Viewpoint (July 01, 2002)

As part of last month’s RAIC Festival of Architecture in Winnipeg, Ian Macdonald, Head of the Department of Architecture at the University of Manitoba, organized a panel to discuss the relationship between architectural education and practice. Moderated by Thomas Fisher, Dean of the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Minnesota and former editor of Progressive Architecture, the panel comprised practitioners, educators, administrators, researchers, an intern architect and a student, each bringing their own perspective to the conversation.

Professor Emeritus Douglas Gillmor, founding Director of the University of Calgary’s Architecture Program, and Genevive Vachon, Associate Professor at the cole d’architecture de l’Universit Laval, discussed the value of academic research, especially in the areas of applied and social science, but recognized that it was often poorly communicated to practitioners. The panel recognized Continuing Education as a possible means of disseminating the results of research. Anne Cormier of Atelier Big City, who teaches at the Universit de Montral, cautioned against the narrow technical and practical focus of most Continuing Education offerings. Instead, she argued, Con Ed should be used as a vehicle to infuse practice with some of the creative energy and enthusiasm for innovative design that fuels architectural education.

After some discussion, the panel addressed what is arguably the most important link between the academy and practice: the Intern Architect. Marianne Amodio of Winnipeg, the sole Intern Architect on the panel, stated that internship should serve as an extension of a graduate’s formal education, providing opportunities for the experience necessary to the development of a fully formed practitioner. Too often, however, Intern Architects are assigned narrowly defined repetitive tasks that may serve some notion of efficient production but do little to contribute to the development of broader architectural experience. NCARB President C. William Bevins added that through internship, practitioners are ultimately responsible for mentoring future generations of architects, and should embrace the relationship as a learning opportunity rather than a chore. Young, enthusiastic interns, he argued, have as much to offer senior architects as seasoned practitioners do to recent graduates. Mentoring is a powerful learning experience, said Bevins, that should qualify for Continuing Education credits.

Discussions concerning the relationship between education and practice have long revolved around the profession’s dissatisfaction with the technical and practical proficiency of graduate architects, and how the values of practice could be better instilled in the academy. By focusing instead on how practice could benefit from what the schools and their graduates have to offer, the Winnipeg panel took a refreshingly different tack. We need to examine how to make the best use of the intellectual capital that interns bring with them from the schools, rather than see it squelched by the demands of practice. Over the years, architectural education has benefited from practice-initiated reforms; it’s time to recognize that the academy, too, can influence the renewal and reform of current models of practice.

Finally, a few words about some changes at Canadian Architect. Next month, I will be joining the Department of Architectural Science at Ryerson University as full-time faculty. Just as many academics in our field maintain part-time practices, I’ll be staying on at the magazine part-time in the role of Editorial Director. I’ll still deal with editorial themes and broader issues of content, but the magazine’s day-to-day workings will be in the hands of Nyla Matuk, who steps up from Assistant to Associate Editor. Marco Polo