Are architecture schools contributing to the demise of architecture?


Are architecture schools contributing to the demise of architecture?

What are the alternatives?

Here's the dilemma:

Elite architecture programs (Harvard, Yale, Columbia, etc.) are very expensive. Therefore they are only accessible to students with wealthy parents or students willing to accrue massive debt. As the gap between rich and poor widens in our information economy, architecture is becoming more subservient to a smaller wealthy class of global citizens. Architecture schools get away with being complacent about these economic limitations by hiding behind ideals of multicultural diversity as a measure of progressive education.

I know that architecture will be my life project even though I do not have an architecture degree. I am hesitant of getting a masters in architecture for the reasons stated above. I'm interested in self- directed methods of architecture education that use the internet, recourses in NYC, and real-world experience as a means of acquiring the necessary skills and critique. While I understand this form of education will not be legitimate in the eyes of the Architecture Establishment, I see it as a possible alternative for a different kind of architecture practice. Promoting methods of education outside of elite institutions is the only way to make architectural design more relevant to political issues in our cities.

I appreciate any advice or critical commentary.

Thanks in advance.

Dec 10, 13 5:38 pm

You think it was any different a one-hundred and fifty years ago?  Americans go to France to Study. This Profession is a lot closer to being  an equal distribution of  economic well being and the profession as a whole  since the beginning.  Think About It, "DUDE"

Dec 10, 13 5:56 pm

The United States of The Ivy League is not helping architecture.....well hold on it is helping European architects receive an income while they teach there. In turn these architects can continue producing remarkable work in Europe FOR THE PUBLIC during these precarious financial times.   

But you have a point werwer I also have a hard time taking the elitist schools in the States seriously for the reasons you mentioned. However I am not sure your path to becoming a successful architect through practice alone will work in the States. Seems like connections matter more then what you can accomplish state side. At least from my experience working there. Sorry to sound pessimistic....maybe it can work in a small town rather than NYC. I do not know and I wish I could give you more helpful advice- which I sincerely hope you do get from this forum. 

Here in Europe if you did not formerly study architecture there is no way you can practice. At least in the states I do believe you can work as a drafter. Perhaps you can work a drafter and eventually become an architect. One thing is for sure the internet seems to be somewhat dissolving the boundaries of higher education and the public. I keep on seeing more and more high brow articles being published on places such as "archdaily"

Perhaps while you work your way up as a drafter to architect you can manage to publish some good quality articles on places such as here and archdaily? Honestly you will reach a wider audience and I have read some decent articles online. 

Dec 10, 13 6:15 pm

SOME of the a-schools perpetuate a chasm between education and practice.  While someone once said to me "School is really the only place where you can determine  what you design early on."  That's probably true.  That won't happen in an office upon walking in the door your first day on the job, unless it's a coving detail.

However, there is such a disparity between the content of programs that it makes me wonder how NAAB accredits a chunk of them.  The point of a professional education is to get you to pass the licensing examination, and after a short period of being in the workforce.  Now, if a person doesn't care to pursue this route, that is their prerogative.  However, not knowing how a building goes together upon leaving a-school would have irritated me and left me feeling cheated.  I had a fairly good idea of how a building went together upon graduating, so this criteria was met.

The OP mentions about the elite schools being for the rich or for those willing to take on massive amounts of debt.  Some might get scholarships.  Still, I think the best way to hedge this situation is to get a degree in architecture, and get it from a good public university.  With neither the funds, nor the polish turned on 24/7, and not even star talent, I saw no point in a plum school, but I still wanted a quality education in architecture.

Dec 10, 13 7:08 pm

snooker-doodle-dandy - I agree that professional architecture has always been an elite practice, but I also think 150 years ago average people were more enabled to effect the state of their built environment on small scales through forms of vernacular architecture, and simple necessity.

