Surviving the Design Studio: Symptoms and cures of design jury anxiety.

Archigram and Anxiety

I am pretty busy this week (conference paper writing) and mid-semester crits are looming at my graduate architecture school on the periphery of the global architectural system. So I thought it timely to republish this blog from last year.

The above Archigram image is mean to soothe even the most anxious architecture student.In fact whenever I get tense or uptight about architecture I pop out, have a cup of tea, and look at a  bit of Archigram. They were a pretty relaxed bunch of dudes. (doods being the operative word). In fact Peter Cook’s recent exhibition at the Bartlett has just closed last week celebrating his 80th. Rumour has it that somewhere in the archive of the 1960s there is a picture of PC in a kind of Emma Peel Avengers style PVC jumpsuit. I would give my back teeth to see that and it would it would make a great paper on taste-making and gender in the architecture of the 1960s. Of course such a paper would have to discuss Reyner Banham’s rants about Jane Fonda in the Barbarella film. There is a it about it here. Maybe those smart-arse and well funded researchers at Princeton should examine this stuff.

Cookie and the other GUYS in Archigram never really got too anxious  as they were all to busy playing footsies with the girls under the table, drinking tea, and smoking huge spliffs. Not surprising that the girls in the back row never really made the club.

Looking at Archigram projects, and following in their anxiety reducing practices,  may be one way to cure anxiety. But Anxiety is one of the most debilitating things that can beset you prior to the design jury or a crit. It’s hard enough being an architecture student. No money, long hours, and the struggle to learn a complex discipline. Pre-design crit anxiety can be crippling. It can certainly stop you from working effectively and it can prevent you from communicating your ideas and what you have done effectively in the actual crit. You are not alone almost every architect or architecture student has had to face this anxiety.

The Looming Deadline 

Of course, it is worse if you are approaching a project deadline or the end of semester. It is worse if you do not think that your tutors, or the client group, or a consultant, is not on your side. It is also worse if you feel that maybe you haven’t done enough work and it is even worse when you are earnestly struggling to build your skills, design confidence and resilience.

I am writing this from a number of perspectives. Firstly, as someone who knows what it is like to be anxious about a studio crit or a meeting. But also as someone who is on the other side as a critic who has seen the anxiety of architects and architecture students. As a young design tutor straight out of my cultish architecture school I was a somewhat fierce and unreasonable critic who developed a reputation for making students cry and jumping on models. Thankfully, after 30 years those people have forgiven me and I now realise how reprehensible and disgusting my earlier behaviour was.

There are of course a number of things you can do to manage the situation and manage your anxiety before that terrifying crit or design jury. Here are my suggestions:

Sympton 1: Thinking the worst

 Your imagination can run wild, you can think that the worst will happen. You will be cut down by other architects, the client or jury members, and you will be humiliated amongst your peers. I suffered from this and it can be debilitating. Don’t replay in your imagination the worst things that people might say to you.

Cure: Remembering most critics are interested and want to help.  

Thinking that the worst can happen is never good. I have been in and seen some pretty bad crits in my life. But, nowadays days these are extremely rare. Most design jurors and critter people in the 21st century are a pretty decent lot. Find out from your tutor who they are and do a bit of research. Usually, they are attending because they are either a convenient friend of your tutor or they have some kind of special expertise that is relevant to the studio.

They will probably not tell you that your work is appalling or rip the prints of the wall or jump on your model. It is unlikely they will belittle you or humiliate you.

They will tell you what they think and usually they try to be honest. Mostly, they will be interested in what you have done.

If you feel anxious before the crit try imaging the sort of interesting questions they might ask you. Make a plan for what you will do before the crit and what you will say. Don’t just turn up and wing it. Be prepared. Making a plan of what you will say and even practicing it in front of a mirror before hand will help you minimise your own anxieties. In other words, imagine them asking you the questions you want them to ask. Imagine the crit going well rehearse what you a going to say using this formula set out in my previous blog.

