ALF 06

Jüri Soolep – Education In, Of and Off Architecture


Dear colleagues, talking about architectural education can be extremely boring. If we cannot see the big picture, I suggest we should invent it, because inventing the big picture is better than just working and dealing with the details, whether it is architectural education or creating architecture itself.

I want to start with the fact that architecture is in crisis. Later I will say some words about Estonian architectural education, the European context, which might be interesting both for the outsiders and consumers, the students, of architectural education, as we live now in the system that is an outcome of the Bologna Process. It will give you some hints what is happening in large scale politics and how it operates. Afterwards I would like to promote Nordic Academy of Architecture, which is a network of several schools within the Northern part of Europe.

Architecture in Crisis

The sector study, done by the Architects' Council of Europe (ACE), in 2011, says that architects’ own perception of their reputation has changed very little between 2008 and 2010. The executive summary, published in 2011, says:

This is not a confident profession: only one third think they are viewed 'quite' or 'very' highly by the general public, others in the construction industry or by public authorities. Architects may need to consider what can be done to improve their perception amongst these groups (TAPE 2010:5).

If we look a bit further, we see that Alberto Perez-Gomez, whose book I recommended for the lecture series, wrote in 1983:

"When a physician talks about a crisis in the condition of a patient, he's describing a moment when it is unclear, whether the patient will survive or succumb. In a true sense this is now the condition of Western culture. The consequences of all this for architecture theory are enormous. The poetical content of reality, the a priori of the world, which is the ultimate frame of reference for any truly meaningful architecture, is hidden beneath a thick layer of formal explanations. Because positivistic thought has made it a point to exclude mystery and poetry, contemporary man lives with the illusion of the infinite power of reason."

Alberto Perez-Gomez is talking about the crisis in modern architecture. But if we look further back in time, we will see that Hans Sedlmayr, who passionately hated modern architecture, published a book "Loss of the Center" in 1948[1]. He wrote that “the new type of architect has become hopelessly uncertain of himself. He glances over his shoulder at the engineer, he fancies himself in the role of inventor and even in that of a reformer of men’s lives, but he has forgotten to be an architect." So you might say that architecture is in constant crisis, at least when we look at the history of architecture, everybody tries to explain how that current moment is a crisis.

Modernism is now gone forever and I would rather like to talk about trans-modernism, because it has been become over and above modernism itself and we are talking about the crisis. How would I describe this crisis? If we look at the large scale space, it is dominated by environmental, social, political scientists, geographers, human geographers, landscape designers and architects, and planners, whoever they might be. If we look at the spaces of smaller scale, we see graphic, product and interior designers, interior architects, lifestyle consultants, florists and, of course, professional mediators, whoever they might be. What is left for architecture? What is left for us, when the big scale is dominated by these people, and if the small scale is dominated by other types of people? An architect is left just with an outside wall of a building. I can still design a wall today, because I know how it works, but not for a long time - the composite materials are being developed, the difficult systems of vapor, gas, heat, air are going to dominate the outside skin of the buildings. Very soon it will be the engineers who will design the outside shell of a building too. So the architect is left with an abstract line, pure geometry and pure ideal of space. We as architects feel marginalized.

Continuing with the ACE research, we know that architects remain a heterogeneous profession in Europe. Earnings, gender and age vary hugely between countries. Still, the common link in the business is that there are small practices, and individualism and small teams dominate. The total number of architects in Europe is enormous, it is over 565000 people in the member countries of ACE. The estimation of architects in the Nordic and Baltic countries is about 23 600, also a big number. We know for sure that this study must not be entirely trusted, because the entries have been rather small numbers, but we can thus see the general trends.