Dec 10, 13 7:33 pm

All college is expensive, but state schools don't cost as much.  That's the alternative.  Your education is *mostly* what you make of it: if you're curious, self-motivated, do research, work hard, ask tons of questions, etc you can get a great education at a non-Ivy.  Seek out the people doing interesting work at any school and learn.

Dec 10, 13 10:34 pm

Well, I've been saying for years that anybody who goes ivy league & takes out large debt to finance it is a stone cold, born yesterday sucker. 

"I also think 150 years ago average people were more enabled to effect the state of their built environment on small scales through forms of vernacular architecture, and simple necessity."

Is this really any different today?  Much of rural & suburban detached housing can be designed by the average person (though they usually defer to the builder).  Lower-class slums & ghettos also feature a lot of building  out of "simple necessity".

Your concern sounds like it is coming from a middle class perspective so I guess that begs the question of what is middle class today.  Oddly, I'd argue that the shrinking middle class probably has more in common to its ancestors 150 years ago (during a still very rural mid-19th century) than it does to its ancestors just 40-50 yearrs ago (which were benefiting from post-war growth & prosperity).

Dec 11, 13 8:53 am

The self-taught method is a great way of learning material and saving a boatload of money.  The obvious drawback is that you lack that "piece of paper" from some authority confirming your credibility.  In probably most jurisdictions, houses, house additions, interior tenant finish work and even very small scale commercial and multi-family projects can be done without a license.  If you are the average middle class kid with no real connections, that is probably the only kind of work you will be doing anyway if you are not affiliated with a larger firm.  If you join a larger firm, somebody else is probably going to stamp the drawings.  The value of licensure is a dubious proposition if it entails a heavy financial cost.  Going into debt is almost always a very bad idea in this profession. 

Dec 11, 13 11:08 am

Geezertect, I agree.  Debt will stifle your career more than lacking that piece of paper will.  Debt sucks.  I also feel that being self taught is 100% necessary whether in school or not.  If you don't spend the majority of your time studing and practicing you will not be any good period.  School is not a substitute for self learning but rather just an additional resource.   

Dec 11, 13 12:40 pm

In the case with architecture, there are things that can not be taught and learn on your own.  Learning from the web, personal experience, walking through NYC versus the hands one, interactive experiences with other students, mentor and teacher are incomparable.  Its like comparing apples to oranges.  

A few major things that you can benefit from school are; being motivated be your classmate and surroundings compare to self motivation.  Learning from others and yourself through critiques.  Learning the process from drawings, sketches, model making, to printing, pinning up, presentation.

I have learn a lot from school.  And can not see myself learning that much on my own.  True, there are things you do learn outside from school but that is the reason why school is not open 365 days a year.  Getting drunk face in Cancun during spring break can be a learning experience.  Or studying abroad w/ a class in Italy for a summer semester through a university can be another.

We as human beings work/function as a group/network. Do not put yourself in a bubble...

Dec 11, 13 2:56 pm

@Quan: Yes learning from a hands-on educational experience can be better than books, but the best way (and only right way) in my opinion is to put in time working on site. The experience will be more valuable than any amount of schooling and you will truly learn how a building goes together (mentioned above). I personally have dealt with many architects/designers that obviously do not know the first thing about building, and they all could have benefitted greatly from working construction.

In short: Field experience trumps School experience any day of the week and far too many architects lack it.

Dec 11, 13 3:24 pm

Fu¢k yeah they are!!! Next question...

Dec 11, 13 3:37 pm

What do you think of virtual colleges? The ones where students sit at home, watch a lecture, do some quizzes, and call it a day. Is that the environment of the future school, the democratic education promised by technology? Or is enabling many more to attend a real campus with a diverse mix of people and devoted teachers much more appealing?

I'm curious if you hold this perspective because of your prior post in regards to low GRE scores and applying to M.Arch 1 programs. Don't know what the outcome of that was but would you offer the same criticism on education had the potential results been in your favor? Essentially, is this a bitter rant that holds no meaning if you are accepted by some elite school in the future?

