What are we to make of a recent survey that claims MIT, the Bartlett, and Delft University of Technology are the best architecture schools in the world? This ranking, created by British-based Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) also names Stanford, New York University, and University of California, Santa Barbara, as its top schools for architecture and these institutions don’t even have standalone schools of architecture. This assessment has received a great deal of attention on social media, particularly from those associated with the top schools. But what are we to make of a listing that does not even mention SCI-Arc or the Architectural Association in London? It also lists the University of Melbourne and the University of New South Wales ahead of Cornell University, and Kyoto University just ahead of Princeton and the University of Michigan. I have nothing against the schools that came out on top, nor am I trying to be chauvinistic by emphasizing U.S. universities, but one has to wonder about a list that puts King Saud University in Saudi Arabia ahead of Rice University in Houston. But what criteria did the QS use in establishing the ranking? First, this firm, which calls itself a “higher education marketing company” and one of the “three most influential university rankings in the world,” looked only at universities. This means that while QS surveyed “2,122 institutions across the globe, offering courses in architecture or the built environment,” schools like Pratt Institute, Rhode Island School of Design, Cooper Union, or the Royal College of Art in London were not even considered for evaluation. QS asserts that its evaluation is based on four factors: academic reputation, employer reputation, citations per paper, and what it calls “H-Index citations.” An H-Index citation is a metric that attempts to “measure both the productivity and citation impact of the publications of a scientist or scholar.” It’s hard to learn more about the QS architecture ranking, and it seems rather sloppy and unscientific, but the firm also rates universities worldwide, and these rankings seem to line up fairly closely with its architecture list. Its top universities in the world are, in order, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Harvard University, California Institute of Technology, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, University College London, Imperial College London, University of Chicago, and the ETH Zurich. Interestingly, Yale University came in sixteenth in the QS world ranking of universities, but its architecture school ranked a lowly 100th in the world behind the University of Kebangsaan in Malaysia, Texas A&M University, and Monash University in Australia. This QS ranking seems tone deaf to the real qualities that make a great architecture school, even while admitting the value and importance of PhD-level scholarship and research. Architecture is a craft as much as a liberal art, and therefore requires its teaching institutions to transmit a particular set of real-world skills that have to be mastered by students. For this reason, a great lab with CNC milling and robotic machines is important to contemporary design education. The students’ ability to work with their hands, render a plan, and be able to create a working section is as important as learning the history and theory of the discipline. In addition, the realities of the marketplace mean that students need the mentoring of professional working architects who make up the bulk of most design schools. The students who come out of great design schools need the refined focus of building culture, and this has been true since the École des Beaux-Arts and its workshop intern practice that is unique to the field. Furthermore, today’s architecture graduates don’t always find employment in traditional architecture offices—let alone go on to pursue PhDs as the QS ranking would suggest. In the words of cultural critic Brian Holmes, “designers, architects, and other actors in the creative fields must be multidisciplinary, open to collaboration, and motivated to find and initiate these often-amorphous work arrangements.” You can only get these in a full-blown school of architecture, and this need not be a university. There are many problems with the QS evaluation that undermines its usefulness, but one, in particular, is its disregard for educational differences between undergraduate and graduate programs—not to mention overlooking the educational content in two- and four-year degree and non-degree programs. The DesignIntelligence ranking of schools in the United States may also have shortcomings, but at least it gets the finer points of undergrad and graduate education and considers them. It identifies Cornell as the best undergraduate program in the country and the Harvard Graduate School of Design as the best graduate program, and that assessment seems more in line with real-world architecture in 2018. Finally, it may make sense to consider architecture education in a national context, rather than a worldwide one, since the licensing protocols and building requirements are so different from nation to nation. Sorry, MIT, but this QS ranking is so myopically concerned with academic citations as to be nearly worthless as a guide for what comprises quality architecture education in all its 21st-century variety and subtlety.
Posts tagged with "UCL Bartlett":
Imagine you are feeling your way through a maze blindfolded, informed only by what you can feel. Now imagine the maze isn’t real, but actually a digital construction. This Matrix-like scenario was recently used by the Interactive Architecture Lab at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London to test its latest innovation, Sarotis: Wearable technology that functions as a second-skin to help heighten the user’s awareness of his or her surroundings. Combining soft robotics with depth sensors, the prosthetic technology can work in tandem with Google’s Project Tango technology. This computer vision technology uses a combination of depth sensing, motion tracking, and area learning technologies to allow a smartphone or device to “see” its environment in 3-D. Sarotis then translates this data into a tactile response, inflating or exerting pressure to guide the user. It is made from a soft fabric that wraps around the body like a second skin. Sarotis: Experimental Prosthesis from Interactive Architecture Lab on Vimeo. As an example, the lab blindfolded participants and had them navigate an empty room with an invisible path drawn in it using Project Tango. Wearing the Sarotis technology, participants were able to navigate the maze fairly easily. Then, participants had to draw the maze and were able to reproduce its form as well. Currently, the most obvious application of Sarotis is to aid those who are visually impaired. Sarotis could guide someone using gentle pressure to steer them away from curbs, walls, or other obstacles. However, the Interactive Architecture Lab predicts that 3-D vision technologies like Project Tango will be available on the majority of mobile devices and that by 2020 70 percent of the world’s population will have access to 3-D scanning, depth tracking, motion awareness, etc. on their smartphones. Combined, the Sarotis and 3-D computer vision could radically expand the possibilities in terms of navigating, gaming, and safety and other popular applications. Sarotis: Wearable Futures from Interactive Architecture Lab on Vimeo.
University College of London’s Bartlett School of Architecture’s fourth installment of its student-run magazine, LOBBY, hits shelves this week. The bright and glossy quarterly is named after the school’s primary exhibition/gathering space, however, it also embodies that word’s meaning as a verb, as in “to lobby.” While the publication aims to increase the relevance of architectural dialogue, it also tries to broader its scope by covering topics normally at the fringe of the profession and discipline: this issue alone has articles on Tinder, the UK housing crisis, trash, the architectural consequences of internet and data, and Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. In fact, LOBBY invites submissions from anyone who can hew to its broad themes. The publication also features interviews from prominent figures—this issue features interviews with Denise Scott Brown and Moshe Safdie—and employs slick graphics and colorful layouts. LOBBY No. 4, “Abundance,” picks up where last Winter’s “Defiance” issue left off by surveying a topic architecture students and recent graduates today know well: doing more with less in a time of austerity. After releasing first-look images of the new issue to The Architect's Newspaper, LOBBY Editor-In-Chief Regner Ramos said via email, “With this issue one of the things we were asking ourselves was, how can we reinvent our world and create abundance out of our current shortages? How can scarcity lead to abundance?” Ramos goes on to say, “We've had a lot of really great photographers and illustrators who like the work we're doing and have been really keen on collaborating with us. I think that's one of the things that makes this magazine special, that it's really bringing creatives together to deliver a really special product that doesn't quite look like any other architecture magazine out there. Yes, it's a magazine for architecture lovers, but it's also accessible, wide in its range of content and editorially and visually curated.” Current and past LOBBY issues can be found on their website.