Short History of Architectural Education in Estonia

A short introduction how architectural education developed historically in Estonia, just to give some hints what might happen or what should not happen. In 1945, after the II World War, the technical courses were started again in the new technical university that is still there, Tallinn Technical University. Back then it was called Tallinn Polytechnic Institute, and architects started to be educated in that school. It continued until 1948. In 1948, the new Soviet government thought that Estonia is too small to have so many universities and the art school from Tartu was brought into Tallinn, where the industrial art school had been already formed in 1914. The Soviet government thought that even that school was too small, so Estonia would have lost their architectural and artistic education if the school was to be taken away. Therefore the architectural department from the Tallinn Technical University was transferred to Estonian Academy of Arts, as it is called today, and that happened in 1948. If art was to be censored, so did architecture. It was easier to govern the system if these ideologically sensitive and politically important areas were under control. That is how our education today has become part of the art academy.

Of course, today the image is everything, and we are depicted as artists in some layers of our society. Architects know nothing – they are artists. That is one of the obvious insults being used often. Architectural education has to be transformed back to where engineers are, then the architectural education would be ‘fine’. Recently, representatives of our education went to the Directive Commission in Brussels and there were several agreements with the curriculum, but one disagreement by Germany was that it was too technical. That letter was indeed heavenly sent to us and of course we made all the possible use of it, showing that this education is considered too technical from the European perspective. I personally think that architectural education is so unique, that it can be taught both in technical, art or other universities and even alone, if the school is large enough. Architecture has its specific interests and topics, therefore it would be odd in any school. That is also our sin and blessing within architectural spheres.

A few words about the hard politics, where schools lose their autonomy all the time. 70% of European schools [data: 2011] have transformed into Bologna system, with 3 years bachelor level and 2 years master level. Schools do not really know what is going to happen, when this becomes their reality. We have continuous 5 years for our architectural education. But we have also mentally decided that we would like to expand the master level studies and an obvious choice was urban studies. We wanted to know more about urban matters and therefore we established a new chair. It has a non-design based curriculum, taught in English. It deals with social, architectural, economic problems of cities, the idea was to overlap it with architecture so that architects benefit from this research and education that the urban studies would promote. We thought in the same way about mega-space or landscape, the other side of architectural core, so we started landscape studies. We took various people from different BA levels and provided them with master level education in urban or landscape studies. That did not work very well, because the design skills of the people who come to study landscape architecture to us for their master degree vary hugely. The first year we have to teach the basics of design and the second year is the master thesis. It didn't go like that. We have a new plan now to have full scale landscape studies starting from the first year. We would like to expand it so that 1/3 of the architects, whom we have been teaching for 3 years, would then specialize in landscape studies. So we would like to have more synergy at the BA level for interior design, landscape architecture and architecture, and at master level we would like more integration between landscape architecture, urban studies and architecture itself. I think we have benefited quite a lot out of that directional change, reorientation from architectural design to architectural design within urban matters. Hopefully our education within architecture becomes also more diverse and creates different trends within the architectural base.