Dec 11, 13 3:40 pm

The essence of learning is experience, plain and simple. In school, you experience learning mostly vicariously. Which isn't all bad but is a degree removed from having experience itself and school was invented by industrialists that wanted to standardize and control the experiences of learning. I started self-educating when I was laid off 4 years ago and have made a new career out of it. It wouldn't have worked if I didn't have a couple of good mentors to get feedback from though, so if you can get that part down being self taught through experience is the best way to go. And as far as future employers go, Masters of YouKnowWhat from WhoCares is one little line on your resume, but a collection of quality experiences could each warrant their own line and tell a much greater story, but that is just my opinion (I am an employer, a sophomore employer, but I have hired enough to know that degrees are nice but I like to hire PEOPLE not degrees and I believe that is the future as we see the baby boomer employers phased out and Gen X and Gen Y are the bosses.) 

Dec 11, 13 3:53 pm

I disagree with some of the posts.

A good education is one hell of a springboard for further learning.  Once you've had a good cross-sample of architectural topics taught to you and, assuming you have learned them well, you can extrapolate things from that experience at a quicker rate than being self-taught from the very beginning, where you would have to map out your curriculum as to "where to start," you may spin your wheels, and you may walk down some cul de sacs.

Beyond the initial education, continuing education, both through work, self-study, and seminars is fully the architect's and designer's responsibility.  No more hand holding.

Dec 11, 13 5:28 pm

I agree with observant. University education doesn't just teach you facts, it teaches you how to evaluate facts and apply them in progressive new ways.

I also agree with Nice that nothing matches on-site experience, and that far too many architects don't know crap-all about how construction actually works.  That said, not a single contractor/craftsperson that I know has any real ability to think about building in ways that further culture.  Furthering culture is one of the tenets of design, yes?

Architects have to know A LOT.  It's not an easy path - but it can be a significantly less expensive path if you don't go to an Ivy.

Dec 12, 13 9:28 am

The lessons from my education I value the most are the ones that helped shape HOW I think, not WHAT I think. I gained this both inside the classroom / studio (good professors and classmates) and out (seeking out life experiences, not expecting the education system to prepare me fully and realizing I needed to supplement).


I think that there are folks who don't need a formal higher education to be extremely adept architects. I think that they are the exception rather than the rule. I find the current trend towards requiring a college degree without any consideration to alternatives frustrating, especially considering that the more the degrees seem to become a requirement, the more watered down they seem to be. I worry that we're going to have a system where a Bachelor's is as valuable as a HS Diploma once was. Considering the financial burden that places on people who are entering a low paying profession, that's not a very wise place to go.

Dec 12, 13 10:50 am

School is great. I learned a lot in grad school.  The debt however is a huge burden.  My advice would be that if you are simply using school as a gateway to a job then it is a poor investment, but if you are using school to gain knowledge and build a platform for further learning, then it is a good investment.  To get your money's worth, you must dig deeper, and self learning is the way to do so.  You must keep studying.  School gives you the skills to learn, interpret, and apply knowledge.  If you go to school for a piece of paper and then move on to getting that other piece of paper, then you are not using your education to its fullest.  The paper alone is not worth it, but the knowledge is.  Its all a matter of defining your goals.  If your goals are defined by rewards then you are not making a good investment.  The degree, the job, the connections, etc....these are material rewards.  If that's what you are after, then school is an expensive luxury. If your goals are defined by non material things like knowledge, being a great architect, competence, etc.   then school  is a necessity and is well worth it.  I hate the fact that an march is a "professional degree."   It turns school into a "gateway into a profession" rather than a "platform for knowledge."  To me, school is a rabbit hole.  Once you start you never stop.  There is nothing wrong with just wanting a career and a decent job, but if that is your goal, school will be more of a burden than a benefit.  The money and opportunities in architecture are not worth such a large investment. 