Symptom 2: Over work anxiety, 

 Anxiety feeds off overwork. Not enough fun or enough rest will fuel it. After my own architecture thesis I went camping on a river and just sat in a camp chair for about ten days and did not move. I was so burnt out from overwork. This can happen to anyone no matter how old you are. I have known student’s who haven’t stopped working hard since high school. At some point they discover they need a break because they are really burnt out.

Working all night will fuel pre-crit anxiety. Not getting enough exercise will make you more anxious. Or just have a rest or go out and play with your friends. There is no point working and working and working and getting so tired. If you are tired before the crit your anxiety will be harder to manage.

Cure: Have fun and get balanced.

If it gets really bad go for a walk. Go to the pub. Go shopping. Go out with friends. Sometime you can overdose, and burnout, on a design project or a studio or even a course. Read this.

Be mindful, try meditating, there are some really good apps you can get that will lead you through some great mindfulness exercises.

Symptom 3: The best friend of Anxiety is procrastination.

I might have said this here before on this blog, but procrastinating, by deferring the activity of design and design gestures, will only make your anxiety worse. Designing is a labour intensive exercise (especially if you are using a computer). Putting it off only means you have to do the same amount of work in less time. Designs are not made and fully formed in the brain and then exactly transferred to the computer or paper or the physical model. If only we could do this life would be so much easier. Designing takes time.

Cure: Work constantly.

Reading, researching, writing little notes, thinking while drinking that batch brew or Aero press coffee, going to the fridge and eating, web surfing and Google searching are all the fabulous ways to defer the actual act of designing. The problem is designing is about either physical or digital drawing and the sooner you start the better. You will be less stressed if you work constantly throughout the studio and avoid procrastination. If you do feel stuck get help or advice from your tutor to get unstuck.

Symptom 4: The other people are always better

 There will always be someone in your studio who seems better, smarter, more creative and more like one of those over-confident alpha-male architects. Thinking this is real recipe for anxiety. You will always be your own worst critic and these other people will always seem better. I mean who needs design tutors or guest critics when you are so good at demolishing your own design thinking and ideas?

Cure: Run your own design race.

It’s best to solve your own problems rather blaming others or being focused on your fellow studio members. Run your own race. Believe me you will actually end up doing better. Focusing and comparing yourself to others is waste of energy. They will always seem better and if you think like this your anxiety will easily be fuelled.

Symptom 5: Critical negativity

Also, don’t compete against yourself. Know when to give yourself a break and when to be critical of your own judgements. Too often I see students tied up in knots and paralysed by their own critical negativity. As designers we need to question. But we don’t need to question every single tiny thing related to a building design. The worse architecture schools on the planet are the ones who promote this kind of claptrap critical negative method.

Cure: Remember there are no right answers

Sometimes it’s often better to design something, anything really, even if you think it might be “wrong”. The alternative is always to be searching for the “right” or correct idea and that is an ideal that doesn’t exist. Or after you have developed an idea for a while in your design its thrown it out and everything else with it. Because it is not correct. I see a lot of this. To develop design confidence and resilience you need practice in developing a design.

Symptom 6: Don’t kick the cat; or anyone else for that matter.

This is a rare, but not uncommon, symptom of anxious students. People and indeed architects under pressure who get extremely anxious sometimes release that pressure by lashing out at their pets or others. Please don’t kick your dog or cat when you get anxious about the upcoming crit. It is also really good idea to not lash out or blame your tutor, or your fellow classmates, for your anxiety. Usually your design tutor is trying their best to guide you and get you through.

Also, speaking from experience, your tutor will not think highly of you if you do this. I am usually relatively understanding if someone lashes out at me when they are under pressure during the studio. There is not a lot I can do when it happens. But, as a tutor it is not pleasant and usually it means that after the studio is finished I don’t really want to have much to do with the lasher-outer type.

Cure: Don’t bottle things up and build ongoing relationships.