European Context

The third part of my talk is meant to briefly guide you around what is happening in the European politics. First of all, there was a directive, which was called “architects’ directive”, although it also concerned doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists. As all of these professionals deal with human beings, they had a special law. Before it was published in 1985, it took the European Union 15 years to negotiate a common platform and this has been taken up to the next directive. I have been told in Brussels - the legends are there, of course – that the negotiations were so difficult that European Commission thought they were never going to regulate any profession anymore. But in 2005 a new directive, regulating 800 professions within Europe, has been published. Luckily for architects, our previous directive still remains in full use. There are the 11 points in the directive. I think they have been very well written. It is obvious that we cannot include everything into these 11 sentences, what architectural education is about, but it gives a kind of a framework. Then there are people who vote for the curricula that are presented. The outcome is that all the curricula in compliance with the directive are published twice a year in the annex of the directive. It means that if you graduate from a school that is listed in the annex, you have freedom of movement and you do not need to prove the quality of your diploma anywhere within the European Union countries, also in Switzerland and Norway, also members of this directive. In 1985 the directive was rather democratic, it operated this way - the 11 points are there, 3 members of the commission from every state were gathered: one from schools, one from profession and one from the ministry responsible for architectural production. These people sat around the table, looked at the curriculum that was presented and said: "Yes, this is a good architectural education, it complies with the 11 points, this should be published, or then active debates started, why this education is not good enough. As the European Union has become bigger, the system has become more sophisticated. There are coordinators who will be responsible for the directive, which means that architects and their educators, the representatives from the profession and schools, lost their voice. They are not voting anymore in the way they used to do until 2005. Luckily for us, the paperwork of these curricula are so enormous, that the coordinator said: "We cannot do it, call the architects back together again". A sub-commission was formed, and this subgroup represents every country with one or two members. These people debate the curricula openly if there are objections. It is a rather clever system if it is used wisely, because we have major things said within those 11 points, and then people come and vote. The curricula may be changing through time, together with the people who vote and understand what this education is about.  So the directive subgroup is the highest political power within our profession and education. It does not deal with the education, it actually deals with the free movement of architects, but it cannot regulate it otherwise than looking at the education. Now it becomes complicated, because in every country there are different procedures to safeguard the public, how architecture is taught, how architects can get access to the market and how they can become corporate members of their organizations. It seems to be very simple. There is a directive, there are 11 points, if we compare the education with the 11 points and vote, then it will be in a way clear. But now it happens that the quality of architecture is controlled in very different matters in different countries. For instance, anybody could submit a building drawing in Finland, the quality of the drawings is approved by the local government. The local government has enough architects on their paycheck, and the education suddenly becomes essential. Without good education, you cannot submit the documents that they are going to look at. In England and Ireland it is controlled with an insurance system. If you have not got your part three examination in the Architects Registration Board, the body that controls the architectural education quality in the UK, then your insurance would go up to the ceiling. So it means, if different countries safeguard their education in different ways, whereas in our countries like Lithuania or Estonia, the diploma is the main guarantee, and there is either another procedure of work experience or a review, or an examination, but it is actually the diploma that is the gate-keeping instrument of architectural quality and the quality of education. So we had a look at these different countries, and this is what we came up in ACE commission that dealt with accreditation in the EU counties. We found out that there are at least four different types of accreditation or validation, or prescription, whatever English words they use for it. The first and the most important in political terms is the approval for EU directive listing so that your school is in the annex. There is another academic accreditation system, which we call “approval for meeting national educational standards”. Then there is approval for joining professional bodies, sometimes it is connected with the national educational standardized diploma, sometimes not... Then there is also access to the market. All these different approvals mix together in really weird forms in different countries. So it is not really clear to know what kind of quality of architects we deal with.

European Network of Competent Authorities (ENACA) is an interesting bureaucratic build-up. So the first political organization was the power base of directive where we gather and vote. There have to be coordinators of this directive in every country. For instance, if you go to Poland and want to practice there, the first person you will meet is the national coordinator. He or she will check your diploma listed in the directive, you will have access to the market. These competent authorities, who are civil servants, have formed the European Network of Competent Authorities and they have taken the power, that used to be in the directive group, into their own hands. If the directive group is composed of architects or at least educators, this group is simply composed of civil servants. They do not know about architecture, they rely on secondary sources they have. This is a new political group that has come up.


European Association of Architectural Education. Most of the European architecture schools are members, there are 120 to 140 different schools, depending on how they are counted together. The European Association of Architectural Education is a rather weak organization, it relies on its alliance with Architects Council of Europe (ACE), that is the third political body. Architects Council of Europe represents all the architects unions in Europe and they have a strong lobbying position in Brussels. Today, because of personal matters within ENACA, ACE and EAAE - these three organizations that could safeguard our interests as architecture teachers and students within Europe, do not work together. But these three are the most important ones to get the directive going. Of course, there is one more, it is a governmental organization - European Forum of Architectural Policies. It also tries to have its hand within the architectural studies.

