My brief outline for an ideal architecture degree course, derived from some conversations with Andrew Rodda and over 20 years teaching architecture students..... A work in progress.

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Training in architecture

Architecture cannot be taught, really. (This is why there are no good schools of architecture). But architecture can be learnt. (This is why there are good architects).1

What is consciousness at bottom, but an unstoppable predeliction for alternatives.2 A simple question: ‘What do we want pupils to know?

And a less simple question: ‘Why?’3

Great architectural teachers include: Robin Boyd, Rem Koolhaus, Peter Cook and Charles Moore.

The architecture course outlined below was initially developed by Andrew Rodda and Richard Peterson in 

2007. It is what we then saw as an ideal approach to teaching architecture, but over the past seven years, 

Richard has greatly evolved it. 

The following is an extreme summary of the course.


The objective of this course is to produce professional architects and building designers. All are trained to 

become architects, but some may choose not to register as architects, but as building designers. 

The course should be able to be taught over 4 years, including mentored office experience. On graduation, 

students should be ready to immediately apply for registration as architects, or as building designers.


The following is an extreme summary of the course.


Students’ knowledge and skill in thefollowing should topics be tested by verbal questions, or by projects, to assess knowledge and understanding in each subject, before proceeding to the next level.



A short summary overview and assessment of prior knowledge and skill, of:

- Detailed observation of the immediate natural and built environments.

- Filling in forms, reading graphs, reading statistics, and mapping.

- Calculation and verebal and literary expression. 

- Recognition of materials.

- Knowledge and access to sites and manufacturing.

- Spatial perception.

- General knowledge of world history, culture, religions, political systems, power structures, and geography.

1. Site:

climate, weather, geology, soil, vegetation, seismic activity, and ecology, aspect and prospect.

2. Legal and business:

planning law, the planning system and planning process and politics, building law

and building process, marketing, procuring clients, copyright law, contract law, OH & S law, employment law, taxation, insurance, business methods, workplace relations, employing staff, staff records and using lawyers.

3. Financial:

costing, measuring quantities, bills of quantities, ordering, income streams, cost control, business book-keeping, record-keeping, using accountants, financial planners, bankers, sharebrokers, auditors and unions.

4. Materials:

organic chemistry, technology, manufacturing processes, testing, installation, fixings and quality specification.

5. Structure:

components, mathematics, Euclidian and non-Euclidian systems, forces, stress, dead, live, hydrostatic loads, dynamic loads, seismic loads and wind loads.

6. Construction:

site practice and process, sequence of trades, individual trade practices, building details, site management. Comparative immigrant, ethnic and indigenous building techniques and their cultural practices, and comparative building practices in other countries.

7. Services:

plant and reticulation; kitchens and bathrooms; ventilation/exhaust, air handling/conditioning; light (natural, artificial, security and theatrical, its levels and effects); water, hot water, gasses, telstra, internet, communication systems, control systems, sewer and stormwater reticulation, waste collections; vertical transportation, horizontal transportation and pneumatics.

8. Energy:

power sources (oil, coal, gas, electricity, wind, solar, hydraulic, wave and geothermal), plant, generation, reticulation, comparative efficiency and holistic building life sustainability.

9. Historic building, structure, settylement and urban evolution:

the world evolution of site practice, structural and geometrical systems, materials, imagery, meaning and identity (including spiritual, societal, political, minority and commercial), cultural difference, and historic professional practice. The evolution of architectural styles, building forms and typologies, form, planning, design language, space, context and morphology, over the 10,000 years from prehistory until now.

10. Design process:

brief and programme, site analysis, budget, reguatory control, functional relationships, ergonomics, concept generation and design development; context, interiors design, industrial design, whole site, landscape, context and urban design.

11. Design concepts:

theory (theoretical frameworks, language and meaning), cultural context (the market, ethnic, societal, psychological and spiritual), tectonics and architectonics.

12. Communication:

appropriate media selection, marketing, finding clients and employment, representation (images, specification; documentation, conceptual and contractual), promoting and selling a design, English expression, writing methods, research, terminology, documenting sources, specification writing, document cross-referencing, document security, document transmission, human relationships, client relations, professionalism, persuasion, meetings, site meetings, marketing and client procurement.

Great architectural visual communicators, documenters, photographers, delineators, renderers and sketchers I admire and recommend students to use as models to follow have been:

Robin Boyd, Peter Cook, Gordon Cullen, David Gentleman, John Glashan, Barde Gregory, Robert Haddon, Darryl Jackson, Osbert Lancaster, Graham Law, Peter McIntyre, Marion Mahoney, Michelangelo, Glen Murcutt, John Piper, Piranesi, Lloyd Rees (1895-1988), Nick Rischatelli, Antonio Sant' Elia, Peter Schenkel, Edwin Smith, Shaun Tan, Rod Thorley and Ken Woolley.5

13. World culture:

as a frame of reference, a broad overview of the cultural practices and protocols, business practices, religions, art, language (or semiotics), literature, theatre and music of the main world cultural traditions: European (or Western),6 Asian,7 Arabic (and Islamic) and Australian Aboriginal.8


The course should be able to be taught over 4 years, including mentored office experience. On graduation, students should be ready to immediately apply for registration as architects.