Instead of lashing out talk to your tutors and your peers about your fears and anxieties. You might find everyone, tutors included, are just as worried as you are. Try and remember that after the studio has finished the most important thing you can do as an architecture student is to retain and have a continuing relationship with your peers and those who have taught you as an architect. Each studio is an opportunity to build your future professional networks.

Symptom 7: So maybe you haven’t done a lot of work and that’s why you are anxious.

 Yep. You realise there is only two weeks left in the studio and the deadline is looming. You are definitely going down the tubes because you did not do enough work earlier in the semester. You are running out of time. You have been too busy having fun or you haven’t really been thinking about the time. You are not sure how you are going to actually get everything done. Even if you work all day and all night you think that you are going to fail.

Cure: Get help

Symptom 7, along with just about everything symptom above, is best cured by getting help.

Tell your tutor your predicament. Most tutors will be sympathetic. Most tutors want you to pass and even if they recognise that you have done no work they will still help you. But to do that you need to get their help and you need to be honest and realistic about what you need to do. Talk to your friends try to enlist their help as well.


If of course your anxiety is becoming to much of a burden you may need to get help from a counsellor or your GP. Most universities and architecture schools have avenues and contacts that can help you overcome anxiety. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is to think you can just push through and ride out the anxiety. It’s a lot easier if you always get help and remember that you are not invincible. The most important thing to remember is that you are not the only one to ever feel anxiety prior to a design crit.

It could always be worse imagine if it was Cookie and his crew you had to present to.

What makes a great architecture school? Why its time to dismantle the pedigrees.

So what makes a good architecture school? Everyone seems to have an opinion about it. It’s a complex area. Some architects wonder why the graduates of architecture schools are not technically skilled or seem totally useless. A largely baseless and crude accusation that contributes nothing tot he debate. Any attempt to either consult or change the curricula with the professional bodies outside of university is fraught with petty politics. Architectural academics (and most have a foot in the real world) are totally constrained by a wider regulatory regime that both hampers their ability to create knowledge and then does not fully account for that knowledge when it is created.

My life as an architecture student. 

There is still no research infrastructure to count, yes actually count for, for architectural designs and projects produced in and alongside the academy. This is scandalous and something that the wider profession needs to address. Every time I collaborate on a project or a competition it is not counted in university research metrics. In contrast it me took me ten years (more by the time I graduated) do my architecture degree. This was a combination part-time work, a year working in a sheet metal factory, self-education through reading, feeling the need to prepare for 6 months before I did the next studio and hanging out with my employer the Master smoking cigarettes. When I wasn’t driving the Mater’s car on errands (or stacking it) we often talked, yes actually talked, about architecture.  Thanks to the Whitlam program I was the first in my family to go the university.

Students are forced to pay exorbitant fees and as a result just want to get in and get out. Now more dawdling. No more leisurely processes of self-education. No more long chats about architecture and life, the universe and everything. , any attempt to educate students more deeply beyond the contents of packaged up, templated and accreditated university courses and subject’s is fraught. It’s really different now and some would argue this new environment has corroded our public life.

The contrasting idea is that architecture itself is a comprehensible system, and architecture schools embody a system of education that both shapes and  supports the canons and norms of the discipline.  It’s the Bauhaus (being a prime example of a systematised education) idea of architectural education.


I have always suspected that a few people around my provincial town (secretly I am one of them as well) are enamoured with the IAUV and the so-called Venice School of architecture.  A school that was presided over by the provincial “barbarian” Guiseppe Samona. Think a melange of Rossi’s types and Giorgio Grassi’s realism and Gregotti, a deft nod to the theorist Cacciari & historian Tafuri, and the urban realism of Aymonino. For a Melbourne suburban boy Italian architecture is all pretty intoxicating.

