Published  14/12/2004

March of the Philistines

The predicament of the world famous Cambridge University School of Architecture does seem to be ominous. True, a stay of execution by the University Board has given campaigners cause for celebration - but it may be short-lived. The School has suffered by a financial reduction, in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) - which grades all University departments in the UK and all subjects - from a 5 ranking to 4. The School claims that the link between teaching and research is indissoluble. Indeed Cambridge's recorded achievement worldwide is unique. However, the University Board is opposed to the traditional method of training architects on the drawing board (but how else?) as being too staff-intensive. There appears to be a fundamental misconception by the University Board, drawing on the RAE criteria which most agree are seriously flawed.

No architectural school, in the last RAE, achieved higher rating than 5 [5* was not awarded]. In the RAE, architecture has been grouped mistakenly with construction management and surveying; architectural theory did not get a look in, although it stands at the intellectual core of architectural research. Cambridge is famous and further esteemed for having established a world famous research journal, Architectural Research Quarterly, under the aegis of the former Head of Department, Professor Peter Carolin - undoubtedly a world leader in his field. This appears to have been ignored by the last RAE, even though it was based at the School, is fully peer reviewed internationally and published by Cambridge University Press. Nor was it that surprising, since there was no architect member on the RAE Panel in 2001

The situation now, as Observer critic and author Deyan Sudjic has claimed, is tantamount to Hitler's closing of the Bauhaus in the 1930s. Staff are already leaving, indeed three lecturers have immediately gained chairs in other Universities, replacement staff are 'researchers' and none will teach over the drawing board in the architectural studios. As Sudjic says (Observer, 5 December 2004), 'the RAE is a doomsday time bomb ticking away at the heart of the higher education system … practice is the measure of achievement'.

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