As those who will design buildings and cities of the future, many students who study architecture can expect a career which offers reward, purpose and contribution.

To help them prepare, architecture courses need to deliver the best possible outcomes.

Toward this end, a major study of architectural education released in December by the Architects Accreditation Council of Australia (AACA) looked at the current state of play along with challenges going forward.

Several findings were encouraging, Academics teaching architecture generally have a high sense of job satisfaction. Most architecture students are happy with their choice of field to study. There is strong alignment between academics and practitioners about the importance of skills which are necessary. With women accounting for 51 percent and 45 percent of architectural graduates in New Zealand and Australia respectively, the profession has a healthy mix of gender diversity within its student cohort.

On post-graduation results, meanwhile, the 2018 Graduate Outcomes survey funded by the Department of Education and Training found that eight in ten architecture and built environment masters graduates were using their skills on the job whilst three quarters of architectural students find architecture related employment within three months of graduation.

Nevertheless, challenges are emerging. A surge in student numbers, whilst pleasing, has not been matched by a similar increase in academic staff: since 2016, the number of architecture students in Australia has grown by 35 percent; permanent academic teaching staff numbers have increased by just 14 percent over that time. Despite high levels of satisfaction overall, academic staff experience competing pressures to meet teaching, administration and research obligations. Students report time and financial pressures when completing a demanding course of study. There is a heavy reliance upon sessional staff to deliver architectural education (throughout Australia and New Zealand respectively, 77 percent and 68 percent of the architectural teaching workforce is sessional). Diminishing resources present challenges in terms of time available, funding, staffing and facilities. Indigenous students are underrepresented in architecture courses. The design studio format of teaching is being challenged by greater centralisation of space allocations, timetabling and financial management. Within the curriculum, many practitioners want greater focus on practical matters such as construction, project management and practice management. Whilst issues such as technological change, ethics and social responsibility are seen as important drivers of future curriculum development, at least one quarter of all practitioner respondents feel it is more important to consolidate the basics rather than move into new areas.

Finally, the study revealed gaps in architectural profession data. There is no recent information on average timeframes between graduation and registration, no detailed information about graduate destinations and career pathways, no reliable data about the number of practices in Australia or their size/practice model or types of work undertaken, no detail on the numbers of students working in architectural practices and only limited information on the diversity of students and the architectural workforce.

All this raises questions about how well architecture education is being delivered at the moment and what, if anything, needs to change.

For answers, Sourceable spoke with AACA chief executive officer Kate Doyle along with Professor Martyn Hook, Dean of Architecture and Urban Design at RMIT University and President of ADBED, the Australian Deans of the Built Environment and Design.

Overall, Doyle says Australia’s standards of architecture education are high.

As evidence, she points not only to the graduate outcomes referred to above but also the number of international students studying architecture in Australia and the extent of our mutual recognition arrangements with other countries. On the last point, Australia’s registered architects enjoy mutual recognition with their counterparts in New Zealand and 30 states in the US under the US/Australia/NZ Mutual Recognition Arrangement as well as with their counterparts in Japan, Canada and Singapore under agreements struck through the APEC Architect framework. An agreement with the UK is under negotiation. Willingness from other jurisdictions to enter into such arrangements, Doyle says, demonstrates how our education and accreditation regime is regarded as world-class.

Further, she talks of encouraging developments in several areas.

On gender equity, Doyle points out that women not only make up 45 percent of architecture students throughout Australia but also hold almost half of all lecturing positions.

Greater involvement of foreign students studying in Australia and Australian architecture students studying abroad post-graduation, meanwhile, delivers advantages in many areas including exposure to international best practice and approaches.

Nonetheless, Doyle acknowledges that challenges exist.

The aforementioned discrepancy between growth in student numbers and permanent teaching staff is creating greater reliance upon sessional teaching staff. Whilst this brings real-world experience into design studios, it also creates challenges in ensuring that sessional teachers are up-to-date in what they need to do.

