to which think and imagine and practice differently, more equitable but also with more joy.
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