Education is not so much the passing on of knowledge, as an introduction to the process of learning.

he course methods would consist of:

1. Mentoring, indenturing (or apprenticeship) and partnering (or buddying)

Including with more advanced and previous student alumni and international students. Work practice workshops and master classes with known practitioners in their studios. Prohibition on working in irrelevant workplaces, and for more that set maximum hours. Financial, psychological and welfare counselling support for students at risk. Ideally, students should remain with the one mentor, and preferably be employed by them for the entire 3-4 years and not do any other employment. No student should be alone.9

An essential resource for these processes, is to maintain a data base of all previous students, current with their previous and present activities former teachers and clients.

Small groups of 5-10 students could be introduced to a specific location by an expert on that place, and write an individual research report their detailed study on an aspect of that place, eg: in subject 9. Historic building, structure, settlement and urban evolution: they could submerse in to LAB + BatesSmart, Federation Square,1997-2002, to study the evolution of the design and the ideas that it is derived from, eg: Libsekind’s Jewish Museum, Berlin, 1999, and Bernard Tschumi, Parc de la Vilette, Paris, 1980-96 with Dylan Brady; or to St Patrick’s Cathedral (1858-99, Wiliam Wardell) to study the French and English Gothic construction system with Arthur Andronas.

2. Co-training with other disciplines:

with crafts and trades, industrial and product design, media, art, landscape, interiors, planning, quantity surveying, building and structural engineering. Co-training with staff, who would work at the same project as the students, alongside them, as a paralell exemplar and demonstration.

3. Building site-working

particularly student-designed and constructed projects, eg: the Design-Build programme of Professor Mads Gaardboe at the The Louis Laybourne Smith School of Architecture and Design at the University of South Australia (UniSA), PO Box 2471, Adelaide 5001; and eg:, eg: Patjarr Community Arts Centre Project. After a long consultative process, the logistics of such an ambitious project in the middle of the Gibson Desert were immense and, within a budget of $82,000 from a Western Australian Lotteries Commission development grant, there was little margin for error. Lecturers drew upon experience from other student-designed and constructed projects.

Materials were loaded into a shipping container and trucked 2,500 km to the site. The 22 UniSA students had two weeks on site to assemble the building and In the second week, were joined by students from the University of New South Wales, who completed the flooring and interior fit-out. The School maintains a close association with the community and the project.

4. Contribution to the community and volunteering.

5. Internationalism, exchange and study tours

, including utilisation of the resource of international students’ cultural and technological backgrounds. At least one semester studying on exchange in an equivalent course in another country.

6. Research process.

Every design project should be approached as research, following research process, contributing towards an undestanding greater than its own objectives.

7. Learning by design as a methodology.

The design process should be inculcated as the way of learning and of thinking that is unique, compared with that of all other disciplines. Designers are not scientists (who think by hypothesis, tested compared with control, induction. To the general from particular), lawyers (arguing from precedent, deduction, evidence, from the particular to the general), Doctors (deducing from observation of symptoms, to diagnosis), or Engineers (by audit and check calculation).

8. Learning by looking.

‘Learning to notice things,’10those observations. Programmatic sketching and photographing helps this. Using one completed building as study object: with a very detailed study of every relevant element and aspect. What does this building make me feel? Does it move me? Does it excite me? Why?

9. Building site process from Site Start to Final Completion

Maintenance Programme and user study, through the entire research, design and construction process.

10. Oxbridge system.

A system of teaching in which teacher and student together devise a programme that caters to the student’s particular interests. At weekly meetings, the the tutor sets projects and the student presents to the tutor in the privacy of his study. Derived partly from the Socratic method, it gives intellectually and creatively curious students a sense of equality with their teachers as they explore ideas together and question accepted truths.

The tutor also advises the student of the wide range of lectures offered at the university, and in attending lectures by and about many different writers and thinkers, the student embraces their own world of enquiry, that they will never leave throughout their life. Students receive direct feedback on their weekly projects. Tutorials are more academically challenging and rigorous than lectures and tests, as during each students are expected to verbally communicate, defend, analyze, and critique the ideas of others as well as their own, in conversations with the teacher and fellow-students and difficult to fake, or cheat. Peter Corrigan uses a version of this method in his pedagogy.

