21 things you won’t learn in architecture school


2B or not 2B an Architect

21 Things you won’t Learn in Architecture School

By Adrian Dobson, RIBA Publishing, Paperback £19.95

Like the priesthood, architecture is a vocation not a job. Those who think otherwise might best avoid it altogether. The training is long (seven years) and arduous, the pay is about the same as a schoolteacher and a fraction of your local GP, and the hours spent in the office are often 30 or 40 percent more than stated in your contract, with overtime pay virtually unheard of.

Even the great Le Corbusier had this to say about his six-month apprenticeship with Peter Behrens in Berlin a century ago: “The boss doesn’t pay; it’s all huge exploitation. The salaries are ridiculous”. Plus ca change.

Author Adrian Dobson knows what he is talking about: he is an architect and director of practice at the Royal Institute of British Architects. This primer flags up all the areas omitted from formal training in schools of architecture, not least the importance of good communication and marketing skills. Among the 21 ‘principles’ are such truisms as ‘Architecture doesn’t exist in a vacuum’, ‘Speak in a language your audience understands’, ‘Architecture is a business’, ‘Focus on people and process, not product’ and ‘Prizes matter – don’t they?’

The second half of the book is made up of interviews with practitioners. Names most familiar to their peers include Simon Allford, of AHMM (Allford Hall Monaghan Morris), former RIBA President Sunand Prasad, John Assael, and Bill Dunster of ZEDfactory fame. There are several women featured; still only about 20 per cent of the profession, and a generation behind doctors and lawyers, but rapidly growing. Invaluable practical advice is contained herein.

The publishers state that it is aimed primarily at those about to qualify, known as Part 3, and those recently qualified. While this is true, I would buy it for any aspiring sixth-former who has a romantic notion of what an architect is and what he or she does. In the media they are often-depicted as successful, young, good-looking, style-conscious and immensely attractive to the opposite sex, while in my experience the opposite is often the case.

A reality check is no bad thing at any age. Dobson’s book, well-written and well-designed and illustrated, is a valuable corrective to delusions of automatic ability and success in a market which has its share of casualties and collateral damage.

For the past 12 months, in London at least, things have been buoyant after the dramatic downturn that came the recession, or what is really a 10-year depression. Capital projects are always the first to be cut when the financial going gets tough, but because they have a very long lead time, that also means that they are first to pick up when there is a light on the horizon.

Things are looking up for architects as 2014 segues into 2015, until the next time that is.


By James Pallas


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