CIOB backs 'Bachelor of the Built Environment' proposal

23 May 2013

The CIOB and Laing O’Rourke have given their backing to a group hoping to launch a cross-professional undergraduate degree spanning architecture to construction – a Bachelor of the Built Environment.

CIOB chief executive Chris Blythe has attended meetings of the initiative’s steering group, which includes Laing O'Rourke head of human capital Mark Richardson.

The group has already had discussions with the Faculty of the Built Environment at the Bartlett, part of University College London, with a view to launching an undergraduate course in September 2014.

The proposed four-year course, including a sandwich year in industry, would have a syllabus covering economics and property development; architecture and landscape; environmental science; structural and civil engineering; and construction and property management.

"In our view schools of architecture are 'processing' too many graduates, many of whom are ill-equipped to enter the profession. The industry needs a higher standard of creative innovators and entrepreneurs, in design and business."

Mark Thompson, managing partner of Ryder

The idea originated after architecture firm Ryder held a debate on the future of built environment education last summer. It was sparked by concern that the five years of university education necessary to become a practising architect nevertheless leaves graduates ill-equipped to work in today's construction industry.

Mark Thompson, managing partner of Ryder, said: “In our view schools of architecture are ‘processing’ too many graduates, many of whom are ill-equipped to enter the profession. The industry needs a higher standard of creative innovators and entrepreneurs, in design and business. The existing two-part, five-year academic process is increasingly difficult to sustain financially, and is not delivering value. Construction is a notoriously fragmented industry, there is no recognition that architecture is about more than architecture.

“Our industry needs free-thinking, broad-minded professionals who can contribute collaboratively and creatively from a range of professional backgrounds.”

Following the debate, Ryder convened a cross-industry steering group from the industry and academia to look at how degree level studies could better fit the industry's needs. The group also includes Arup’s global building chair Tristram Carfrae, KPMG head of recruitment Alison Heron [who replaced her former colleague Sara Reading], and Alex Wright, head of architecture at the University of Bath.

Since the beginning of 2013, the group has been actively canvassing support from a number of professional institutes in the industry, including the CIOB, the RICS, the RIBA and the Institution of Structural Engineers.

Chris Blythe's statement in support of the idea says: “The industry needs the best people joining us. So we need to find a cohesive pan-sector approach to make a professional career in the Built Environment seen as second to none, especially in respect to other sectors.”

Laing O’Rourke’s Mark Richardson said: “We welcome the recommendations to fundamentally reform the quality, standard of training and education in order to bridge the innovation capability gap within our industry. Laing O’Rourke has long been an active sponsor of challenge and change within the engineering and construction industry to advance the effective delivery of the built environment.”

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Is this not the same as the well established BSc (hons) Architectural Technology, but without opportunity to become a Chartered? It would be worth including CIAT in your discussions.

Gill Armstrong ARB MCIAT, 17 May 2013

As a recently qualified architect I think this idea really has legs. It sounds a little too long at four years but would work well as a foundation year or similar with some of the postgrad stuff removed later on. I really think that it would help to foster a collaborative approach across the industry. I hope that the RIBA would be open to such a consideration.

Sarah Mitchell, 17 May 2013

This sounds a little, jack of all know the rest. I did a BSc Building Surveying degree, however there was little difference between this and the BSc in Construction Management. I think there are already enough construction degrees. Like the guys above say this sounds similar to the BSc Architectural Technology. What about these grads who are meant to be the link between architects dreams and engineers nuts and bolts? Project Management should be something that develops from an earlier career - not from grads who can't find a job as an architect.

Richard Lock, 17 May 2013

In the words of Sir Humphrey Appleby, while we are fully supportive of your objectives, are you sure this is the right way to achieve them? There is much to be said for developing interdisciplinary skills among built environment professionals, and I agree that it would support collaboration and provide professionals with a more rounded understanding of issues at both the industry and project level. However, having completed a degree similar to the one outlined, I am not convinced this is a good idea as it is stated; at best it is nothing new. At worst it will produce graduates with an understanding of the built environment as a whole, but without the necessary depth of technical skills and knowledge to effectively work in any one area.

Besides developing technical skills and vocational knowledge, an academic degree is in part about developing intellect, teaching people how to think without constraint; while one is sympathetic to the needs of business, a degree should not be turned into a process to deliver what ever shaped peg the industry has now decided it needs; this won’t deliver the higher standards of creative innovators and entrepreneurs Mark Thompson says are needed. A more pertinent issue here is that innovators and entrepreneurs are not the result of a well thought through degree program, these traits are thought to have to be present in the individual to start with; nuture only plays it part in providing the space to experiment and gain experience (Ask Richard Branson).

The issue of graduates being ill equipped to enter industry is not a new complaint, but what is the source of the symptoms? Given that the commercial imperative is now running amok through higher education, I suspect that the issue relates to the quality of the incoming undergraduates.

While I agree with Chris Blythe’s aspiration for the built environment, I seriously doubt it is ever going to been seen as a second to none option, but it certainly should be seen as an option equal alongside more traditional respected professional pursuits. So if this multi-disciplinary approach is going to have some wheels there needs to be some thought as to the provision of specialisation routes after graduation. Although a more innovative approach is how do I become a chartered architect, structural engineer and construction manager with sufficient knowledge of the entire development cycle? Now if we can develop individuals with this mix of skills, we should start to see investment in new truly multi-disciplinary built environment company’s who are able to provide turnkey solutions from sourcing land to completing the build and handing over the keys. If we want to remove industry fragmentation and deliver the types of project experience to our clients, that Apple deliver to theirs, this would be a good way to get there. Whether the vested interests of the professions will allow such a heresy is another matter.

