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Architectural Solutions to Human Problems

Some Thoughts on Architecture School

I recently finished reading “One L” an autobiographical recounting of Scott Turow‘s first year at Harvard Law School. In the Afterword he discusses his thoughts about law school after spending many years in practice – and what he says is strikingly similar to the discussions around architecture school and its role in the profession.

He makes the argument that law school isn’t lawyer school, that it doesn’t exist to teach students what it means to practice law. Law school is about training legal scholars – teaching them to think like law professors. The judicial opinions of cases are studied, not the briefs or arguments from counsel. Students don’t spend time discussing the remedies that the law can provide, or how it can be applied – issues that are fundamental to law practice. However, since many professors have never practiced, expecting them to teach fundamental skills is pointless. Those skills are best learned from those who use them every day. The downside, Turow concludes, is that

“… while the students learn about the capacity of all arguments to be undermined, they are taught nothing about the ends to which that skill is meant to be applied. Little about the profession is held up to them for scrutiny – or admiration. The result is that the powerful minds of the law faculties bypass the opportunity to contribute more directly to the formulation of the ideals of the profession, and students depart having undertaken little refined reflection on the complex values which guide and inspire legal practice.”

Turow does feel that it is important for law school to spend time thinking about the law, and to explore its historical development, policy rationales, and its fundamental assumptions about our culture. What he wants is for the schools to apply the same focus to the profession, much like medical school has courses on public-health.

I am struck by the similarities between his description of law school and my experience with school. I think the statement that architecture school isn’t architect school is great. And I agree that part of the role of architecture school is to expose the students to the larger world and history of architecture. The apprenticeship of a graduate is still an effective way to learn the skills of the profession – though the effectiveness can vary widely from firm to firm.

I wonder how things would be different if the minds of architectural school faculties turned towards the profession and studied it as much as we study the Renaissance.  Certainly there are a number of practitioners that are advancing the profession, but not always through in the rigorous methods of the academic.

For me, personally, I feel that the separation of the architectural education into school, internship, and examination suits it well. I never got bent out of shape that school didn’t give me office skills, or that internship didn’t provide me with everything that I needed for the ARE. They are separate things, and while they overlap some, they seek to instill in the aspiring professional the various parts that are required for practice.

Finally, Turow captures perfectly the internal conflict of the practicing architect when we must be our clients “unhesitating advocate, the keeper of the client’s deepest secrets, and also someone who must call to the attention of a court controlling authorities that damn his client’s position …” This professional duty to both client and society is something should really be the focus of more time than it usually gets in either school or the office.

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