Students need the right kind of challenge. Thought moves forward by denying its own prior accomplishments. Negation is a driving force. This is not entirely destructive. Something of the past thought is preserved at each stage.

But this dialectic process can be tough on students. The art of teaching lies in balancing relentless criticism with appreciation and support while installing instudents the capacity for self-criticism and self-renewal. Of course if education is modelled on on a consumer marketplace, teachers are merely required to keep their customers satisfied while bumping up their scores. The engine of negation can only be bad for business.11

11. Teachers.

Must be practitioners, not nexcessarily in architecture, but in a relavent discipline, and teach from their current experience. They must also be given paid time in which to reflect on, and analyse their practice, including teaching practice, and supported in directed study travel overseas every two years.

Always avoid:

Administrators obsessed with managerialism who impose unrealistic objectives and ‘restructurings’ to further their own CVs, when the reality is that nothing changes, but much time and angst is diverted from teaching and engaging directly with students with dignity, dedication, creativity and skill. The evidence for this is in excessive documentation, meetings and administrative and management to oversee them.

Obsession with means and process

, rather than content.

Standardisation: every student and every teacher is different, and brings different background, interests and experience. Uniform standards will not initially at least, be possible. Postpone their imposition.

Being diverted from the central fact that the most important people in a teaching environment are the students and their needs.

Time wasting on applications for funding, sponsorship and research grants for production of papers which will never be read.12

Anything that isolates students from each other, and from their teachers, including:

- Process.

- Technology for its own sake, without demonstratable relevant benefits.

- Preconceptions, predujice, racism, sexism, or any other -ism.

- Fear for security.

- Other teacher commitments, eg: meetings, management tasks, or research.

Many students of architecture courses achieve B Arch, or B Arch, M Arch, but never register as architects, or even as building designers. That is not the intention of this course. It is not a course of study for study's sake, although a course in the purely scholarly study of architecture may be worthwhile, and probably does not presently exist, this is not that course.

Strive for:

Equity, and mutual support.

Collaboration, share and help together, rather than compete.

Passion, and love.

Maximum choice, and diverse design approach.

Professionalism, integrity and trust.

Richard Peterson, Architect (initiated: 12 September 2007) 29 June 2014.


1. Mario G Salvadori in Eugene Raskin, Architecture and People, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 1974, pp XI.

2. Edward Said, quoted by Hal Foster, Design and Crime (And other Diatribes), Verso, London (2002) 2003, p v.

3. Dr John Slater, ‘The Content Problem.’ [A paper, presented at the University of Malaga, Spain, 28 May 1989].

4. Some of these require much more study time than others, nonetheless, they are seen as separate discplines.

5., Hendrik Kolenberg, Lloyd Rees. Paintings, Drawings and Prints, Art Gallery of NSW 2013, and Ken Woolley, Art Works. Drawings by Ken Woolley, The Images Publishing Group, Mulgrave, Victoria 2002.

6. That is, the European tradition of Western culture, since ancient Greece. Students would have since birth imbibed quite enough of the USA variant of Western culture without wasting time on that.

Chinese, Japanese, Indian and South-east Asian, including: Indonesia and Vietnam.

(30 years ago, at least in the Western tradition this subject would have been superfluous, but not now.

The scholastic tradition in Education consists of three stages: first, the teacher passed on to the students the (knowledge and learning of the past, to be interpreted in the present to define community truths and values; second: an apprenticeship, in which the the student learnt from the master the skills of their chosen vocation, until they too achieved mastery; the final stage is Socratic: teacher and student were now on the same level, asking hard questions of each other, to arrive at the truth, however disturbing, or confronting.

These stages were interdependant and complementary, involving the constant questioning, and reassessmet of accepted ways of thinking. The ideal learning environment was a small, close-knit community whose members interacted and learnt from each other, to make mistakes, to question, and to seek answers that were not necessarily clear-cut, or easy to accept. In such a scholarly community, social intercourse and community life were as important as intellectual and academic enquiry.

University colleges were well-suited to this approach, but their fragmentation from large halls into smaller residential units is necessary, as expressed at Ormond College, University of Melbourne, initially in Frederick Romberg's Pickin Court (1963), and then in McCaughey Court (1969), in which Robin Boyd physically expressed Davis McCaughey (1914-2005)'s ideal of small clusters of residential students, around a communal atrium open space.
10. In Robert Hughes's phrase. 11. Philip W Jackson, What is Education? Footprint Books, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2012, reviewed in Simon Marginson (professor at the Centre for the Study of Higher Education, at the University of Melbourne), 'Personal truths. Restoring a philosophy of education,' ABR, June 2012, pp 15 and 16. 12. Morag Fraser, 'Academics baffled by changes that lead to nothing,' The Age, 24 July 2012.