Architectural Education | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Architectural Education

Architectural education in Canada, as it is currently delivered, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Most programs were developed in the 20th century, with significant modifications in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Architectural Education

Architectural education in Canada, as it is currently delivered, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Most programs were developed in the 20th century, with significant modifications in the 1990s and early 2000s. Although the overwhelming majority of architects practising in Canada today are graduates of university-based schools of architecture, until the late 19th century specialized architectural education was rare. Most practitioners learned on the job by way of apprenticeships after, at most, one or two years of rudimentary engineering studies.

In New France, the European academic tradition represented by the Jesuit model was mediated and simplified by the craft tradition of Québec artisans, to some extent reviving the medieval model of the master mason. The kind of architectural training available in the larger centres - Québec and Montréal - during the 17th and 18th centuries was based on contemporary practice in French cities and towns. In Canada, however, educated master masons and carpenters such as Claude BAILLIF and Jean-Baptiste MAILLOU, through access to architectural treatises, became designers in their own right as well as fine craftsmen.

In addition, a number of Jesuit seminaries offered instruction in the decorative arts by artist-priests from France. There is some evidence that an École des Arts et Métiers existed in Québec City as early as the 1690s, although scholarship is divided on this point. The tradition of the artist-priest persisted well into the 20th century, a primary example being the 1938 design for the Benedictine monastery of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac by the French monk-architect Dom Paul Bellot.

In English Canada, the majority of architects practising before the late 19th century were British émigrés trained in the United Kingdom, supplemented by a sizable minority from the United States. Affluent candidates from the US often completed undergraduate studies at Ivy League universities and pursued architectural studies abroad, most commonly at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

The late 19th-century expansion of Canada's cities created a great demand for architectural services. Along with the desire to control and professionalize the practice of architecture (the Toronto Architectural Guild was founded in 1887 and transformed into the Ontario Association of Architects in 1889), this increased activity led to the establishment of Canada's first degree-granting school of architecture at the University of Toronto in 1890. The program at U of T evolved in part from the curriculum at Toronto's School of Practical Science (which would later become U of T's Faculty of Engineering), established in 1878, which offered courses in architecture but no degree. In addition to courses in civil engineering, the School of Architecture adopted the Beaux-Arts pedagogical approach, which involved learning the five orders of classical architecture and their historical applications by drawing copies of plaster casts of columns, friezes and busts.

This approach to architectural education also formed the basis of other schools in Canada in the early part of the 20th century: the school at Montréal's McGill University, founded in 1896; the first French-language school of architecture at the École Polytechnique de Montréal (later the Université de Montréal), opened in 1907; and the first in western Canada, at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, founded in 1919. Other than short-lived programs at the École des Beaux-Arts in Québec City (1923-1936) and the University of Alberta in Edmonton (c.1920-1939), it would be another three decades before other universities would establish schools of architecture. The University of British Columbia in Vancouver launched its program in 1947; Nova Scotia Technical College in Halifax (later the Technical University of Nova Scotia and now part of Dalhousie) in 1961; and Université Laval, Québec City, in 1964, absorbing an independent school established in 1960. The large-scale expansion of Canadian universities in the late 1960s, reflecting the demographic bulge of the baby boom generation, gave rise to three additional schools of architecture: at the University of Waterloo in 1967, Ottawa's Carleton University in 1968, and the University of Calgary in 1971. Expansion that has followed includes the conversion of a pre-professional program in architectural technology at Toronto's Ryerson University to a professional degree in architecture, and the establishment of the Northern Ontario School of Architecture at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario.

By the mid-20th century the Beaux-Arts influence had given way to educational ideas pioneered by European Modernists. Fleeing Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius arrived at Harvard to head the architecture program at the Graduate School of Design, and his successor as Bauhaus director, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, arrived at Chicago's Armour (later Illinois) Institute of Technology about the same time. Canadian schools were deeply influenced by both the design theory and pedagogical approach brought to North America by the Europeans. The Bauhaus emphasis on design education based on first principles rather than historical precedent became an important component of Canadian architectural education. This was most evident at the University of British Columbia school, founded by Swiss Modernist Fred Lasserre, and at the University of Manitoba, which, under director John Alonzo Russell, became an important Canadian outpost of Miesian Modernism. Both architects designed new buildings for their respective programs, and the eponymous Lasserre Building at UBC (1955) and Russell Building at U of M (1959) embody the theoretical underpinnings of these two influential directors.

Other influential names come up repeatedly in the history of architectural education, reflecting the relatively small architectural community in Canada and the even smaller community of architectural academics. Douglas Shadbolt taught at McGill University in Montréal before serving as founding director for the programs at both the Nova Scotia Technical College in Halifax (1961-68) and Carleton University in Ottawa (1968-79), completing his career as director of the school at UBC (1979-90). Alberto Pérez-Gómez served as director at Carleton University before moving to McGill University, where he became Saidye Rosner Bronfman Professor of the History of Architecture, director of post-professional (masters and doctoral) programs and chair of the History and Theory of Architecture division. Larry Wayne Richards taught at the University of Toronto and the Technical University of Nova Scotia and served as director at the University of Waterloo before becoming dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at the University of Toronto from 1997-2004.

