Almost all wrong…
I think that architectural training as currently practiced in North America is almost all wrong. It is based on an Enlightenment model (truly based on Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am”) that imagines that verbal and or written communication equals knowledge transfer equals education. It’s the opposite of mentoring.
Without going too far into the realm of epistemology, which I am barely qualified to spell, much less discuss, I think the biblical definition of knowing (excluding for the moment sexual knowing) is much more personal and embodied than the Enlightenment “knowledge transfer” model. It involves inhabiting a truth, not just hearing it or writing it down or repeating it. Apprenticeship is the educational model that allows us to inhabit the truths of our master/teacher. It is not done in a classroom, nor through reading a book, though both may play a part.
This is the thing that Frank Lloyd Wright got right in his Taliesin Fellowship. His apprentices learned to become architects by being around him, by watching him work, by emulating him – to the degree that they could. Eventually they all – mostly – moved on to develop their own mature styles: Alden Dow, Bruce Goff, E. Fay Jones and many others had long and distinguished careers (Jones won the AIA’s Gold Medal), but all bore the imprint of the time they spent with the master. They could have gone to 110 seminars on “The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright” (the Knowledge Transfer model) and never learn what they learned sharpening his colored pencils.
The architectural profession now has this all backwards. In most states, you cannot sit for the licensure exam to be an architect without an accredited professional degree. The apprenticeship model has been discarded as not meeting objective standards, as being neither comprehensive nor reliable. Schools of architecture are held to certain standards to guarantee that graduates have been exposed to crucial components of content without any recognition (beyond exams) that they have understood or indwell any of it. “Indwell” is not a word you will ever hear in a discussion of architectural education. “Core competencies,” maybe. So the richest source of architectural learning, the practicing architect, has been swept aside in favor of curricular standards, student/teacher ratios and certification.
[One cannot help but be reminded of the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” where the Wizard tells the Scarecrow, “My boy, back where I come from, men teach at great universities with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got – a diploma!”]
I have long maintained that the reason I passed the licensure exam on my first try was not because of the professional degree I earned in college, but because of the two and a half years I spent toiling away on seemingly insignificant work at a six-person office in Wichita, Kansas. I learned more by osmosis in that small office than I ever learned by diligent (or less than diligent) study at the university. And most of it was overheard.
Let me give you another analog: I think that athletic coaches get this. If you want to be a great basketball coach, reading books and watching instructional videos will not get you there. What would-be coaches do is go and attach themselves to great coaches – as graduate assistants, as managers, as gofers, for little pay, or for no pay at all. And gradually, they absorb a way of coaching that allows them to become great. The lineage of great coaches is easy to trace, like Hank Iba to Jack Hartman to Lon Kruger, because the connections are always personal and always involve being in the master’s presence over an extended period of time. Young players might think it’s neat to say that they went to Bill Self’s Summer Basketball Camp, but real coaches know that if you want to have Bill Self’s success, you have to grab a mop and a towel and humble yourself and go be with Bill Self for four or six or ten years or whatever it takes. Summer camp won’t do it. Why this model, which works so obviously well in coaching, seems unable to wash over into more “serious” professions, is both a mystery and a grief to me.
As an architect and Principal with HOK Sport Venue Event in Kansas City, David Greusel has nearly 30 years of experience designing convention, civic and commercial facilities, including professional and collegiate sports venues. This article was previously published in Comment magazine (www.cardus.ca/comment), a publication of Cardus, a think tank that bridges politics and culture, to rethink, research, and rebuild an integrative vision of North American social architecture.