Simon Allford - Accreditation

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Simon Allford

Simon Allford spoke on accreditation, bringing a clear sense of urgency to what he conceded might superficially appear a dull subject. Introduced by Mark Cousins as the right person to provide 'an educational rather than philosophical intervention 'on the subject, Allford nonetheless made clear the high stakes. As with so many of the topics addressed over the course of the Architectural Education Symposium, accreditation has real and immediate implications for the independence and financial health of the AA, said Allford.

The urgency comes in part from an increasingly significant fight between RIBA and ARB, as ARB seeks greater control over the regulation of architectural practice and, by extension, architectural education. ARB has said it only wants to protect the title –that is, those who may call themselves architects –but, explained Allford, this is evolving into 'a commitment to the regulation of architecture as a state-controlled business ', and as such has profound implications. Accreditation was introduced to establish some equality of standards, but to date it has not forced schools to adopt a fixed model of architectural education, which in Allford's opinion is a healthy state of affairs. The standard by which to assess schools 'various and often competing views of the best way to train architects is RIBA Parts 1,2 and 3,with exemptions for Parts 1 and 2 given to students who have successfully completed, respectively, three-year and five- year programmes. Part 3 –along with the title of architect –is given on successful completion of work experience and an exam in professional practice.

As Allford sees it, RIBA has evolved over the years from something of a gentleman 's club to a version of a trade union to a centre for the promotion of architecture, and it bestows the exemptions largely as a 'symbolic gesture of solidarity 'with the schools. By contrast, ARB is a government organisation seeking to make Parts 1, 2, and 3 a regulatory tool for imposing a single system of architectural education. For Allford, this drive for standardisation, which in his view necessarily entails a lowest-common-denominator decline, arises from the government 's need for building 'product 'and the 'professional fodder ' to churn it out. It will, he says, crush creativity in a profession where, among other threats, the growing need to manage risk is forcing ever-increasing specialisation on architects, where innovation has become dangerous, where clients have become customers, where education has become a product for students to purchase and where the divide between theory and practice is greater than it has ever been. In other words, architects are already forced to be experts in 'stealth planning ', in how to circumvent rules and regulations, just to get buildings built. Why, asked Allford, should we add a whole new layer of bureaucracy, particularly one in which the markers of quality will be replaced with the markers of mediocrity? It is one thing to protect and control the use of 'architect 'as a title –after all, wit and skill, connivance and ability, have always been more important than the legal permission to call yourself an architect, Allford continued. Though this sort of parochialism should be resisted, at least it does not prevent anyone from carrying on practising without the title. Society and the client can be left to judge whether the outcome is worthy of the name architecture, and that is as it should be, he said.

It is both more difficult and more important to resist the government 's moves to curb schools 'rights to determine their own curricula. At the moment ARB 's efforts towards greater standardisation are most threatening to public sector schools, as the government, once it has the power, may threaten to cut off the flow of funds to those schools not complying with ARB requirements. For a time the AA will have the luxury of asking how relevant and essential accreditation is to its programmes, but it will have to be on guard against other forms of political manipulation, such as, say, a critical audit of the AA 's compliance with the charter of a charity.

To take the position that students can be successful at the AA without gaining exemption from RIBA Parts 1 and 2,and without going on to become UK-registered architects, would not be without ramifications. On the one hand, and in the absence of an international standard, it could give greater weight to individual diplomas such as the AA 's. It would also likely preserve the AA 's value as a benchmark for schools of architecture within universities .On the other hand, however, and particularly if the AA were to become the sole unaccredited school in Britain, it could mean the rapid departure of students looking for professional qualifications. Another argument (raised by Peter Salter) says that requirements for accreditation serve as a useful constraint on enquiry, providing important external evaluation of architecture. And finally, there is the risk that an unaccredited AA would turn itself into an avant-garde ghetto, an academic enclave out of touch with building, with costs, with reality. Rather than working to bridge the divide between theory and practice – essential, says Allford, to resisting government regulation –the AA would only exacerbate it. Taking it as a given that the AA should remain an independent school, Allford concluded, the AA 's first defence against government managerialism should be to declare its solidarity with university schools of architecture. Every option must be examined, not least the altogether reasonable possibility, particularly given the international profile of AA Members, of looking abroad for accreditation.
Apr 18, 05 8:32 pm

i hope architecture schools starts teaching how to pass ARE's.

Jun 12, 05 10:31 pm

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