When I wrote my reaction to the new University of Minnesota program that essentially offers a one-year post doctoral path towards licensing, I realize that I created some confusion. Let me try to be clear.
First, I started my blog by saying that I “applaud the basic idea” of the program, but that I was troubled by the implication of one, and one aspect only: the emphasis on technical knowledge and the fact that obtaining this expertise was meant as a fix to get people towards licensure in a streamlined fashion. I did not criticize the program itself, and I hereby apologize for using the amount of ink it has generated to point out what I believe to be a much larger problem in the educational system in which architects are trained. I do not believe that the University of Minnesota program will make this situation better, but, if it makes it worse, it will only do so only by taking our attention away from what I think is the root problem here.
That problem, to reiterate, is the ever-increasing emphasis on professional skills and technical knowledge, and the de-emphasis on a four-year liberal arts training, which I believe to be the very best aspect of the American educational system. I believe this because I think we all need to be trained as citizens and members of a culture before we learn marketable and serviceable skills. We need to understand why and where we do what we do—we need a context.
My bias, and I am happy to defend it against the kind of vitriolic reaction that people seem to feel is necessary when discussing anything to do with professional licensure and permissible when responding to a blog post, is toward architecture as a cultural endeavor (hence the name of the tab under which you are reading this). That means that I believe that the making of buildings is a technical pursuit defined by scientific parameters that has to perform according to measurable standards, but that architecture is also the making of something more, something that has meaning and relevance and is worth an investment in both learning and in production that goes beyond what the making of a building would entail or cost.
If you do not agree with that, then it is natural to want architectural education to be as compact, focused, and efficient as possible. I would say that then the degree should then be a bachelor's or a master's in building realization, and the license should recognize you as a building maker or building manager.
Several people also pointed out that I lamented the increasing cost of education, while calling for the maintenance of a system that is lengthy and wasteful. That is true—it is one of the conundrums we face. I believe we need to figure out how to control the costs of a liberal arts education, but also need to invest in it as a society so we can all afford its blessings.
Finally, several responders pointed out that the path to becoming a licensed architect today is ponderous, long, and not always pleasant. I would agree. I do not, however, think that we can fix that by lengthening the amount of time dedicated to obtaining professional and technical skills at the expense of what should be the fun and is the important stuff: knowing yourself, your world, and why and how you make architecture, as opposed to buildings, in the first place.
Aaron Betsky is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.