Parametricism 2.0 

Of course, schools can be seen to be evil. As recently as last year Schoomee (Patrik Schumacher) was pretty pissed writing that:

This turn away from Parametricism is most conspicuous within the former hotbeds of the movement such as the Architectural Association (AA) in London and Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) in New York. Another indication is the general backlash against ‘iconic’ architecture in architectural criticism, and the recent proliferation of a frugal Neo-Rationalism. The anti-icon polemic misunderstands that an architecture that is rigorously developed on the basis of radically new, innovative principles becomes conspicuous by default rather than by intention. Both the anti-icon and NeoRationalist camps fail to recognise that the new societal complexity calls for urban and architectural complexity.

I love reading the stuff Schumaker (spelling?) writes its so kerazy and the above quote pretty much says it all and points to the grip that the “pedigreed” and branded schools have on our disciplines. Schools, whose graduates are them hoovered into the intern machines of the star architects Like his own. Perhaps, Schoomey should start his own Schumaccher school.

There are a few glimmers of hope around the place. On the West Coast. The Free Architecture School is being set up by Peter Zellner and it appears to contest the prevailing and pedigreed paradigms of what architecture schools should be like.”

“Many schools of architecture […] now find themselves mired in various forms of academic cult worship: digital traditionalisms, faux-art fetishisms, silly mannerist dead-ends, philosopher-shaman worship, and other neoconservative returns.”

“Several generations of students were robbed of their voices and their right to grow potent individual practices,”

Zellner argued that a post-studio model of architectural teaching, one which is founded on open conversation, student autonomy and critique, “now seems imperative and necessary” to unshackle students and teachers alike from the master–disciple model of teaching..

Peter Zellner is right. A really great architecture school would be self governing: students would be involved in its processes of decision making and production, it would have no pedigree except for what it night produce at a particular moment in time. It would experiment across the territories that only diversity can engender. It would generate open conversations and ideas that would be debated in civil society.  It would be a system that would produce new ideas for the discipline rather than imposing pedagogical strictures or reinforcing pedigrees.

In some ways all of these elements were present, to an extent, at the architecture school I attended. As well as the one I am now at. But we need more than just elements; we need radically different modes of teaching and learning in architecture. To say the least, the neoliberal turn in higher education policy has not really helped architecture.  A great architecture school is a crucible for all of the wild and crazy ways of architects and architecture.




Architects, Branding and Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Things are in full swing here. The place is full of students and the bicycle park is full by the time I get in everyday. I am “under the pump” as they say and this may be why there were so many typos in the first posting of this. 

Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

As a profession in some ways architects have all the characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The common complaints by clients and of course other members of the construction industry are: grandiosity, lack of empathy for others and a need for admiration; a common willingness to be arrogant, self-centred, manipulative, and demanding. This is of course a harsh assessment and many other groups in our industry also suffer from these traits. Especially, Project Managers and contractors !  People with NPD, Narcissistic Personality Disorder often believe they are superior or special. We all know people like this.

Arguably, some of these narcissistic traits are needed to get architecturally designed projects built, in a world that seems not to care about architecture, design or aesthetics. A world that really doesn’t care about design value. It may be because architects go against the normal grain of “cheaper and quicker is better,” and actually care about design, that they are seen by others as being narcissistic.

However, there is one area where I wonder if the self-regard and narcissism of architects is skewed.  This week in the MSD Architectural Practice class we ran a Q&A panel on architects and branding. One theme that came out of this panel  was the fact that architects were great at producing awesome renders and most, although I would say not all, have a pretty good idea about communications design and graphics. Yes, all of those things are taught at architecture school. We are good at building brands for other people like developers. But I think that is the problem. That’s all we architects are good at; we are only good at doing the renders and the graphics for the designs. As a result, we think we a really good at branding because these activities have visual components. But being the narcissistic profession, that we are, we then think this is all you need to do. We too often reflect and bask in the glory of our own technical skills.

Knowing a little about computer generated renders and graphic design does not necessarily mean architects know much about branding. This is an even more pressing issue as branding is now  more complicated in an era of ubiquitous computing, customised advertising, the rise influencers, the proliferation of social media channels. Data analytics of consumer preferences is now a dark art and few architects understand it. The shift to the very short digital film clip as the most common form of communication is smoething that seems to have eluded us.

