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An education in entrepreneurism

An education in entrepreneurism

18 January 2017

Architecture schools have woken up to the need to teach the business skills needed to run a practice, but has the time come for them to go further and prepare their would-be architect entrepreneurs to look beyond the standard professional model?

Some start-up practices are seeing entrepreneurism, whether by choice or necessity, as a means to simultaneously launch practices and secure their first projects.

But the experience of architecture’s entrepreneur champions has been that it’s necessary to look outside of traditional schools of architecture for an education.

Tobias Mæscher, the Berlin-based architect and founder of online magazine Archipreneur, recalls how he had to forge his own educational pathway in order to gain a foundation knowledge of entrepreneurship.

He followed up his studies in architecture at the KFH in Stockholm with a course on running your own company at the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship. After a period in practice he added a Master’s degree in Real Estate Management at the Technical University of Berlin.

LSA student Nick Keen’s Vertical City project for Soho. LSA students, like Nick, are asked to make their projects ‘relevant, innovative and entrepreneurial’. Image © Nick Keen

To find schools that see entrepreneurship as a core part of their philosophy, the best places to look to are two newly-founded schools that getting off the ground outside of the educational establishment proved itself an ambitious exercise in entrepreneurship for the founders: the London School of Architecture (LSA), founded by Will Hunter in 2015, and the Confluence Institute established by Odile Decq in Lyon in the same year.

Hunter says the architect’s core competency will always be the ability to design space, but he has no doubt that entrepreneurship has its place.

‘At the London School of Architecture we definitely think entrepreneurship can be taught, and it runs through our whole programme,’ says Hunter.

‘In educating architects, we need to think not just what the profession is like today, but what it will be like tomorrow. How architecture is practised is in flux, and we cannot simply rely on how things have always been done.

‘In an era of globalisation and increasingly intelligent digital systems, we have to objectively define where our unique talents lie and anticipate what skills we will need in the future.’

Likewise at Confluence, Decq says entrepreneurship is part of ‘the DNA of the school’.

‘Students look for autonomy and freedom, they feel responsible to society and don’t feel that way when working in architecture companies where they are just a point in the process and not connected to the whole part of the project,’ says Decq.

She believes the best way for entrepreneurship to be taught or engendered in students is to organise studies based on projects, whatever the project may be – architecture, scenography, installation, construction etc.

‘Education at Confluence is based on learning by doing, and is challenge driven,’ says Decq.

Some of the school’s first diploma students have already established their ‘office’ in a space in the school. They get support and advice and in return they work for the school two days per week.

‘We have, in that way, established an incubator for young firms inside the school,’ she adds.

David Gloster, Director of Education at the RIBA, agrees with Decq that the best way to give students an exposure to ‘a time/money/personnel framework’ is through live projects.

‘Speaking personally, I believe students need to understand cost is a critical factor impacting on design complexity and quality – and that, adjacent to this, is a need to be entrepreneurial in one’s professional life. Fine arts courses now teach this, so why not architecture?’ Gloster asks.

An RIBA Journal article on entrepreneurism in architecture, Find your inner entrepreneur', is published in the current issue.

Thanks to Will Hunter, founder / director, The London School of Architecture; Odile Decq, director and co-founder Studio Odile Decq and founder / director Confluence Institute.

Text by Neal Morris, © RIBA

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