A few months ago I came across a blog post on Design Intelligence (one of my favorite blogs) about the University of Hartford setting up a student studio in the office space of a local architectural firm. What started off as an opportunity for a growing graduate school to use some excess space in a firm leftover from the effects of the recession, turned into an opportunity to possibly rethink how architecture education could be enhanced through an immersive experience. This idea was/is very appealing to me, but unfortunately I thought the article was more slanted toward the benefit to the students and it missed almost entirely how the firm could also benefit beyond filling vacant lease space.
As I read many of the comments on the blog post I found myself cringing at what I felt was a backwards attitude of the practitioners to what this particular studio opportunity might yield. The comments seemed focused on the “problem” as many of the architects stated, with schools not preparing students well enough for practice. The practitioners seemed only focused on how this studio would or should train the students, mold them before they graduate, make them more architect-like. I’ll accept that the more exposure students get to practice the more knowledge they gain. I’m a huge advocate to what they can learn through collaboration and about stakeholder objectives and design parameters that drive design decisions, and the challenges of running a business. Even better if the students get to actually experience these things through paid internships. However, the sentiment that schools are not preparing students for “the real world” seems to be one that has been around for quite some time, passed on from generation to generation. If this feeling has been around so long maybe it’s time to change our (the practitioners’) expectations and gain something as well.
If those of us in practice are looking for graduates to enter the workforce knowing everything (how projects get done, how the demands of clients, contractors, budgets, etc. shape the process and architecture) we miss a huge opportunity to learn from their unique perspective and to evolve our organizations. Perhaps one to the most valuable assets of the newly graduated beyond the obvious of bringing new ideas, new skills, new attitudes, is that they indeed don’t know everything and, since they don’t know everything and they are willing to ask us the tough questions, even better… for us! As we practice, the edges naturally get rounded off; we become more programmed, learning the tricks of the trade. We supposedly gain expertise but are we actually smarter, more innovative? We don’t often enough stop and ask ourselves if what we are doing and how we are doing it is still relevant and valid. That is what a tough question does: it makes us stop, think and hopefully open our minds to the possibilities never considered before. By this we evolve and change. What a great resource the emerging professional offers to help us evaluate things and think differently.
This firm in Hartford missed an opportunity. They could have “pinned-up” their work for the students to critique. Perhaps the students had some fresh ideas or they could even offer some effective presentation techniques. Maybe the architects might have learned from the students’ academic approach to research and to breaking a few rules that could be applied to practice and their projects.
Let’s be careful of believing that we have it all figured out with our years of experience. Let’s avoid trying to clone the profession and young architects. Maybe instead we need to listen and step aside (slightly).