By Hank Dittmar
It was a pleasure to join fellow panelist Victoria Thornton in representing the Farrell Review Panel at the Education and Outreach workshop on a muggy afternoon on the15th of July. The session was held at the Bartlett and was ably chaired by our host Dean Alan Penn. A distinguished group of practitioners, heads of school and outreach and architecture centre professionals gathered to discuss four topics related to Education and Outreach in Architecture and the Built Environment: schools, architectural education, outreach, and skilling up or CPD.
After a brief introduction to the Farrell Review, we got right into discussion of each of the four topics, prompted by introductions by Victoria and I. The lively group needed little prompting and the meeting centred around a few key themes — demonstrating the relevance of design and quality places to children, planners, councillors and the general public; making architectural education more relevant to contemporary challenges and to a increasingly diverse population; and providing professionals with the skills to engage effectively with the public and with the industry.
Underlying all of this was the question of relevance, and whether the architectural profession needed to do more to encourage “design literacy” so that people understood how important place and design were to quality of life and the economy, but also whether the profession and professional education needed to be retooled to be more relevant to the concerns of end users.
On schooling there was a general consensus that architecture and the built environment could be taught within the basic curriculum, that there was much good work done by Architecture Centres and the former CABE in this area, and that a good approach was the provision of lesson plans for teachers.
On architectural education, the group discussed the cost of education, the length of time it takes and the low salaries offered at the end of the lengthy process and generally agreed that this was a problem, both in attracting and retaining a diverse group of students, and in the sense that there was a disconnect between the service provided and the marketplace. There was disagreement about whether this was a fundamental critique of the current model, with some arguing for more apprenticeship and practical building experience and others arguing that the British system was valued worldwide. The group generally seemed positively disposed to a shorter time frame.
The topic of outreach was a popular one and the group contained many people actively engaged in outreach. One commenter made the excellent point that the entire Farrell Review should be viewed as an outreach opportunity, and as such, it should clearly state a series of desired outcomes that would come from implementing its recommendations, such as “In ten years, our cities, towns and villages will be XXXX as a result of these changes.”
It was suggested that the goal was greater participation and engagement in placemaking and in the realm of social, economic and cultural factors that make up our built environment, not just outreach, and that professionals need to value people’s local knowledge and demonstrate to local people the value of expertise.
There was a general consensus that there was the need to provide more and better training in placemaking and design to elected members and officers in local authorities. At the Prince’s Foundation, we have a joint programme with the Chief Planner in Scotland called Drawing Places, which engages planners, engineers and members in local authorities both in learning to draw and in design workshops, teaching them to see the places in which they work. This kind of approach, as well as a US programme called the Mayor’s Institute on City Design funded by their National Endowment for the Arts, can teach elected members about leadership and vision as well as design literacy.
The group has a series of useful and specific recommendations, and provided a hugely helpful grounding for the Review. I want to thank all those who took the time out from their busy lives to lend their expertise, experience and perspective to the debate.