Since universities ‘do not run or command building sites’, meanwhile, delivering more site experience and greater focus on construction requires avenues such as mentorships.

Beyond that, Doyle says AACA has two projects this year which will help address further challenges.

First, the organisation is developing a strategy to better support graduates on the path to registration. This could include joint university/industry initiatives as well as efforts to encourage employers to take on mentorships.

This, Doyle says, recognises that the way many architects obtain the practical experience needed for registration has changed. Rather than work for a single firm, some architects now have multiple employment assignments during this time. Whilst this is not a problem in itself, it creates challenges to ensure that these individuals are supported on their path to registration.

Another challenge involves making sure that the National Standard of Competency for Architects reflects the current climate in which architects operate. Currently, Doyle says the competencies required for registration have been in place for around ten to fifteen years. Many requirements under the standard, she says, reflect a linear form of practice that encompasses conceptual design, schematic design and documentation and reflects a previous time period where architects delivered the ‘full service’ from design to project management. Nowadays, however, architecture practice and the role of architects is changing as project delivery modes evolve and arrangements such as design and construct contracts increase in popularity.

Toward this end, the AACA is reviewing the standard to ensure it reflects the role of architects across different modes of practice and is fit for purpose as the benchmark for AACA assessment programs. As part of this, the organisation is seeking feedback on the current NSCA.

Hook, meanwhile, says the report is helpful as it consolidates a large body of anecdotal evidence and delivers a clear snapshot of the current situation in architecture education.

When speaking of challenges, however, he stresses the need to focus on those which relate to architecture specifically. Issues such as centralisation and competing demands for resources, he says, need to be understood as general constraints which apply across the university spectrum.

As for current performance, Hook said Australia is producing high-quality graduates but faces challenges in preparing graduates not only for the demands of current practice but also to be leaders in future practice. This incorporates the need to equip graduates not just for the digital built environment but also greater social and ethical responsibilities and the ability to deliver a built environment which is empathetic and responds to needs of groups such as indigenous Australians.

Overall, Hook says the research enables further analysis of what more needs to be done in the transformation of architectural education.

To deliver upon this, he says several steps are needed.

First, accreditation of architectural programs and courses needs to be driven by competency rather than compliance – an issue he says recent modifications in the accreditation process have begun to address. Here, Hook describes a need to enable different ways for architectural schools to meet the competencies which are required for accreditation. Specially, schools need to be able to specialise in different areas such as design, construction technology, timber, or subtropical architecture. This enables students at the end of their undergraduate programme to specialise in certain areas and to attend the appropriate school which would facilitate their chosen specialisation.

To make this happen, inter-school student mobility between undergraduate and Masters programs should be encouraged and facilitated.

As well, clarity is needed about expectations and responsibilities of architecture schools as opposed to those of the architecture profession once architects leave formal education. The ‘academy’, Hook says, should produce graduates who have the skills to be able to participate and develop in practice the office as the next step toward registration. Support is needed, therefore, to ensure that young architects gain the practical skills they need whilst in the office prior to registration. The profession, he says, must continue to embrace education after students leave the academy.

In particular, he says many practical skills such as engaging on site and project management are best learned through practical experience and are difficult to replicate in university.

Third, Hook says architecture education must be part of an ecosystem whereby training from university feeds into further learning in the office after graduation and engagement of practice by the Schools.

On this score, he says greater use of sessional teaching staff could deliver benefits as the presence of practitioners within the university design studio brings industry currency and practice experience into the classroom, ensures that teaching remains relevant to architectural practice, creates opportunities for students to gain internships or summer jobs and feeds into the ideas of practitioners about what architecture education should look like.

Universities can also better support alumni and young practices by facilitating teaching work and small projects to further contribute to the development of the profession.

Above all, Hook says a lifelong approach to learning is needed. This involves greater collaboration between practice and academia and upskilling through mandatory continuing professional development.

Like other countries, Australia faces challenges in delivering the best possible architecture education.

With some of the actions outlined above, however, we can ensure that architecture education programs help to set students on the path for a successful and rewarding career.