Goals of Architectural Education
As a professional discipline, architecture spans both the arts and the sciences. Students must have an understanding of the arts and humanities, as well as a basic technical understanding of structures and construction. Skills in communication, both visual and verbal, are essential. While knowledge and skills must be developed, design is ultimately a process of critical thinking, analysis, and creative activity. The best way to face the global challenges of the 21st century is with a well-rounded education that establishes a foundation for lifelong learning.
With few exceptions, this path starts with earning a professional degree. At one extreme, a high school student may enter a professional program; at the other extreme, a person (with a college degree in any background) may make a mid-career decision to become an architect, and can enroll in a three-year professional graduate program.
Many students from other majors may transfer into architecture. In some ways, it is never too late to become an architect. However, it is important that students are aware of the differences among degree paths and are enrolled in a program that is appropriate for their interests and long-term career plans.
Three Main Paths to a Professional Degree
In general, three types of programs lead to an accredited, professional degree. All professional degrees meet similar minimal standards, including professional requirements and general education courses.
Professional Master of Architecture programs may cause some confusion to readers, because individuals enter an M. Arch program with a variety of educational credentials, and hence with varied paths ahead to graduation. In many cases, schools in thie guide list multiple paths to the M. Arch programs. In other cases, a school may list only one M. Arch degree, even though it admits students on multiple paths.
Following are three common paths for professional architectural education.
5 year programs (B. Arch or M. Arch)
These are five-year professional degree programs, typically for undergraduates, with approximately 30% of the curriculum devoted to the humanities and electives. Since 1995, some five-year B. Arch. programs have made a transition to a five-year M. Arch package. In most cases, high school graduates enter the program as a freshmen.
4 + 2 Programs
These programs grant a pre-professional degree (majoring in architecture or environmental design) after four years, followed by a two-year program of intense study leading to a Master of Architecture (M. Arch) professional degree.
The four-year pre-professional degree, where offered, is not an accredited professional degree. The pre-professional degree is useful for those wishing a foundation in the field of architecture, as preparation for either a professional degree program or employment options in architecturally related areas.
3-Year (or 3 Year) Graduate Programs
(M. Arch or D. Arch)
These graduate programs are not advanced study, but professional degree graduate programs for students holding a four-year undergraduate degree in any subject matter.
NAAB: National Architectural Accrediting Board
CACB: Canadian Architectural Certification Board
The professional degrees in architecture are accredited by the National Architecture Accreditation Board (NAAB) or by the Canadian Architectural Certification Board (CACB) in Canada. These organizations are composed of representatives from the profession, from schools of architecture, from student organizations, and from the public. They have established conditions and criteria for accreditation that apply to all professional degree programs. Programs are accredited on a regular cycle, and the current accreditation status of individual programs and different schools can be found on the NAAB or CACB websites.
It should be noted that schools of architecture are not accredited; only specific professional degree program paths are accredited.
Post-Professional Degrees and Other “Non-Professional” Graduate Degrees
Many universities offer additional degree programs of advanced study for students with or without a professional degree. Post-professional degree programs may be one to five years in length, may address many areas of specialization such as urban design, sustainability, computer visualization, health care, historic preservation in architectural history, and may have many different degree names, such as M. Arch, D. Arch, D.Design, M.UD, etc. Such degree programs are not accredited by NAAB nor CACB. Some institutions offer both the professional M. Arch and a post-professional M. Arch.
A “non-professional graduate degree” does not necessarily require a professional degree background. For example, PhD programs provide in-depth exposure to a specific topic or area of exploration. These kinds of degrees may be related to architectural history, behavioral science, environmental studies, and other areas of research and scholarship.
Non-Professional Undergraduate Degrees
Many accredited universities offer architecture “majors” or programs such as “architectural technology” that are not part of a professionally accredited degree.
The value of non-professional type programs and majors depends on individual career goals. These programs give a broad view of the discipline of architecture or the construction industry. These degrees may prepare graduates for a range of job opportunities, including entry level at an architecture firm. This may also be a good preparation for graduate study in architecture in a professional degree program.
In practicing architecture as a career, long-term success may be limited by not having a professional degree, which is required by most states for a license. Furthermore, NCARB standards for reciprocity across state borders require a professional degree.
Missions and Curricula of Professional Degree Programs
The professional accrediting boards establish common standards for architecture programs, yet try to avoid “standardization” by encouraging each program to articulate its own mission and by recognizing that the accreditation requirements can be met in many different ways.
While there are broad differences among schools, the typical architecture curriculum covers topics related to design, history and theory, visualization (including drawing and computing), building technology, structures, sustainability, and professional practice, as well as a requirement for electives and exposure to general education and courses outside of architecture.
At the heart of the academic environment is the design studio, which is both a course and a place. In the design studio, faculty challenge students to synthesize all aspects of learning. As a result of the rigorous design curriculum, students develop a process of design thinking that is simultaneously analytical and creative. This cross–functional thought process is applicable to the many challenges that graduates will face in the future, no matter what career path they ultimately pursue.
While the architecture schools in the United States and Canada must meet similar accreditation criteria, the programs are remarkably different, with unique missions and philosophies.
- Many schools support diverse international programs and travel courses, which may be open to students from other schools as well.
- Some schools have established a permanent educational facility in an international setting.
- Some schools have formal “exchange” agreements with international schools or have offices to assist in placing students in international programs.
- Each year, individual faculty may develop a variety of international summer programs.
- Many schools engage in community service projects and efforts.
- Most schools work with alumni and regional professionals in formulating career development and placement efforts.
- Some schools have “design-build” studio experiences.
- Some programs include a required co-op internship, typically at an architecture firm.
- Some programs are structured to allow students to work full-time while attaining a degree.
- Some programs have opportunities for students to be involved in working at the school, either in course work or in support services.
- Some programs have opportunties for students to work in faculty research efforts.
- Some programs require off-campus experiences.
- Some schools offer summer programs for high school students and others who are interested in a career in architecture: these may range from a few days to six weeks.
Within the diversity of American and Canadian architecture programs, dedicated faculty strive to create meaningful and diverse learning experiences for their students.