One size does not fit all could be the motto for professional architectural education. Students who want to become architects have two choices: Immediately following high school, students can enter a five-year Bachelor of Architecture degree program. Alternatively, students can wait until graduate school and earn a Master of Architecture degree, which typically requires three years for those with no prior architectural course work.

But those paths are diverging. The National Architectural Accrediting Board announced in 2000 plans to study the possible elimination of the B.Arch. degree. After opposition from many parties, NAAB decided to table the issue until next year. "Both degrees are valuable and viable," says Kenneth Schwartz, who is an associate professor of architecture at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, and whose term as NAAB president ended earlier this month. "The debate is not a front burner issue anymore" and designation of a single professional degree is unlikely, he says.

Nonetheless, some schools are moving toward elimination of their B.Arch. degrees. The University of Cincinnati is phasing out its five-year B.Arch. in favor of a six-year course of study that entails a four-year B.S. degree in architecture and a two-year M.Arch degree. Daniel Friedman, director of the university's School of Architecture and Interior Design, says that the nomenclature debate is not the motivation for the change. "This is a top to bottom renovation of our curriculum to meet the changing needs of practice," he notes.

EXPRESSION School prepares students to communicate
ideas visually.
(Photo courtesy of Cornell University.)

Friedman's comments suggest a larger debate about how prepared graduates are for entering the profession. Vivian Loftness, professor and head of the school of architecture at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, says that NAAB accreditation requirements have not yet caught up with the realities of increasingly complex architectural practice. For instance, requirements do not take into account the growing importance of programming and grant writing skills. However, because the list of services that architects perform is constantly growing, it is impossible to introduce students to all the tasks they will encounter in practice, according to Loftness. "Instead we teach students how to learn," she says.

Jonathan Ochshorn, associate professor and director of graduate studies at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., agrees, calling professional practice a "moving target." Although students are introduced to topics like contracts and code requirements, these issues remain abstract until they enter practice. "It is more important that they leave school with the ability to design," he says.

CONSTRUCTIBILITY Students gain an understanding of how difficult it is to build
what they draw.
(Photos courtesy of Penn State University.)

Many educators point to the impracticality of trying to replicate what will happen in an office. Students are rarely asked to work on all elements of a design problem, says Peter MacKeith, associate dean of the architecture department at Washington University, St. Louis. But as they progress in their academic careers, students are asked to produce more thoroughly developed projects that integrate knowledge gained in courses on structures and building systems. "However, to expect that a student will emerge fully formed is not realistic," he says.

Graduates are not considered full-fledged architects until they complete a period of paid internship in an architecture office and pass a set of licensing exams. And firms say they expect to play a large part in training these interns. "We don't expect schools to deliver a fully functional professional," says Ray Peloquin, vice president at RTKL, Baltimore.

New hires agree. "It would not be practical for a school to teach you to produce a set of construction documents. That is learned on the job," says Phil James, an architect-in-training in Peloquin's office who graduated in May 2001 with a B.Arch. from Syracuse University, Syracuse, N.Y. He says his education provided him with a core of knowledge, his own design sense and the ability to take criticism.

When hiring recent graduates, practitioners say they look for applicants with strong problem-solving and computer skills and the ability to express ideas visually. "The rudiments of how a wall section is put together can be taught in practice," says Aaron Schwarz, a principal and director at Perkins Eastman, New York City. "However, a young architect will never be able to acquire that skill if he or she has not been trained in problem solving and cannot communicate with drawings."


Although firms expect to contribute heavily to the development of young architects, most prefer to hire those with some work experience. Not surprisingly, new graduates who have previously worked in the prospective employer's own firm are especially attractive. "We hire between 60 and 70 students each summer and encourage them to return after graduation," says Mountain View, Calif.-based Robert Cavigli, president of HDR Architecture Inc. Most new graduates are not immediately productive in practice, but those who have gone through the firm's summer program become "instant employees," he says.

Some schools are responding to firms' desire for graduates who are already well-acquainted with the professional environment by incorporating work requirements into their curricula. Students at the University of Cincinnati must complete between 2,800 and 3,200 hours of paid employment in a firm before graduation. "The curriculum accelerates students' trajectory into the the market," says Friedman.

Many professionals look for experience working in teams, given the collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of architecture. "I am encouraged when applicants can talk about a team experience and [can identify] their contribution," says Kenny Turner, a design studio head at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Chicago. RTKL's Peloquin also asks applicants to point out team projects in portfolios.

Educators say that schools are placing more emphasis on group work than ever before, and that much of this work is interdisciplinary. At Syracuse, architecture students, along with their counterparts from the schools of arts and sciences, public policy and law, can enroll in a program called "The Community Design Center Workshop." Participants help develop neighborhood revitalization plans and schemes for local non-profit organizations that do not have resources to hire professionals. "That's what practice is. It is not just sitting alone at your drawing board and dreaming," says Arthur McDonald, interim dean of the university's School of Architecture.

Programs that offer the opportunity to design facilities for the poor, and especially those programs that also offer the chance for hands-on construction, have struck a chord with students. "Design-build studios have seized students' imaginations," says Daniel Willis, department head of architecture at Pennsylvania State University, University Park.

This past summer, Penn State students in architecture and architectural engineering, and architecture students from the University of Washington, Seattle, built a 1,500-sq-ft straw-bale literacy center for a community of Northern Cheyenne in Lame Deer, Mont. In addition to its social component, the Montana studio gives students construction experience, "although it does not necessarily prepare them to be builders," says Scott Wing, a Penn State associate professor of architecture and a studio coordinator. But "it does give students technical awareness and a sense of how difficult it is to build what they draw," he adds.

The best-known of these design-build programs is the Rural Studio at Auburn University, Auburn, Ala. Since the studio's founding in the early 1990s by professors D.K. Ruth and the late Samuel Mockbee, students have designed and built housing and community facilities for residents of Hale County, which is southwest of Birmingham and has a 40% poverty rate. "The program has a social as well as architectural agenda and is based on the belief that architecture can help people," says Bruce Lindsey, head of Auburn's School of Architecture.

The dynamics of teamwork was one of the lessons of the Rural Studio experience for Jared Fulton, who graduated from Auburn's B.Arch. program in May. For his thesis project, Fulton, along with three other students, spent more than a year designing and building a church for a Baptist congregation near Greensboro, Ala. "There was no real leader, and it was often tough to decide who was delegating," he says. But the real reward was "the chance to really get to know the client and the opportunity to put myself in someone else's shoes."

Click here for listings of U.S. Architecture Schools >>

Click here for the U.S. Civil Engineering Schools story >>
Click here for the U.S. Construction Schools story >>