Given the challenged state of the architecture profession, you might think that the last thing we need is another graduate school. Yet a new program is starting next month in Naples Italy. About a dozen “Professional Certificate” students will enroll in a three-semester master’s program at Suor Orsola Benincasa University(UniSOB).
Why? you might ask.
Like other professions in transition, architecture’s desire for self-preservation often overrides its need for transformation. Organized religion has been marginalized in Europe and is in freefall in America; doctors and lawyers are completely retooling how they provide services; publishing and journalism have no clear path to sustainability; and we elected Donald Trump as president. This is a change time.
Architectural education is still largely based on a fine arts studio model of teaching abstract aesthetics. But education has to change because the way we create buildings is changing. We know this is true, because there are too many people looking for the available jobs in architecture. According to NCARB, 150,000 designers are either professionally licensed or are pursuing it; an additional 6,000 new degrees are granted each year. All of this despite the unfortunate fact that there are about 110,000 total jobs “in the profession,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What is being taught is not what is useful in the marketplace. The legendary architect/author Christopher Alexander, whose revolutionary book A Pattern Language and many others, changed architectural thinking, has spent five years with others, defining a new way to teach the discipline. The new program is called “Building Beauty.”
Creating beauty as the guiding principle of teaching architectural design was first posited in a conversation between Sergio Porta and Alexander five years ago in England. The two, along with Alexander’s wife, Maggie Moore Alexander and Getzin, have recruited professors and architects from Seattle, Oakland, Rome, and Israel in this distinctive effort.
The program is based on one truth: that buildings are not created exclusively by or for our brains. The architect-as-Master Builder faded in the first half of the 20th century, and with it apprenticeship as a means to education. The fine arts education that architects now receive values aesthetic ideas and presentation techniques, in a way that often leaves the joy of building unexplored (especially if BIM takes care of the messy “details”).
We do not experience buildings—or life, for that matter—as an intellectual exercise. How we teach architecture can and should connect us to the primal values of beauty—or at least that’s what Christopher Alexander and his group hopes. And I do too.