November 1, 2017
by Graham Livesey
The building that houses a school of architecture is a vital reflection of its pedagogy and values. It can be a signature building, like the Faculté d’aménagement à l’Université de Montréal by Saucier + Perrotte; or a sensitive renovation of a historic building, such as Université Laval’s school of architecture; or a virtual environment. But above all, a program’s approach must be able to adapt to change.
Architecture schools have always required studio space, classrooms, workshops, galleries and offices. Now they need something more. In recent years, digital fabrication and digitally oriented studios have expanded the basic design requirements. At the University of Calgary—where I teach design, architectural history and urban design theory— drafting tables were removed years ago, allowing students to work in open and collaborative environments. In the near future, online professional architectural education will be more prevalent. It is already offered at various schools in the United States, and is essential to the non-accredited RAIC Syllabus program and a pre-professional (Bachelor of Science in Architecture) option offered by Athabasca University in Alberta.
Studio at the McEwen School of Architecture, designed by LGA Architectural Partners. Photo by Bob Gundu
Whether actual or virtual, architecture schools should be integrated into the communities they serve, as are the new buildings for the McEwen School of Architecture at Laurentian University and the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto. LGA Architectural Partners’ handsomely robust modernism at Laurentian University is a stark contrast to NADAAA’s dramatically swooping forms embracing a heritage building at the University of Toronto, but both reflect a major investment in, and devotion to, the architectural principles taught at those schools.
Our professional accreditation system parallels this with careful attention to the needs of student and the profession. Despite what some perceive as the leveling tendencies of accreditation procedures, Canadian schools of architecture demonstrate a healthy range of approaches. The recently adopted 2017 Conditions and Terms of Accreditation developed by the Canadian Architectural Certification Board represents a productive collaboration between the Canadian profession (CALA) and schools of architecture (CCUSA).
Over the last 25 years, although the basic Canadian curricula have remained the same, the evolving nature of practice and education has prompted significant changes, a process that began with the 1994 NAFTA agreement. These changes include an emphasis on “comprehensive” design, sustainable design, and the integration of digital technologies into the design process.
The new accreditation terms include policies for student well-being, respect for cultural diversity, stronger emphasis on design education (including digital design skills), training in urban design and the understanding of diverse modes of practice. New “Program Performance Criteria” focus on how a school teaches not just design but also technical skills, professional development, global perspectives, environmental stewardship, collaboration, leadership and community engagement.
Today’s architectural graduates face many challenges, including a poorly structured internship process and low pay. Encouragingly, many recent graduates are entrepreneurial, finding other ways to employ their skills beyond conventional internship. The accreditation changes will help them prepare for further changes down the road. With the enrichment brought about by the accreditation updates, and with the benefit of architecture schools that invest directly in well-designed facilities, Canadian graduates will be better prepared than ever.