While the profession of architecture has rebounded since the 2008
recession, with plentiful postings on job boards, the number of young
people pursuing the vocation is lagging. The Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) reported that enrollment in architecture degree programs has dropped about 10 percent in the last five years.
main culprit: Other majors are beating out architecture—particularly
those that lead directly to jobs, such as engineering, the hard
sciences, and those related to health. The trend is due to a variety of
factors, including students’ lack of knowledge of architecture, the long
and expensive road to becoming an architect, and recent changes to U.S.
public schools’ curricula. The problem may worsen, as education experts
are predicting that the country will produce fewer high school
graduates in the coming years.
How can architecture attract more
interest from the K–12 set? Organizations, degree-granting institutions,
and individual architects and teachers are working to make architecture
more appealing to young people through communications campaigns and
outreach programs. Yet more fundamental structural changes are also
required, and some are addressing this need by making the profession
easier to join and more welcoming to largely untapped populations:
women, people of color, and those from low-income families.
Setting a Baseline
2013, the ACSA hired a research firm to suss out what high school
students know about the profession. It turned out that the student
respondents had limited understanding of what an architect does, though
they often noted that they knew it takes a long time to become one.
The feedback spurred the ACSA to launch a communications campaign, dubbed “Study Architecture,”
with the goal of increasing applications to and enrollment in its more
than 200 member schools. The campaign has an Instagram
hashtag—#imadethat—that shows prospective students what architects do
and create. “We want young people to understand that architects design
the world at different levels, from the city to buildings to interiors
to furniture,” says Michael Monti, Hon. AIA, ACSA’s executive director.
even better to work such information into K–12 classes, but recent
national changes in public schools’ curriculum and areas of focus
present challenges. President Barack Obama’s STEM initiatives, for
instance, incentivized a concentration on science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics. Under his leadership, millions of dollars
from both private and federal sources were marked for STEM education.
though related to the STEM fields, is clearly not part of the acronym.
As Monti noted, “Architecture is a ‘between’ discipline. It’s a great
synthesizer of science and technology, art, and the humanities.” This
liminal position has meant that architecture has not received the kind
of rhetorical or financial support that traditional STEM disciplines
have received, likely making it less attractive to prospective
students—a situation that the ACSA wants to remedy.
that his organization is attending STEM student fairs and student
association meetings—primarily those geared toward middle and high
schoolers—to show students that a college major and career in
architecture is well-suited for those who want to apply STEM in a
The ACSA is also encouraging its members to
classify their architecture degrees under STEM categories, because the
Department of Homeland Security allows international students completing
STEM degrees to work in the United States two additional years—making
STEM majors that much more appealing to prospective applicants. “It’s a
specific case,” says Monti, “but for tuition-driven schools with a high
proportion of international students, it’s important.”
Grounding STEAM in Projects
At the Rhode Island School of Design
(RISD), an initiative called “STEM to STEAM” is also working to fold
the arts, including architecture, into STEM. One of its main goals is to
encourage the integration of art and design into K–12 education. Carl
Lostritto, director of RISD’s M.Arch. program, says that a dwindling
engagement with the arts in K–12—due to budget cuts and a focus on STEM
and other “core” subjects—is hindering students’ path to architecture.
with art and design, Lostritto says, helps prepare young people for the
profession more than math—despite the fact that guidance counselors
often look at students’ math grades to determine whether they would make
good architects. “Math is part of practicing architecture, but the kind
of math that deals with numeric equations is minor in terms of design,”
Lostritto says. “I would love to see K–12 classes that have an artistic
component and inspire creativity, whatever the subject.”
noted that in pursuit of such learning STEM to STEAM urges
project-based, rather than knowledge-based, models of education. “These
models get at knowledge through creativity, rather than by disseminating
it through lectures or reading,” he says.
Doreen Gehry Nelson,
Hon. AIA—sister of Frank Gehry, FAIA—was instrumental in developing
this type of learning in the late 1960s and early ’70s. The methodology,
originally called “City Building Education” and now dubbed
“Design-Based Learning,” asks young people to come up with creative
scenarios for a miniature city that they build, after which the students
learn about the subject in question. Nelson recounted an example in
which high schoolers in a biology class were asked to design a
never-before-seen creature to live in the city; the teacher required
that each beast have a lineage and traits that it would pass on to its
offspring. After fashioning the creatures, the teacher taught the
students about DNA. “The kids were riveted,” Nelson says.
method reverses the usual order of teaching, causing the “imagination to
go wild,” says Nelson, who added that though her method involves
buildings, it doesn’t teach architecture. “I’m not teaching kids to be
designers; I’m teaching them to think,” she says. “But architecture
needs creative thinking, and if people learn how to think creatively,
they might be interested in studying architecture.”
teachers have been trained in Nelson’s methodology (Nelson heads the
Design-Based Learning master’s program at California State Polytechnic
University, Pomona), and a few elementary and high schools have made it
their official pedagogy.
The AIA is encouraging similar learning
techniques through outreach to elementary and middle school students.