Dec 12, 13 11:14 am

"The money and opportunities in architecture are not worth such a large investment."


Well said.

Dec 12, 13 11:43 am

only a small percentage of graduates ever make it to a level where there decent financial rewards - 2%? I myself have 5 years exp. and there are entry level people making more than I am - 

Dec 12, 13 12:40 pm

Xen, I have had a similar experience. I'm confident others have as well. It really saddens me to say it, but sometimes the only way to get ahead is to get a new job.

Dec 12, 13 12:48 pm

"Architecture schools get away with being complacent about these economic limitations by hiding behind ideals of multicultural diversity as a measure of progressive education."

Could you explain this statement? i don't follow. You had me until "hiding behind ideals of multicultural diversity as a measure of progressive education". Do you really believe this is happening? Where was the category 'Multicultural Diversity" in the latest DI rankings?

Dec 12, 13 4:40 pm

Architecture schools alone within the university system cannot control tuition costs. it's not as if you could major in Biology and pay a different tuition than Architecture because Architects will make less money. This is a problem in higher education in general, it just so happens that Architects do not make very much money. For which you have to blame both the curriculum of the school and the professionals adhering to outdated business models. We should have courses in entrepreneurship incorporated into architectural education. 

By the way I say go for it if you'd like to become a designer but do not wish to attend a formal institution. Find a partner who can get licensed and go in together.

Dec 12, 13 4:54 pm

In Canada if you do a Masters in Architecture your tuition fees are much less than studying Medicine, Law or MBA exactly because you will earn less. So the system in the States is perpetuating a class system. 

Dec 12, 13 5:11 pm

If you're disadvantaged and not higher up than the middle of the middle-class, financial aid is fairly generous and covers most tuition. State tuition plus federal grants and optional loans. Housing is of course a burden to some families but the transfer system in California works so one would only have to stay 2-3 years away from home at an university living on or off-campus (or not if the school is commutable). 60% who attend the state schools would pay practically nothing for an undergraduate degree. And that's what most people would really need for the rest of their life so many who secure a job are fairly comfortable and part of the elite with an college degree, which is less than top 10% in the world (6.7 back in 2011).

Public school costs don't vary too much between graduates and undergraduates. Overall cost for a resident M. Arch I in California is about $40-45,000 in total with some misc. fees added on (tuition itself is only about $11000/yr in general, increasing drastically this past decade). I can go to Texas and study for not much more than a resident in California--their state has cheap tuition for in- or out-of-state residents; other places vary. Still less of a burden than a traditional law degree, which although has earning potential, also faces employment issues right now. Medicine has its own issues. 

The classism argument needs better support. Don't make sweeping declarative statements.

Dec 12, 13 5:41 pm

"Tuition is only about 11 000 a year in general, increasing drastically this past decade"

If you are a resident of Ontario and study at the University of Toronto you should pay 9000$ a year however if you get full OSAP loans tuition is cut down to roughly 1500- 2000$ a year. Then there are TA ships, scholarships etc.

I guess I have a different idea what an affordable education should cost. Besides in the States you are practically irrelevant in the arch. field unless you study within the Ivy League. Which is too bad there are some good state schools out there. 

Dec 12, 13 6:06 pm

That is the cost for a Master's program. Read my first paragraph when I mentioned tuition in my state is covered for most with household incomes under a certain bracket (approx. 80,000). Higher than that and one likely is distant from the image of disadvantaged student.

You assume one needs a Master's degree just to enter the field, which given the 5-year B.Arch option, is not necessarily for most who don't intend to pursue academia, license registration, or some career change. And even then in a M.Arch II program, a $20,000-25,000 investment with no grants or work gig to chip away the lump sum towards an advanced degree can be repaid with little stress (like $300 bucks a month for ten years). Minimizes the lavished dream lifestyle of many but it's a decision and compromise adults will have to decide on their own. You can't determine what an education, something that no one can repossess or strip away, is worth to someone else and should stop trying to. Our system is broken for sure but heck, you're not even looking at the same picture.