Branding for architects isn’t just about a few slick images and a funny cute name. Its not something you can do in an afternoon in the office (unlike a blog full of typos).  As Verity Campbell reminded me at our Q&A session architects really need to think about how our representational, images, logos, names and graphics are seen by others. Architects need to bridge the communication gap between ourselves our clients and community.

At the firm level. 

Branding is about  distinction and positioning. What’s the point of every architect in town claiming to do sustainable design. When I searched for sustainable architects in my city I got 684,000 results in less than a second. I couldn’t believe this search result. Whats the point of doing a website that seems more like a hodge-podge of quirky graphics that does your head in when your cursor tries to engage with it. Or loads so slowly you have a aneurysm waiting. At my age aneurysms are a real issue when you are looking at slow moving web sites. All of  this hokey pokey branding schmaltz is like the caricature of the architect with the Corbusian glasses in black with the Comme des Garcon jacket driving to the site meeting in a Citroen.

As noted at our panel architects need to develop marketing and branding techniques that uniquely position themselves. This is a common error. For example when you find blurbs on websites like this. (I have redacted a few things to avoid mutual embarrassment).

and the combined experience of the office ranges from significant major projects in Melbourne, to many small and site specific projects, and international works. Our activity, interests and expertise, ranges from urban design to interiors and furniture – architecture in its broad sense.

We bring design to a broad set of situations and audiences, including peripheral locations, difficult problems and tight budgets. We aim for our work to participate in the widest environment it can; in new forms of communication, in sensitive natural environments, new types of cities, and with ordinary life.

Yip. All things to all people. Everywhere. How can the above be seen as effective branding? Yet, this is the mistake that is commonly made. I am sick of reading about what architects could do: Anything you ask them to do apparently? Or what they are like: creative, smart, experienced etc. etc. Most potential clients probably what to know what architects are doing, what they have done and how they are actually different to the tens of thousands of other sustainable design orientated architects in the universe. Maybe this is why I like the Assemble web site so much as a model.

At the community level

Our professional associations need to get much better at marketing and promoting architecture. Lamb does it and now they kind of own Australia Day. I am actually not sure how many punters are going to get to this “find your architect” AIA page  deep inside what is essentially an industry association website.

The AIA 2017 National conference is called PRAXIS. Holy Sardine Batman ! At least there is a bit of diversity in the speaker line up. Of course, when I think of the word PRAXIS I think of Deleuze & Guattari. But its just lots of architects talking about architecture. At least you get a tax deduction. Maybe the conference needs to include more punters, more real people, more politicians, policy experts, and more decision makers and be seen as means to market what we are as a profession to these broader groups.

In Australia the individual AIA chapters have Twitter accounts, the  National AIA Twitter account seems to have tweets few and far between. The account that has over 23,000 followers but just seems to feature a lot of stuff about the AIA conference and little that would be engaging to the punters, decision-makers or any one else for that matter. It’s a real snooze fest.

There is no obvious involvement through these channels in promoting architecture as anything beyond a kind of slick image marketing brochure. No wonder the punters think we work for the rich Kardashians. There is no deeper engagement, through all of these channels, with the policies and dilemmas of architecture in our time. I know I am biased but Parlour is a much better model of how to do things. At least the Parlour Instagram account doesn’t send you to sleep.

The last upload to the AIA Youtube site was about 2 months ago. Whoops that was the wrong link ! Here is the real AIA website. This doesn’t really appear to be a direct or crafted communications strategy that would link architects to anyone, except for maybe: other architects. No wonder we are too often, and unfairly, regarded as narcissistic out of touch idiots. At least we are fashionably dressed and have nice, although ineffective, websites.






Design Leadership for Architects?

Design Week is almost here in my antipodean city on the edge of the global galactic system of architecture. There are lots of great events, including this one with GT2P, even for those of us with the most cynical and jaded of architectural hearts. There is lots of stuff about how we might value design but not a lot about design leadership specifically. Effective design leadership is really about promoting the value of design in our communities and actually working to increase its value. It should also have an activist component.

