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  • Writer's pictureNíall Hedderman

A Decade On

I graduated from university ten years ago this summer, I still remember the exhaustion and excitement as my classmates finished our last projects and submitted our dissertations for review. The big drama was over the grade one got for their degree and I recall a classmate was so disappointed by his result that he refused to attend the graduation ceremony, I sat next to his empty seat that day. I can honestly say that in the intervening years I have never once been asked what grade degree I earned. I can also say that within a year of graduating I had to absorb one big a lesson, that  all my training had qualified me for was to begin learning. 

A Graduate Architect. 

Being a graduate in 2004 was easy in many ways, the economy was booming and jobs were plentiful. But once I was employed, I found the tasks I was doing were either basic and repetitive or were things I had never encountered in five years at university. For a long time work alternated between boredom or terror and I didn't get to design a complete building for at least three years.At that stage, I found myself wondering what had I learned at university?

Those Who Can Do, Those Who Cant…

There is a longstanding conflict at the heart of the Architectural profession between theory and practice. Between those who teach and those who build. There are plenty of good arguments on both sides. We do need a dedicated and full time professional education system that is free to explore ideas and methods which might be ignored in a commercial environment. There is, as others have pointed out, a danger that the academic establishment can become staffed by 'refugees from practice' and that future generations of Architects are sometimes educated by people who have never built anything themselves. Both sides have valid points but I can still recall the anger I felt towards a system that had taken so much of my time but had left it to my employers to equip me with the skills that I actually needed to do the job proficiently. It wasn't until I founded Capital A and began designing and building my own projects from start to finish that I truly appreciated what I had learned as a student.  

Nothing Added But Time.

Universities have been around for a long time, some of the oldest have been in continuous operation for almost a millennium. They started life when the world was flat, and the world has not stopped changing since. And yet the university has proven to be more resilient that empires. Why? 

I think it is because they are useful. Universities produce both research and graduates and, provided they are good quality, the world cannot get enough of either. To produce good quality graduates the university must provide something that isn't available in a commercial work environment. Time. 

Workplace Training, Not All Its Cracked Up To Be.

Companies can train their employees, like my former employers trained me, but any training is always focused on job specific skills and you are always on the clock. Time is money in any commercial environment but at a good university, time is priceless. While I was a student I was given the time to explore whatever aspect of architecture I wanted, at the pace I wanted. This allowed me to make a lot of mistakes and to learn from each one. It allowed me get things out of my system and it gave me the basic ability to assess a site and a brief so that I could formulate an Architectural response.

The Best Years Of My Life.As a student, the projects we were given to complete often took months. My final thesis design took an entire academic year! In the real world that would never happen. In my own practice I spend less than 5% of my time on what might be called conceptual design, so I have to be effective with that time. I couldn't be an effective Architect today without having spent five wonderful years as student. Halcyon days. 

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