Architecture's research dimension

September 12, 1997

Bryan Lawson wishes to designate as postgraduate the final two years of the five-year undergraduate course in architecture to solve a problem he perceives with the discipline's research dimension (THES, August 29). He has unquestionable expertise in architectural education and research but I believe that his solution in this instance would amount to the tail strangling rather than just wagging the dog.

With an international norm of five (sometimes six) years the length of course in the United Kingdom is not unusual, but even before post-Dearing changes students are incurring significant levels of debt and are destined for one of the lowliest-paid professions, with average annual earnings of about Pounds 25,000. Funding and places would be even harder to secure for both students and schools of architecture at postgraduate level. Not only would undergraduate education be unduly damaged but it seems likely that more of the abler students would use the option of completing the five years on a part-time basis, thus moving further away from research in academic institutions.

So the supposed solution might create a double jeopardy for the system, but I also have doubts about the nature of the problem. Architectural education has been wholly within state-funded higher education only since the 1960s; indeed, over half of the schools come from the teaching-oriented polytechnic sector, so have been in universities for less than a decade. There is continuing discussion about the nature of architectural research and its relationship to conventional academic research (some would say, for example, that it is best expressed in innovative buildings). This is in the context of wider debate about the nature and value of research evaluation itself and its balance with the status of teaching as such.

Against this background, I believe it is justifiable and preferable to see the glass as half full rather than half empty. It is creditable that a third of those eligible have achieved ratings of 4 or 5 and that about half are at 3 and above. There are also signs that national policy may change to enable some without detriment to focus more upon teaching excellence, which can only be positive.

The challenge really, therefore, is to ensure that architectural research is better supported, understood and disseminated. As a contribution to that, an international, refereed learned journal, was launched last year. Those wishing to contribute or subscribe should write to E&FN SPON, 2-6 Boundary Row, London SE1 8HN, http://architecture.

Peter Gibbs-Kennet

Director, education and professional development

RIBA (1980-95)

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