We don’t teach design leadership in architecture, landscape architecture or urban design. Leadership studies are broadly a branch of the management and organisational sciences. As a field of knowledge Leadership sits somewhere between management and sociology. Architecture has been so insidiously structured by the mythology of the singular male genius that any objective talk of organisational leadership and its conduct in architecture is usually greeted with silent derision. I know at least one architecture school where that is the case. No prizes for guessing which one (not mine). This approach certainly shuts down any sense of more inclusive notions of leadership. Not only are diverse teams needed in architecture but architects need to understand how to manage these teams. If collaborative models of practice are the future of architecture, as some would suggest, then leadership is an essential component of that.

It is the more inclusive, expansive and indeed realist notions of leadership that we really need to teach in Architetcure and our related disciplines.

Design leadership requires a knowledge of design processes that isn’t simply about waiting around for the big idea. Or having a whole lot of wholesome intentions (like sustainability) that you throw into the mix. Design processes can be learnt by most people and are counter to the view that some people just have “it”. That is to say that there is a secret source (sauce?)  code of creativity that only some people have.

I think both schools and practices (in their career development programs) need to encourage, teach and actively foster, through mentorship, design leadership. I think two areas need to be covered: Knowledge and Implementation skills.


Innovation and Commercialisation

The dark arts of intellectual property creation and management. Start-up processes and venture capital phases need to be understood. There is a whole range of things in the start-up system design leaders should understand. For example, the differences between seed and start-up capital, development capital, dilution of founder’s equity, trademarks and patents are all concepts architects should be familiar with.

Concepts related to innovation systems and policy also need to be apprehended and understood by design leaders in architecture.

Knowledge of the Canon

Design leader in architecture need an extensive knowledge of architectural history, theory typologies and morphologies. Last week in the practice class we asked everyone if they know who Tadao Ando and I was surprised by the number of blank looks. I don’t think this is the fault of teaching architectural historians. But I do think anything we can do to remind young architects that the canon is historical and it comprised by both a physical and digital realm. Trickle down web histories, and the latest meme or viral concept can be really superficial and don’t really cut it as architectural history.

Design Futures 

Design leaders need to understand futures and I don’t just mean cooking up a whacky scheme of for a post icecap melt flooded city or suburb or city flooded. (why do we keep seeing this stuff; can you imagine what a flooded city might really be like?). Our future speculations need to adopt advanced tools of scenario planning and modelling not just spitting out a few renders of domes on the moon with Tesla batteries.

Implementation Skills. 

Design Teams 

Essential for design leaderships is for design leaders to understand the dynamics of team processes. This requires self-reflection on the part of a design leader to be able to manage a diverse team rather than a team created in their own image. Look around the office you are currently working in does everyone look the same, did they go to the same graduate school or come from the same social milieu? The best teams are diverse teams and the best design leaders are the ones who can manage this.

Design Processes 

The better design leaders will be the ones who can manage design processes that are not simply linear and contain within them high degrees of ambiguity. Excellence in design leadership is about being able to create, generate and manage seemingly paradoxical ideas and processes; and doing this in a team. Great design leaders are the one who not just top down decision makers but are able to reconcile bottom up, or emerging design strategies, with strategic, seemingly, top down priorities. Knowing the difference between structured decision-making leading to incremental change and more creative generative approaches is critical. Knowing when to employ processes of creative destruction (and not just at the last fucking minute before the tender is due to go out) and processes that generate radical ideas and solutions in a given context is important.

Design leadership is about timing these different modes of idea generation.

Design Collaboration and Negotiation 

Collaboration and negotiation are basic skills that architects need to develop. It is oh so much easier to adopt a model of design leadership that is top down, transactional and seeks to reward and punish people (usually staff). That is way of managing that is inherently violent. It is violent because it is a process that grants and removes resources at will. The “good’ staff are rewarded and the “bad” staff are punished. It’s a model that seems to permeate architectural office and design studios. Great design leaders have the ability to see the good things in all members and instead of writing of the “bad” ones use their views to generate new insights about a conceptual design or as the design develops.

