We're Talkin' About Practice


Jen Maigret - Sufficiently Practical
During my first week on tenure-track as an assistant professor, I was offered two pieces of consequential advice. The first was to have lunch to meet a new colleague, “because you’ll love her and you have common interests.” The second “Take all of your licensing exams immediately. The field needs more licensed women.”
Of the two directives, lunch was lovely and productive—it led to a grant proposal and then to a practice partnership lasting 8 years that profoundly shaped the architect I am and the expertise I bring to my new role in practice. The second motivated me to take all seven licensing exams during the following summer.
My experience of studying for and taking these professional exams underscored the difficulty of both defining and assessing the knowledge and skills necessary to be an architect. And, provided occasional moments of humorous perspective including the day of my fourth exam when the test center receptionist recognized me and offered, “Don’t worry honey, you’ll get it this time!”
The content of the exams biased technical, explicit knowledge and required little to no relational problem solving or spatial thinking. At the same time, the breadth of knowledge assessed across these exams is significant and is one of many considerations at the heart of debates defining how tightly architectural curricula should be coupled or decoupled from architectural practice.
In the years since, I’ve often been called upon to defend the merit of the pedagogical approaches of architectural education when a “practitioner” recognizes my academic affiliation. Conversely, curricula frequently under represent the intellectual challenges presented by “pragmatic” aspects of architectural practice. In my view, both dispositions are narrow and unnecessarily preempt countless design opportunities. And by extension, these opportunities might find more room for growth and discovery when our own assumptions about “either or” move closer to “both and.”

Lucas Denit - Haiku About Practice
SD: Sounds Dull (yawn)
DD: Dunkin Donuts (slurp)
CD: Can't Do these

Sarah Munchow - Prepare to Learn
My experience in three years of graduate architecture school often felt like flailing around trying desperately to remember how to breathe. After ten months in practice, I’m still just beginning to scratch the surface. For everything I studied, and the variety of topics I was exposed to, I do not think architecture school “sufficiently” prepared me for practice. I don’t think it’s possible. This does not absolve educators and students from their duties in the academic setting; in my mind, it brings a sharper focus to what we should be trying to teach and learn.
Architecture is so many things—maybe that’s why we have internships before licensure, and why it’s called a “practice.” We keep trying. I think it is impossible to graduate from a program somehow magically prepared for everything a profession will throw at you, but what an academic program can do is prepare you for a life of learning. Did I feel confident in my design when I started working? No. Did I know the software I was required to use at my first job? No. Did I know standards, building code, the technical way things are put together and how to clearly communicate through drawing? Not really. But I knew when to ask questions, and I learned who to go to. I knew how to keep trying.

Stephanie Bunt - “Nope, but…”
Is architecture school sufficiently preparing the next generation of architects for architectural practice?
I often wonder, "who is even qualified to answer this question?" Is it a manager in an architecture firm, 30 years since their last class? Or is it the graduate student who, despite job experience, (most likely) has not held a manager position in architecture? As the latter, I'd say "nope." Architecture school teaches us to be designers...not architects. I learned more about being an architect from working as a project engineer for a year under a subcontractor on a large Lockheed Martin research warehouse–a position pretty far removed from the architecture design office.
Perhaps though, it is ok that architecture school does not prepare us for architecture practice. Because it is exactly that: Practice. The information can mostly only be learned through real world experience. And considering how many of my fellow classmates I see falling asleep in ARCH 583 Professional Practice, I wouldn’t say that all of the “next generation” takes preparing for architecture practice too seriously either… I say, let us have our design fun in architecture school, but require an internship for graduation to get our feet wet. I will reference a question I asked in my submission from KNOT 07 “just what are we trying to achieve in school, Knot readers?”

Doug Kelbaugh - Lingering Fallacies of Architectural Education?
I wrote this over a dozen years ago as part of a longer list of design fallacies. Is it still true??
“The Solo Artist” - Architecture teachers and students feel entitled to use buildings, which are commissioned and used by others, as vehicles for personal exploration and expression. Artistic originality and individual authorship are revered, part of our culture of celebrity. Howard Roark, Ayn Rand’s narcissistic hero and consummate soloist, may be the most influential architect of this era. Architecture is art, but more social and public art than fine art. It is also craft, which is different in that it builds on the past and doesn’t feel the need to continually overthrow conventions and traditions. The designer can show the same kind of respect for the shaping and joining of materials with the machine as much as with the hand. Digital technology is revolutionizing–in a good way–the relationship of the designer and the builder by merging them or making them more collaborative. It is the blending of art and craft, individual and collective expression, and form and function that set architecture apart from fine art.
“Mandatory Invention” - Many faculty and students also feel compelled to be perpetually inventive, provocative, or critical. The “shock of the new” is by now old, and it requires higher and higher voltage to surprise people. Audacity and perpetual change have become ends in themselves, rather than innovation that solves increasingly complex problems, not about novelty or invention for its own sake. The invention of new form has become just as slavish and hollow as the early Modernists once claimed about Beaux Arts eclecticism and historicism. Originality is not the same thing as creativity. Both require imagination, but creativity is less about making something new and original, and more about working within givens, constraints and larger systems.

Scott Deisher - Why Architecture?
This should be an easy one. It’s a question that comes up in casual conversation, small talk, and, most importantly, in job interviews. But each time I’ve tried to answer it, I’ve given a different, rambling, nonsensical response. During one of my first interviews for an internship, I answered: “there’s just something about it…” and trailed off like a whimsical knucklehead. I didn’t get an offer.
Large firms have quick taglines to answer this question: “leveraging the power of design to create a better world (Gensler),” “design to unite people and elevate the human spirit (HDR),” “creating places to enhance the human experience (HKS).” These statements are broad enough to work for corporations that need to serve thousands of different clients, but I think it’s safe to assume that each of us should have our own specific answer to such a crucial question.
In the canonical Towards a New Architecture, Le Corbusier alluded that architecture is the result of a problem well stated. Perhaps we might start to address the “academia/practice divide” if, for each project, we were tasked with devising our own well stated problems by asking “why?” Why are we doing projects on image, musicals, and the color purple? Why are we studying to become architects? Why architecture at all?