Architecture Outrecruits Other Disciplines: Design Rules

It’s a demographic thing. Young people are still applying for places at schools of architecture and design in substantial numbers while in recent years they have not been doing so for degrees in structural or services engineering nor for surveying or construction management.

As the time for graduates to apply for work experience and for part II placements approaches, so the gradual divergence of fortunes of the building professions is coming home. Engineering graduates are getting scholarships and higher salaries but still they get rarer. Potential architects are readily available, if not always to the standard or preparedness that practices would like. But that’s another subject.

Why has it happened? Architecture and design is appealing because it is “creative” and teaches through simulation, a form of play. Engineering, surveying and construction degrees seem in comparison to be dry and stolid and associated with uncomfortable careers. Many of the scarce engineering graduates also fail to go into the profession, using their numeracy to go into management consultancy or financial services, for better pay and working conditions.

How are we going to cope? There is no architecture without engineering and no building of it without constructors. We are of course drawing in professionals from abroad. As in so many areas of British life, importing is seen as the answer to the failure of UK supply. The constructors are tackling it by training “non-cognates”, graduates in subjects where jobs do not automatically follow. So English graduates are becoming site managers, bringing a new level of literacy to the scene. I think that engineering should do the same, but by converting appropriate architectural graduates. There are lots of young people who enter architecture to save the planet and who are numerate and technically minded. Masters degrees in engineering for part I architects could give us a new generation of Max Fordhams or Ted Happolds, engineers who think like architects and who enable integrated solutions to emerge.

One of the joys of the Japanese industry is that all its entrants train in Kenchiku, a word meaning architecture, engineering and construction. After graduation they become everything from developers to contractors and architects. They treat each other as equals and have few communication problems. Getting a shared understanding of what we are here to do is a major goal of the construction professions expressed by the Construction Industry Council. One route to that which the choices of schoolchildren are suggesting is the architect-led route. Integration through architectural entry is an intriguing model for the future, enabled perhaps by our students’ increasing need for financial support and therefore sponsorship and guidance by practices during and after the first degree.

It has been the exception for architects to branch out into related fields. Architects such as Bob White at Mace, Keith Clarke at Skanska, Chris Gilmour at HBG and Chris Wood at Wates, are providing strong patronage and support for good designers. Dual qualified architect-engineers are perhaps a model for the future.

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