Calls for shake-up of architectural and construction training and practise

Industry leaders want greater focus on design innovation to protect the future of the built environment

Industry experts are calling for a shake-up in the way architects and other building specialists are trained and how they practise, with less emphasis on protection and legislation and more focus on design innovation.

A recent debate hosted by Ryder Architecture brought together key players from across the industry, who slammed current teaching practices and called for reforms to all aspects of built environment education in the UK.

The main areas of concern raised during the event included the need for schools to rethink how they train students and to engage more with industry. For example, in architectural training it is felt the existing Architects Registration Board (ARB) and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) framework is stifling progress, is overly regulated and conservative and is becoming difficult to sustain financially.

The education of built environment professionals should be provided jointly by academia and industry and offer wide-ranging and flexible learning journeys so that we benefit from diverse views and approaches

The NVQ structure and apprenticeship schemes were also slammed as being unfit for purpose and for failing to address future needs and likely skills shortages.

As well as criticism being levelled at the architectural sector, the construction industry was also described as ‘notoriously fragmented’, undervaluing, misunderstanding and miscommunicating individual and combined disciplines and collaborative practice.

Delegates are now calling for a shake-up to encourage ‘free-thinking, broad-minded professionals’ who think ‘less about protection and legislation and more about what our built environment really needs’.

Tristram Carfrae, leader of building design at ARUP architects, said: “In order to design, modify and deliver a better built environment, we need flexibility in our approach to education. The education of built environment professionals should be provided jointly by academia and industry and offer wide-ranging and flexible learning journeys so that we benefit from diverse views and approaches. Regulation must be sufficiently adaptable to accommodate this and to permit creative, entrepreneurial and communicative professionals to collaborate and improve the world that we live in."

The fluidity of society and economics today across the globe is demanding new kinds of built environment professionals and new forms of education to train them, not least here in Britain

This was a view welcomed by Gordon Murray, a professor of architecture at Strathclyde University. He said: “If we are to develop further as a nation, given increasing levels of international competitiveness, it can only be based on embedding creativity and innovation into our education and thus in our commerce and industry. If creativity and innovation are to be placed at the core of our education system then that system must be based on the holistic nature of human development. The artisan must be recognised as well as the artist. This requires greater diversity in routes to qualification and recognition of a multiplicity of skills.”

The debate has led to a number of recommendations for change to encourage a greater number of individuals with multi-disciplinary skills, including communication skills, and a higher standard of innovation.

Delegates also called for more routes to qualification, including the possibility of conversion courses that result in a more diverse and flexible talent pool, more advanced courses tailored to industry needs and multi-disciplinary working, and multiple gateways into the industry. In addition they want more-flexible registration to accommodate the different paths to qualification and a change in the emphasis of professional bodies to focus on guaranteeing the standards achieved.

The basic structure of our education system was established in the middle of the last century and it's time it was reconsidered with a view to developing forms of education that are better suited to current needs and future practice

Mark Richardon, head of human capital at developer, Laing O’Rourke, said: "We welcome the recommendations to fundamentally reform the quality and standard of training and education in order to bridge the innovation capability gap within our industry. Laing O'Rourke has long been an active sponsor of challenge and change within the engineering and construction industry to advance the effective delivery of the built environment."

Alex Wright, head of architecture at the University of Bath, added: "The higher education environment has seen dramatic change over the last few years and universities are eager to respond to the aspirations of students and the professions.

“The basic structure of our education system was established in the middle of the last century and it's time it was reconsidered with a view to developing forms of education that are better suited to current needs and future practice."

This support from academics was widespread, with Murray Fraser, a professor of architecture and global culture at the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London, telling delegates: "The fluidity of society and economics today across the globe is demanding new kinds of built environment professionals and new forms of education to train them, not least here in Britain. Architectural education has always been incredibly supple in changing to meet new conditions and more and more we need to integrate with others in the construction industry on these important matters."

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