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A changing curriculum for future architects

RIBA Student Member Rep Maryam Al-Irhayim explores architecture as a tool for changemaking and presents the importance of new curriculum changes from 2021.

17 February 2021

At last month's RIBA Future Architects Meet Up event, RIBA Director of Education David Gloster introduced RIBA's new Themes and Values for Architectural Education, set out in the RIBA Education and Professional Development Framework (also known as The Way Ahead). These new themes and values form the basis for the validation and revalidation of all RIBA-recognised Schools of Architecture from 1 September 2021. They place a new emphasis on life safety, climate literacy, research literacy, and ethical practice, as well as technical and business skills as key components of architectural education.

Born out of a recognition that the next generation of architects have the ambition, capability, and drive to tackle the issues currently facing our world, society, and our industry, The Way Ahead demonstrates the importance of supporting these aspirations through an improved and better focused architectural education. This is especially pertinent in relation to demonstrating skills for zero carbon design and the professional and practical implications of this.

RIBA Student Member Rep Maryam Al-Irhayim explores the importance of these new curriculum changes and asks if architecture students and young professionals don’t actively try to address the world’s problems, then who will?

Maryam Al-Irhayim, RIBA Student Member Rep

I think often in times of change there is a fear that comes with anything new. However, the reality is it would be more worrying if there was no change at all. If we don’t change or have our curriculum adapt to meet modern problems and the needs of society now, then when will we?

The RIBA’s new themes and values for architectural education, presented in The Way Ahead, are really a response to some of the frustrations we all felt when we witnessed the great tragedy of Grenfell Tower. It certainly made me want to pick up a textbook and understand a bit more about fire safety and the social responsibility of becoming an architect (I would recommend Fire from First Principes by Paul Stollard).

Fire safety isn’t just legislation. It has a real impact on design, from material selection to space configuration. When we stop looking at it as a checklist and instead work to understand its impact then it will become automatic in our thinking. People’s safety should always be a priority.

The built environment also has a huge role to play in the climate emergency, being 39% responsible for the world’s carbon emissions, with 28% in operational emissions and the remaining 11% from embodied or upfront carbon (from materials and construction processes).

Sustainable design doesn’t just mean green buildings or sprinkling a few trees in a render. It will affect people and their homes for years to come. From the street they walk by daily, to the number of asthma cases from new construction, we must know we are partially accountable. That line or drawing on a page has wider impact. We, as future architects, have a responsibility of care for our society.

With climate change being one of the major problems to address, it is important to note that no one is too young or too old to take care of our home planet and we all have a role, no matter how small.

We see students who have such an unwavering passion for social projects - from social housing to addressing gentrification, to challenging profit-making rent-based configurations and exploring architecture as a social catalyst that can improve people’s lives, their safety and their environment. Architecture is such a great tool for change. Design and and the way we use it has more impact than we think. This is especially pertinent during the pandemic, where the four walls of our homes can impact our mood for better or worse.

Ethics, health and life safety and sustainable design are not just abstract, regulatory concepts but real-world issues that students care about. I believe the next generation of students have the ambition, capability, and drive to tackle issues facing society. Therefore, it is important to support these aspirations with an improved education curriculum. The RIBA’s Themes and Values for Architectural Education and The Way Ahead allow future architects to be ready to tackle the needs of society and the environment.

You can view our introduction to the new themes and values and the supporting discussion in a recording of our last RIBA Future Architects event, and you can read our full report.

RIBA Future Architects is a network and a community for future and emerging architects, designed to support, inspire and provide a voice as you transition from study to practice. View our resources.

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