Irksome things (to me at least)

Design leadership studies and research can bring together and integrates the different sub-disciplines that define our field. It’s a little scary when you look at entire new courses and subjects being devised in architecture schools and there are no subjects or courses on leadership. Of course they are full of all sorts of technical things, construction, digital technology, and the one I really hate: sustainability. How did sustainability studies become reduced to the technical intricacies of architectural science or cranking the handle of the LEED or Green Star ratings. Why isn’t it about shifting the weight of a Carbon system to something completely different in a few short decades?

I hate those all-purpose sustainability mission statements about seeing things holistically, and being “organic” and being nice to Gaia and all it boils down to is a bit of facade design and a few plants thrown onto the facades. This design week event is more like it. If architects were really honest as a  discipline they would rename sustainability studies and call them decarbonising studies or extinction or degradation studies.

Finally Activism. 

Design leadership is about activism. I think this means be explicit about the political in architecture. Good design leadership is about knowing where you stand. It is about knowing what the political tradeoffs are in a given context of patronage and institutional logics. I don’t think we can afford to pretend that architecture is apolitical. It never was in the first place and it’s a pity the parametric technologists don’t get this. Otherwise you are just blowing with the wind and that is not really what design leadership should be about.






Surviving the Design Studio: How should we teach and research Architectural Practice?

Teaching for our subject Architectural Practice at MSD has started this semester. This year we are trialling a series of hour long Q&A sessions. The first panel session was on inclusiveness in the profession; a pretty big subject that deserves an entire subject or seminar series.  It’s a pity I have to teach all the content in Practice the way that I do. Squeezing anything into the syllabus outside of the accepted accreditation requirements or competency standards is always  a problem. Nonetheless, his year at MSD we are going to have panel sessions on fee cutting, branding, cross-disciplinary collaboration, innovation and risk. The extra content we don’t normally  cover. We will probably finish off the semester with a Q&A panel on diversity, intersectionality and career pathways.

By the time we teach everything else that we need to teach in the Practice subject, in order to meet the accreditation requirements, there is not a lot of time left for the really big issues facing the profession. In many respects the accreditation requirements and Australian competency standards seem to reinforce some of the myths that bedevil architectural discourse and culture. As we touched on in last week’s panel, on diversity and inclusiveness, the guidelines appear to reinforce the notion that the only way to Practice is via traditional practice. I call it the Wilkinson-Eyre model of practice. Yet there are many different ways to be an architect. Yet architecture seems imprisoned by the traditional mythologies of masculine and male creative genius, the pedigrees of client patronage, race and class, as well as the binary split between design creativity and business. All of these things seem to reinforce the idea that practice is not a place where discussions around diversity or inequity should take place (there is a lot to cover and this is why I also teach an elective called Design Activism).

In the olden days, there was subject on Specifications. This is now covered as one lecture in our Architectural Practice subject. In the olden days, there were subjects that addressed contract documentation strategies and workflows. We now cover this in practice in one tiny lecture. The same for Contract Management which is now covered in Practice and yet it should probably be a separate subject. These days I think we all benefit if the teaching of Architectural Practice is seen as being more of a contested area. I have no problem with that. A place where debates around the profession and its relationship to various issues can take place.

Architectural Practice is too often an incredibly contested area in the wrong ways. One of the older binaries that seem to pervade it is that one between the real world and academia. It’s always been oh so easy for practitioners to come to the university and look at the work and say the graduates: can’t do this, or they can’t do that. I have seen this happen on numerous occasions during various accreditation panels. Some architectural employers don’t want graduates that have been taught to think but to simply fit into the cogs of that CAD monkey documentation machine. This is a simplistic binary debate, and it’s a pretty easy criticism to utter, and in the end only diminishes architecture as a profession. The real problem is that some voices are too often silenced or not heard when these simplistic aphorisms get trotted out. For example, the graduates who are paid poorly by practices, work long hours and don’t get paid overtime. Or the people of difference who don’t make the so-called grade at Wilkinson Eyre.

