WHO DECIDES WHAT ARCHITECTS LEARN IN SCHOOL?
Individual instructors and professors working in schools of architecture in the US and elsewhere have a great deal of latitude in deciding what they teach their students—and many regularly teach their students lessons on urbanism and urban design. This is appropriate. However, in order to provide some consistency in what students learn, there are standards for what constitutes the minimum fundamentals of architectural education. These standards are determined by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) for accredited professional programs in the US and other schools internationally that have been approved and certified by NAAB.
NAAB is comprised of representatives from four collateral organizations: The American Institute of Architects (AIA), which broadly represents the profession; The American Institute of Architects Students (AIAS), which represents students; The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), which represents the profession and the professional licensing boards that exist in each US state; and The Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), which represents schools and educators. Together, these groups determine the minimum requirements for architecture students in accredited professional programs.
what DO ARCHITECTURE students in the U.S. learn?
NAAB's educational standards are known as Student Performance Criteria (SPCs). The standards are revised approximately every six years. The current Conditions for Accreditation were adopted in 2014, and they will be reaffirmed or revised in 2020. Accredited schools are reviewed on a similar cycle, and failure to satisfy minimum standards may result in probation or loss of accreditation.
More specifically, Student Performance Criteria are currently organized into four categories, or "realms," as follows:
Realm A: Critical Thinking and Representation
A1. Professional Communications Skills
A2. Design Thinking Skills
A3. Investigative Skills
A4. Architectural Design Skills
A5. Ordering Systems
A6. Use of Precedents
A7. History and Global Culture
A8. Cultural Diversity and Social Equity
Realm B: Building Practices, Technical Skills, and Knowledge
B2. Site Design
B3. Codes and Regulations
B4. Technical Documentation
B5. Structural Systems
B6. Environmental Systems
B7. Building Envelope Systems and Assemblies
B8. Building Materials and Assemblies
B9. Building Service Systems
B10. Financial Considerations
Realm C: Integrated Architectural Solutions
C2. Integrated Evaluations and Decision-Making Design Process
C3. Integrative Design
Realm D: Professional Practice
D1. Stakeholder Roles in Architecture
D2. Project Management
D3. Business Practices
D4. Legal Responsibilities
D5. Professional Conduct
The full text of the Conditions and Student Performance Criterial can be found here.
what do students in the U.S. learn about urbanism or urban design?
As indicated by the list of the Student Performance Criteria above, urbanism and urban design do not rise to the level of structural systems, codes and regulations, or financial considerations in architectural education.
"Urban design" is mentioned only once, in A6, Use of Precedents, which indicates:
Ability to examine and comprehend the fundamental principles present in relevant precedents and to make informed choices about the incorporation of such principles into architecture and urban design projects.
Despite this reference to "urban design projects"—which assumes architecture students are indeed working on projects of this scale—there is no supported coursework in urban design. As indicated in its introduction, SPC realm A is supposed to be concerned in part with "comprehending people, place, and context." However, the SPCs in realm A do not adequately support coursework providing such knowledge.
a step forward, and a step back...
There are some other references to some aspects of urbanism and urban design in the 2014 SPCs. All are laudable, but limited in scope:
• A8, Cultural Diversity and Social Equity, a new SPC, makes reference to "social and spatial patterns that characterize different cultures."
• B1, Pre-Design, makes reference to "analysis of site conditions (including existing buildings)."
• B2, Site Design, a recently improved SPC, now makes reference to "urban context and developmental patterning" and "historical fabric."
• B3, Codes and Regulations, and C3, Integrative Design, make reference to site design and site conditions.
In general, B1, B2, and B3 expanded the definition of "site design," which, until recently, was limited to concerns about the localized building site. This change to a broader definition of site, to include context around the building site, was important, but arguably overdue.
Another improvement to the 2014 SPCs was the new A8, with its reference to "social and spatial patterns." SPC A8 is very broad, concerned as it is with the already substantial topics of cultural diversity and social equity. Although these topics, along with social and spatial patterns, may be aspects of the study of urbanism (as a body of literature and knowledge concerned with how people live and have lived in settlements of various sizes), this SPC is not concerned with urban design as a design practice.
Despite these improvements, a second reference to urban design found in the 2009 SPCs was deleted from the 2014 SPCs. (This reference was found in A9, Historical Traditions and Global Culture, which was eliminated.)
Without delving further into the changes in Student Performance Criteria over the years, the question at hand is whether the current educational standards are adequately preparing students to understand and design in urban contexts of various kinds. To better understand their building sites, to design at the urban scale, and to provide environmental leadership, don't architecture students need to know more about urbanism, urban design, and place-making? Shouldn't architecture students know as much about urbanism and urban design as they do about building materials and building envelopes?
what about students in other countries?
In other countries, architecture students are required to learn something about urbanism and urban design.
The Royal Institute of British Architects and the Union Internationale des Architectes expect architecture students to have an "awareness of the history and practice of landscape architecture [and] urban design" (p. 6, 7) and an "Adequate knowledge of urban design" (pp. 60, 70).
Most notably, in 2017, the Canadian Architectural Certification Board adopted a new SPC:
A6. Urban Design. The student must demonstrate an ability to analyze and respond to the larger urban context where architecture is situated; its developmental patterning and spatial morphologies; the infrastructural, environmental, and ecological systems; to understand the regulatory instruments that govern this context; the broader implications of architectural design decisions on the evolution of cities; and the impact of urbanism on design.
NAAB should have a similar expectation of students in its accredited programs.