Although the number of women students and faculty in Canada's schools of architecture increased through the last quarter of the 20th century so that enrolment is now evenly split between men and women, historically architectural education and the profession itself were male purviews. Canada's first woman architect, Esther Marjorie Hill, graduated from the University of Toronto in 1920. Over half a century later, that same institution would appoint the first female dean of architecture in Canada, Blanche Lemco van Ginkel, who served in that position from 1977 to 1982. However, in the first half of the 20th century a disproportionate number of women architects were graduating from western Canadian schools; one-third of all women architects registered in Canada before 1960 were graduates of the University of Manitoba. This school established the first course in interior design and had four women on faculty during the 1940s and 1950s.

Contemporary Issues

In Europe, architecture students and faculty were among the more radical participants in the campus activism of 1968. Many schools of architecture worldwide, including those in Canada, diverged from their role as providers of training grounds for the profession to offer a wide range of experimental curricula that sometimes placed them in direct opposition to conventional practice. As a result, a rift developed between the profession and the schools, with practitioners complaining that graduates were leaving the schools without the skills required in an office. In some cases, the practical and technical aspects of architectural education were pushed aside by a growing interest in social, political and theoretical issues.

In 1976 the provincial associations formed the Canadian Architectural Certification Board (CACB) in order to ascertain whether potential candidates for employment had studied subjects like structures, building science and professional practice. On behalf of the provincial associations, the CACB examined the transcripts of every graduate architect applying for graduate associate (now intern architect) status with the provincial licensing bodies. In 1992, following a period of substantial curriculum reform in the schools, the CACB started to accredit entire programs; graduates from accredited schools of architecture are spared the additional hurdle of individual transcript review. Graduates of programs not accredited by the CACB (typically this applies to foreign schools) still must have their transcripts reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Three schools - Dalhousie, Waterloo and UBC - include a for-credit work experience component in the curriculum, exposing students to the rigours of office practice before they graduate. The core of the architectural curriculum remains highly individualized instruction in the design studio supported by a variety of subject courses expected to inform and be integrated into studio activities. These typically include architectural history and theory, structures, building science, materials and methods, urban studies, environmental psychology, professional practice, and a variety of humanities and social sciences courses.

Most prospective architects in Canada attend one of the university schools with full professional accreditation. Although it varies from school to school, demand for admission is high. However, there are alternative forms of architectural education, such as the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) Syllabus Program, which allows candidates to pursue their studies while working in practice; as of 2010 this program has been undergoing revision in collaboration with Athabasca University, a provider of online and distance education.

The schools have historically been poorly understood outsiders within the wider university communities. Until recently, unlike typical academics, many architectural instructors possessed professional bachelor's degrees (but not graduate degrees), rarely published, and divided their attention between the academy and professional practice. The studio format typical of architecture schools engenders an educational culture that is much more informal and intimate than those found in most university programs. In addition, the schools' relative academic isolation within the universities has resulted in their being easy targets during times of cost-cutting; some administrations have seen them as conveniently isolated, unorthodox programs whose disappearance would have little impact upon - and would therefore generate little opposition from - the larger campus population. This thinking led to the demise of the program at the University of Alberta in 1939, after it had staggered through the Depression years with a handful of students. More recently, two programs survived threats of closure as university cost-cutting tactics: the University of British Columbia School of Architecture in 1985 and the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Toronto in 1986.

The schools are faced with the task of establishing a balance between preparing students for professional practice and providing an academic education that finds favour with the university administrations that fund the programs. While professional training emphasizes the practical skills and knowledge required to be productive in a working environment, high academic standards require research and experimentation in all aspects of architectural theory, technology and design. The pressure on schools to meet these complex demands has been exacerbated by dramatic changes within the profession. Faced with the reality of cyclical recession, graduates can no longer count on careers in traditional architectural practice, and schools have recognized their obligation to prepare students for this eventuality. Several have introduced substantial design-build components to their curricula; and many now provide students with, among other areas of expertise, computer skills that can lead to a variety of careers parallel to or even quite distinct from architecture.

Canada's schools have addressed these demands by substantially revamping their programs. In most cases, this has meant the conversion of professional programs from undergraduate, five-year Bachelor of Architecture degrees to graduate-level Masters of Architecture. While some programs have changed only marginally from their previous curricula, others are undergoing fundamental changes. The programs at Calgary, UBC and the University of Toronto, for instance, attract mature students from a variety of academic backgrounds, whereas the two-stage pre-professional/professional programs being adopted by the majority of schools will continue to draw applicants directly from high school to an enhanced but still specifically architectural education.

In addition to the revamped professional degrees, the schools are developing a variety of post-professional graduate programs, including the heretofore rare Ph.D. in architecture. These programs are expected to remain relatively small, but their very introduction reflects the increasing academization of architectural education. This development also means that Canadian schools of architecture will be able to draw more of their faculty from Canadian-educated candidates. Historically, architecture faculties have been disproportionately composed of foreign-born or -educated candidates, many from US Ivy League or European schools whose programs have been geared to graduate and academic studies. Because many architecture professors at Canada's schools were appointed during the great period of growth in the 1960s and 1970s and have therefore been retiring, recruiting new faculty is a major challenge for architectural education in Canada.

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