Nordic Academy of Architecture

Nordic Academy of Architecture consists of all the schools in the Baltic and Nordic countries. We want to promote collaboration for students in the Nordic Academy of Architecture. As it is only 16 schools, we know each other pretty well and we can manage creating these policies for students. We are working on accreditation and quality assurance for all of the Nordic and Baltic countries at the moment. In addition, we have also discussed a theme for traveling doctoral school. We lack a critical mass in all the Scandinavian countries, although Denmark and Norway are rather big for doctoral studies. Therefore we would like to create a network, for the doctoral students of each school to travel from one school to the other periodically every month or two. Each school would create lecture series and open a forum for these students to discuss architectural theory or architectural practice that is important there. We also tried to build all the approvals into the accreditation system, so that the schools should really take only one accreditation, done by Nordic Academy of Architecture. It is above the national governments, but within the Nordic area, so we all know about the conditions in which the education is given and what this education is about. Jürgen Mittelstraß, a conservative German philosophy professor, has written about accreditation. I found it really interesting to read, how bureaucratic our education has become within that system of accreditation - accreditation of accreditors and accreditation of accreditor accreditors.

I would like to conclude with some beliefs I have been trying to carry on while being the head of school now for 9 years. First of all, I believe that we cannot teach architecture. Architecture has to be learned. The will and energy have to be created by the students. Architects, the educators, have to be there so that people could learn from them. If we are not good, they will learn nothing. One of my teachers, Alexandr Rapaport, said that handicrafts and scholarship was transformed into professions in the Renaissance. Majority of the professions were formalized and institutionalized then. The learning methods, scope, expertise and borders of the profession became evident. It might be that today these borders again start to blur in the trans-modern society. Many of the professions could be obtained in a codified way, within the tradition of the profession and within the literature of the profession in the subject matter. Architecture (and I believe also some existential disciplines like surgery, for instance) stopped half-way. Architects could not depart from the handicrafts. Handicrafts, however complicated, cannot be reproduced without the presence and the teaching of a teacher. You need the master in architectural education to be there to show you how it is done and why it is done. This presence of the master and the handicrafts quality of architectural education is something that we very often leave aside. Most knowledge and skills are transferred outside of the reflective, the institutional level of education within that presence of the master and it very often has no verbal form. The archetypes, creative methods and spaces of mind are the building blocks of handicrafts in architecture. The paradox is that each young architect is creatively unique, his/her mindset and architecture is different. This cannot be taught, this type of really diverse creativity cannot be taught in an institutional and normative way. First of all, both architectural and architectural education methods are of hermeneutic and poetic type. I come back to the politics and ask: how can we accredit, safeguard an education that is in a way so covered from the institutional side, where only quality means and the quantitative examples are really very difficult to obtain? Therefore, it is really important who is going to do the accreditation in the system. If we are not going to do it, then somebody else will do it for us.

Coming back to the title of my presentation, there are two major ways in architectural schools that are difficult to combine, but have to be in balance. There is education in architecture and there is education of an architect. Education in architecture is very often promoted by practitioners who want to establish particular skills and knowledge of young people we can work with. Education in architecture is a humanities discipline, which will not necessarily produce architects. I thought, if it is education in architecture and education of an architect, we should also have education off. Education off is the real mode of architectural education. We do not need to emphasize that we teach architecture, but we have to be there so that people who are capable and interested can study it. Within this “off” mode of architectural education, architectural knowledge stops being a method and transforms into existential being of its own kind. The courage to let go the ordinary life and be, become an architect. Thank you for listening.

[1] Hans Sedlmayr (1896 - 1984) was Austrian art historian. In 1918 he went to study architecture at the Technische Universität in Vienna, then art history under Max Dvořák and Julius von Schlosser (eventually succeeding Schlosser as professor from 1936 to 1945). Sedlmayr was a member of Austrian Nazi party from 1932 until 1942. According to Friedrich Stadler, „Sedlmayr’s “unfortunate slogan” – Verlust der Mitte (loss of the center) – is “basically the structural reaction to what is still referred to as "degenerate,” in the same sense in which the Nazis used this term….”. Source: (ed. note)