There are plenty of renowned professors and faculty and talented graduates at every school. Each individual chooses to create their own path and there are as many worthless Ivy graduates as anywhere else. It's no coincidence the better schools will inherently attract more talent (likewise for any field where prestige and reputation carries its own value and attract the best) but don't put much weigh personal potential based on school name alone. It degrades the profession and academia as a whole when you yourself perpetuate that only elite schools have opinions worth listening to.

Dec 12, 13 6:50 pm

I do not believe that only elite schools have opinions worth listening to. But from my experience working in the States many in the arch. profession state side unfortunately really believe that. I do not. 

Look here in Canada things are different I am just highlighting that. Here you have to have an M.arch to enter the field. That is why there is an effort to make an M.arch affordable. As for the B.arch ok you seem to argue it is made affordable however when you finish with that you are still limited as you yourself mentioned. In my opinion even 20k for an March II is unacceptable. Any student debt is unacceptable. I guess Americans think that a certain amount of student debt is ok.

And anyways the Canadian system is not that great, its free to study in Europe (except England) , and there have been plenty of good architects who came out of that system. 

Dec 12, 13 7:19 pm

Excuse my snarky attitude. Years spent online has made me rather hostile and defensive. 

Prestige holds true to an extend--you'd likely trust a Johns Hopkins doctor to perform rare specialized surgery over say a lower-ranked school if you had a choice. But in general procedures, there are plenty of competent doctors from the local public schools that can match or exceed the general physicians coming out of say Harvard Med. Undoubtedly a household-name degree will sound much more impressive but after a certain point, it's merely appealing to authority/prestige, in which we hold someone with a certain level of obtained authority to be more correct than another without. Easier said than done when it comes to change--the elite schools can falter but another will rise up to replace them and the system repeats itself with new vanity plates. 

Education is not free around the world, in the sense that no one pays for a young person's degree. Europe has higher tax rates, which accounts for many services such as education and healthcare. Their idea of social solidarity is different from the relatively individualistic self-made person ideology in the States and in some European countries, their view of children and knowledge is almost on the opposite side of the spectrum (as a means for lifetime development versus say a step towards securing a job). Even in Canada a different social model is present.

The tuition system is screwed up. It was probably half that a decade ago and perhaps less before the millennium. I don't foresee any change soon and as much as students and parents hate debilitating debt, what else can you do in a services-oriented economy? Few jobs exist where one can just enter without an education and expect decent wages now that unions are branded the enemy (interns should form one), and those cushy, somewhat secure jobs weigh based on degrees, prestige, and connections. Classism exists, has been around for decades, and it extends far beyond architecture. The shallow discussion feels like a candidate for hashtag of the year along with #rapeculture and some other short-lived social issue. 

The B.Arch enables one to work right away. If one wants to work and license themselves, they can do that. The education is comprehensive enough and most likely leave a grad with only a bit of debt, I'd say 5-6000 at most depending on financial status. For our system, that's pretty good for a degree that is at least immediately employable and seen as a point where further advanced education is entirely optional. The 20,000 is in addition, not necessary--just like buying an extra car for those living on credit, they as adults need to decide whether the debt is good or bad. You never mentioned the mandatory Master's degree for Canada.--in most fields where advanced degrees are needed, there are often funded so the amount of debt varies. 

Student debt is not acceptable but that's the system now--we can talk about reform but that'll be years out. Our system leaves the lone student to fend for themselves unlike others who are propped up by a nation. Plenty here detest any sort of social welfare and seeing how the States has a deep history of anti-intellectualism, that explains the rationale.

Dec 12, 13 8:02 pm

That's a really good question, there's a growing detachment from construction and architecture thanks to the elite in architecture schools rapt up in theory without practice.

Feb 4, 14 1:07 pm

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