Del Ruff, AIA director of K–12 initiatives,
supports the work of 18 AIA chapters across the country that encourage
youth to generate ideas about how the built environment can address
their communities’ needs. In one such program in Raleigh, N.C., called
“The SCALE UP Project,” eighth-graders conceived, designed, and built
mock-ups of affordable housing units and other buildings vital to a
low-income area in the city.
The kids engage with local architects
and nonprofit employees, and even present their work at a community
event. “They work with a mentor who helps them understand what it’s like
to be a professional in the field,” Ruff says.
Ruff also works to
incorporate material on the built environment and architecture into
K–12 classes. This is particularly important given that 42 states and
the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards, a
set of benchmarks in math and English on which students are tested. The
standards necessarily consume classroom time and teachers’ and
students’ attention, sometimes leaving less time for electives like art.
But since the standards do not dictate curriculum, teachers still
convey the material by their own design.
“This means you have to
have a teacher who is familiar with architecture to get it into the
curriculum,” says Ruff. As such, Ruff works with AIA members to serve as
a resource to teachers and bring them knowledge of how architecture can
meet the Common Core standards (as well as state standards). In math,
for example, this can mean using buildings to learn about volume, area,
and surface area.
Ruff also strives to incorporate architecture
into subjects other than math and English, such as history, science, and
civics. He cited the benefit, for instance, of studying the differences
between a district court building and the Supreme Court building in
Washington, D.C. “The architecture is different based on what happens
inside,” he says. “This provides an opportunity to learn about the built
environment, political systems, and civic structures at the same time.”
AIA’s K–8 outreach programs target low-income communities: Of the
10,000 students served, 80 percent receive free or reduced lunch. The
RISD’s Department of Architecture also reaches out to public high school
students in Providence who normally would not be exposed to
architecture, bringing them to the department to meet with undergraduate
and graduate students. “It opens doors for them to see that
architecture is a way to use some of their skills and interests,”
Lostritto says. “It dispels some of the elitism that comes with RISD.”
programs are needed, as architecture— like other professional
disciplines that require years of expensive schooling—remains out of
reach for many young people by virtue of cost as well as class-based
unfamiliarity. “For instance, if you come from an affluent family, it’s
more likely that your family has engaged an architect,” says Lostritto.
“And being exposed to an architect is a motivation for choosing to study
Moving the Goal Line Closer
address the long and costly route to becoming an architect, the National
Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) has established
the Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure
(IPAL) initiative, which gives students the opportunity to gain
licensure before graduating with a B.Arch. or an M.Arch.; currently 26
programs at 21 schools participate. Without such a streamlined process,
becoming an architect can take as long as 12 years.
issues of class and cost intersect with architecture’s longstanding
“diversity” issue in terms of gender and race. Kathryn H. Anthony, a
professor of architecture at the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign who wrote Designing for Diversity: Gender, Race and Ethnicity in the Architectural Profession (University
of Illinois Press, 2007), said that since the book was published, in
2001, the number of women in architecture has grown, and awareness of
diversity issues in the profession has increased. “But many of the
troubling findings I uncovered then are still true,” she says—findings
that discourage young people of color and women from pursuing a career
in the discipline.
The National Association of Minority Architects
(NOMA), for instance, reports that only 2 percent of licensed
architects are African-American, and National Architectural Accrediting
Board (NAAB) statistics show that only 3 percent of faculty members
teaching in accredited programs are black and 8 percent are Hispanic.
And though NCARB reported that in 2016, 36 percent of licensed
architects were women—up 2 percent from 2015—women are more likely to
leave the profession or be prevented from rising to senior positions, a
phenomenon often due to outdated policies and attitudes about childcare,
as women still devote more time to caring for children than men. At
architecture schools, the ACSA found that fewer than one in five deans
are women, and a study conducted by the women in the architecture
collective SHarE showed that only one in four scheduled lectures are
given by women.
The RISD Department of Architecture’s partnership
with a girl’s high school in Providence, in which RISD graduate students
teach the young women architecture at the high school level, is helping
to address this issue. “It’s very appealing to us because of the gender
imbalance in the profession,” Lostritto says. Cornell University has
launched an award for minority high school students; winners come to
Ithaca, N.Y., for the summer to study architecture. Ruff added that he
strives to match women and architects of color with the students who
participate in his AIA programs. “We’re intentional about it,” he says.
“It really is consciously getting women architects in front of girls so
they say to themselves, ‘This is something I can do.’ ”
Anthony, whose new book Defined by Design (Prometheus
Books, 2017) examines the need for greater diversity among designers,
cited a number of other strategies. “Architecture students in colleges
and universities, such as those in organizations like Women in
Architecture and the National Organization of Minority Architecture
Students, can be very effective in connecting with younger students,”
she says. She also touted the Mike Ford, Assoc. AIA, hip-hop
architecture camps, which host middle school students in one-week camps
and a semester-long after-school curriculum, along with initiatives such
as NOMA’s Project Pipeline in Chicago, which invites local high school
students to meet with guest designers.
Monti says that these
initiatives help to move the profession in the right direction: toward
long-term, fundamental changes in the culture of architecture schools
and architecture more broadly. “You have to move from a diversity
perspective to one of inclusivity,” he says. “It’s not just about
getting students to campus, it’s about creating a culture that includes
many different experiences and perspectives.