It was suggested to me recently that the architecture curricula was simply about teaching design, technology, history and theory. I thought WTF? As an integrated subject Practice, should be both reflective of the debates in contemporary architecture and give young architects their first insights into a range of things. The strategic management of technology for example. Or knowing how to negotiate or consult with a client or a developer or a marginalised community group for another.  Teaching young architects to write business plans so they can find pathways through financial economics in order to not economically exploit others when they come to direct practices themselves (This week our Q&A style panel in is on fee cutting).

Traditionally, Practice has always taught by male architects who by and large seemed to wear suits and seem to know something about money in a kind of worldly sense (I am one of those; but sometimes I don’t wear the suit). As a subject Practice, was and is, for the most part sequestered from design in graduate architecture schools across the world. It is either often forgotten or seen as something that has nothing to do with either design, technology or even history and theory. It is presumed to be a practical subject that somehow teaches architectural students about the “real world.” But this image of the real world is a shibboleth. This is because I know of few architecture schools, where teaching cross-cultural negotiation skills, or stuff like the darker arts of social media branding, or the banalities of cash flow forecasting is thought about. I know of one architecture school, so notoriously attracted and addicted to its own tiny autonomous discourse, that if you mentioned any of this stuff they would stereotype you as a “non-designer” and relegate you a long way down their coveted pecking order of young and emerging star architects.Of course, as we know from other domains of knowledge, that economics. sociology and the management sciences are fields that are valuable to encounter intellectually.

This forgetting of Practice reinforces the worse mythologies of practice itself. The way we practice architecture needs to be dismantled through more effective ethnographic and empirical research using methods dragged in from other domains. Even in the UK field of Construction Management, as a result of an interest in the sociological and management sciences, there has developed over the last 10 years focused research studies on: technology take-up, sustainability, innovation, immigrant labour flows, as well as the inequities of pre-formed racial and gender identities in construction. By contrast in architecture all we seem to do is something called design research (I am still to figure out what that is) a bit of do-gooder sustainability (despite the fact that we are facing extinction as a species) and a whole lot of technical research using robots, 3D printers and Virtual and Augmented reality.

This focus on the technical only seems to reinforce the new image of the young architect as a kind of sneakerboy guru of Rhino or Grasshopper. Someone, I know went to an international robotics in architecture conference to find it was full of hundreds of blokes with less than a handful of woman represented. Even in the sixties, another time of technological obsession in architecture, figures like Archigram and Reyner Banham had a Boys-and-their-Toys fetish about computers, space ships and industrialised building. Not sure if a lot has changed.

For me it is the historians and architectural theorists who are doing the most interesting research in architecture. These areas, as well as research into practice, more often than not, get squeezed in research funding rounds in favour of technology, sustainability and construction. I think the profession at large needs to think more carefully about what it means to practice, beyond the narrow models, pedigrees and mythologies that have pervaded architectural culture for the last million years. Maybe, thats why in all of this it was good to see three (yes, three!) Catalan architects get the 2017 Pritzker Prize. The question of what practice is, who can practice and who does practice should be reflected in both academic and professional development programs, accreditation guidelines, curricula and syllabi.

But to really teach practice I think we need to teach young architects how to chain themselves to the gate of a coal mine. Or how to work directly with colonised groups. Or how to reflect on their own genders and backgrounds. Architecture school is the place for the messy debates that will hopefully dismantle and decolonise architecture’s current subjectivities, pedigrees, rituals of taste-making and mythologies. Architecture school is the place where the politics of global economics confronts the new and emerging forms and structures of architectural practice itself. Most traditional practice courses have avoided building into their framework these perspectives, and sadly in most architectural schools architectural practice seems to get forgotten. These are the issues that should be central to the teaching of practice. In fact, as architects we should all be teaching these things in our firms and in schools of architecture.