Sebastian Bettley, 17 May 2013

I did a similar course 10 years ago at LSBU as a masters degree. The course was modular across the school of the Built Environment and I thoroughly enjoyed the course. It was launched ina similar way to encourage professionals to extend thier knowledge base rather than stick to the traditonal indutsry disciplines, which attracted me to it.The only downside is that I tend to find that employers don't see it as specific enough in one area to create a level of expertise. Maybe it'll work better at undergraduate level but I suspect people will go on to specialise in one area unless the industry attitude changes significantly. We are very stuck in our ways us construction types.

Kevin Taplin, 17 May 2013

This programme to me is just like my undergraduate programme B.Sc Construction Technology and Management. B.Sc Built Environment will leave graduates as nothing having learnt everything. I suggest we stick to specifics such as Construction Manager, Architect, Structural Engineer, Civil Engineer, Land Economist, Quantity Surveyor etc. After reading B.Sc Built Environment what then becomes your specific profession? Is it an arcitect or building engineer. What about reading B.Sc Architecture or B.Sc Construction Technolgy and Management? I suggest we look at this programme again. The B.Sc Construction Technology and Management I read at KNUST, Ghana prepares you to be very marketable in the built environment and makes you a good construction manager.

Samuel Otenadu, 18 May 2013

I hold a Masters of the Built Environment (Sustainable Development) from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, which I completed following my undergraduate degree in architecture.

The comments above are very right in assuming that such a degree gives students a broad overview that would generally be unsuited to more technical or traditional positions in the industry. Basically, this type of degree (as good and well-intentioned as it may be) would more likely be a hindrance to many young/emerging professionals.

In my case, I further complemented the first masters with a second Masters of Public Policy and Management from Melbourne University. Togeher these have allowed me to specialise in 'built environment policy', with a focus on sustainability. However, while highly transdisciplinary, this is nonetheless a niche field.

In the broader point; the ability of professional to understand and emphasise with each other comes from experience, communication and interaction. Formal education only provides a foundation upon which to build such understandings whilst and after studying.

Matthew Trigg, 18 May 2013

This proposal, whilst well-intentioned, attempts to rectify by substitution the huge gaps in current architectural education- the failure of the architectural profession to assume their value-earning role as directors and controllers of the construction process. There is no substitute- and creating a new class of management tradesmen will not address this issue.

Drew Gibb RIBA CIOB MAPM Leed AP, 18 May 2013

One thing is certain - the current industry structure is not as efficient as it could be nor as exciting or attractive as it could be for school students currently considering their options.

We need to do something, to simply ignore the problems is a failure of the current generation.

We are currently discussing the content of the course in more detail with a few universities, perhaps developing the course as a BEng bringing more rigour and science (material and computing) to the mix.

These comments (most of which I agree with) are timely and most useful, thank you.

Mark Thompson, Ryder

Mark Thompson, 27 May 2013

On initial viewing I thought this seemed like a sensible idea with good foundation, having thought about it I am unsure as to the specifics for instance, what roles will these graduates be equiped to fill? I have a BSc in Architecture and an MSc in Building Surveying. I didn't continue architecture for the very reason that Ryder seem to have conducted this research. However, with my 6 years experience working as a Project Manager for a developer combined with my education - which I would say is a pretty good cross section of experience in the industry, rather than being a desirable candidate for any given position, I am very much loosing out to people who are specifically qualified for each individual position, notwithstanding that there are very few positions to begin with the specifically want such a broad cross section of skills. I do think that this idea has substance and would be interested to see how it progresses. The "construction industry of the future" may be structured in a way more suited to individuals with abroad set of skills rather than narrowed expertise.

Lynne Holtum, 28 June 2013

I am always suspicious of long winded titles. In my Uncle's petrol station we called ourselves fuel injection technicians aka petrol pump attendants. Surely we have enough construction accreditations, inter alia: BSc/MSc construction management, RICS surveyors; structural and civil engineers. It should be obligatory that architects spend a sandwich year on the coal face, understanding the basic concepts of how their designs are implemented on site, in terms of buildability and that form follows function. Bachelor of the Built Environment resonates with the axiom: knowing more and more about less and less till you know practically nothing about everything.

Joe Kelly mciob, msc, llb(hons), chartered builder, 1 July 2013

As a student, the course idea seems really good to me. For someone having to study seven years to do architecture, this seems like a much better option. I think the problem is the industry's opinions on these types of qualifications. If they believe the standard isn't good enough, there wouldn't be any applicants. No one wants to have a qualification that won't get them any jobs. So the opinions of employers have to be changed. I do think the idea is good though. It seems like the more creative designs are considered better compared to real, usable designs in architectural courses. This is the problem with the universities in the UK. Oxford Brookes is supposed to be good but they seem to be more about your ability in art than the technical side. This is why integrating them makes this type of course a valuable option.

Janice Taylor, 17 January 2014

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