BuildAbility: the future of construction education

By Melonie Bayl-Smith
Byera Hadley Travelling Scholarship

BuildAbility by Melonie Bayl-Smith

The future of architectural education has been heavily contested and debated in the modern era, and possibly more so at present than in any other time in recent history. Apart from discourses on design, core to these discussions are the possibilities for new modes and opportunities in architectural practise, and the agendas and methods of architectural research. In spite of the flurry of conjecture, it remains that the main concern of Architecture itself is in the design and realisation of built environments. On this basis, there are constants that can be quickly established and readily drawn into propositions for any alternate or divergent approaches to education and practice and their intersection.

The BuildAbility research project recognises that within the frameworks of aesthetics, functionality and sustainability the future of architecture remains heavily dependent on the profession’s collective and individual knowledge bases in regards to building technologies and their implementation. However, in both the universities and the profession, there is strong evidence that foundational and continuing education in construction, structures and fabrication has changed over the past two decades – and in many cases this has been to the detriment of achieving quality learning outcomes for students of architecture.

The focus of this research project is therefore to provide an international review of the approaches to providing learning opportunities and integrated teaching in Building Technology, and in particular focusing on those schools for whom design/build studios and research is a valued part of the architecture program in their school. Design/build projects provide opportunities for expanding design and integration skills beyond the limitations of traditional construction teaching, and these projects provide avenues for a closer alignment between design and technical research and the core curricula of architecture schools.

What has become clear from the undertaking of the BuildAbility research project is that in many schools of architecture, technical teaching and learning needs a strong advocate. More than anything else, this is particularly for the sake of Australia’s undergraduate architecture students who face unprecedented competition and rivalling concerns both within and outside of the profession. Further, the issues facing the architecture schools are inevitably complex. Funding models as well as the cultures and attitudes of University administrators have, in turn, had an undeniable effect on the ability of many schools in this country to provide the best resourcing for the curriculum and studios they wish to offer their students.

To research, evaluate and critique the circumstances of architectural education in light of the practise and practical realisations of Architecture involves an ability to appreciate and understand the challenges from a variety of viewpoints. It has therefore been important to avoid the agendas of a particular position, and instead review the collective and naturally varied concerns voiced by a range of stakeholders.

Therefore, the conclusions of the BuildAbility research discuss the possibilities and prospects of improving and enriching the learning opportunities in construction, structures and fabrication being offered in Australian schools of architecture. It is important to state at this point that this research has resulted in a set of recommendations more far-reaching than originally anticipated and that point towards a range of related research topics and ideas.