The Part 3 Handbook (Third Edition) by Stephen Brookhouse and 21 Things You Won’t Learn in Architecture School by Adrian Dobson

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This month sees a book review double header courtesy of RIBA Publishing, who have just launched two new titles targeted at graduates and early career architects. First up, the third edition of Stephen Brookhouse’s Part 3 Handbook, and secondly Adrian Dobson’s 21 Things You Won’t Learn in Architecture School.

The Part 3 Handbook will be familiar to many graduates of the third and final stage of the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) professional examination. The third edition of the handbook comes in fairly short order after the first (2007) and second (2011) editions, and as the only title either published or endorsed by the RIBA, is the de facto textbook for the qualification, regardless of the institution candidates choose to study with. As such, it’s not the sexiest or most ground booking title I’ve had the pleasure to review, but a quick comparison with the preceding editions reveals the extent of the revisions and improvements to both the content and presentation of the material.

For many candidates, especially those who struggled to put together a coherent body of work during the Great Recession, the case study of the Part 3 examination remains the most unnerving element. The book goes to some length to re-assure students of the breadth of possibilities that can be developed into workable examples. These include potentially complex international projects, in which architects will find themselves working with design contracts, management contracts, planning processes and health and safety legislation from multiple jurisdictions. As more and more candidates sit the Part 3 exam internationally, including in Asia and the Gulf, the question will inevitably be whether the curriculum and examination process can reflect not only the increasingly globalised nature of architectural practice, but the specific requirements of candidates in these countries. No longer is it sufficient to draft a letter to a planning officer in a fictional Home Counties market town.

Brookhouse is an experienced architect and teacher, and the step-by-step annotations of example essay questions and answers are clear evidence of his appreciation of students’ requirements. Sections on every aspect of the examination (written, interview and case study) have been revised and expanded, including sample questions and detailed analysis of how to read the questions accurately. Revisions have also been made to bring the book up to date with the 2013 RIBA Plan of Work.

Having also written Professional Studies in Architecture: A Primer (978-1-85946-347-5; targeted at students on RIBA Part 1 and Part 2 validated courses) Brookhouse is well aware of the requirement for taught students to be introduced to the professional aspects of architectural practice at the earliest possible moment. While the Part 3 Handbook is unlikely to initially appeal to university students of architecture, its accessibility makes a vital handbook not only for graduates starting their post-Part-2 careers, but also those students with the foresight to proactively choose or design their early career path with RIBA Part 3 qualification in mind. In other words, don’t wait until you enrol on that Part 3 course to start reading this helpful guide.

Similarly, the blurb for Adrian Dobson’s new book 21 Things You Won’t Learn in Architecture School describes it as an “invaluable source of advice for architecture students, particularly those at Part 3, but also those who are newly qualified and in their first few years of practice.” I beg to differ,  as I reckon 21 Things and the Part 3 Handbook are sturdy bookends for both beginning and the end of a formal architectural education. 21 Things is arranged in two parts: firstly, the 21 ‘things’ of the title and secondly the edited transcripts of twelve interviews with the twelve architects who contributed to Dobson’s research. I’m greatly encouraged to read these interviews, as (notwithstanding a few questions about how the sample was chosen, or the transcripts edited) its sound qualitative research that captures the kind of deep, meaningful and diverse practice-based knowledge that I know undergraduate students of architecture crave.

My favourite book about architectural education, The Favored Circle by Garry Stevens (978-0-26269-278-6), reminds us that the function of architectural education is not the process of learning how to ‘do architecture,’ but the process of learning to ‘be an architect.’ The lessons from practice in 21 Things touch on a variety of themes that speak to both how one does architecture and how one is an architect. These lessons cluster around some of the the mythologies of architecture (for example: ‘in architecture, it’s a long road to success’ and ‘architects think differently’), the people skills that architects need to do business (for example ‘speak in a language your audience understands’ and ‘focus on people and process, not product’), and perhaps most importantly, the importance of money (for example: ‘architecture is a business’ and ‘you need to understand fees’).

As a companion piece to Matthew Frederick’s popular and successful 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School (978-0-26206-266-4), 21 Things is a far more grounded and diverse compendium of insight. That is to say, many of the insights in Dobson’s book relate to meaningful questions of professional practice, as opposed to some of Frederick’s glib and occasionally antagonistic observations (for example, “an architect knows something about everything / an engineer knows everything about one thing.”) The reflections on practice from some highly respected and established architects have clearly been learnt with no small amount of error along the way. Even if these reflections don’t immediately inform an early career architect’s practice, they will at least provide reassurance that learning both how to ‘do architecture’ and ‘be an architect’ is, as the first ‘thing’ tells us, a lifelong project.

While schools of architecture up and down the country work to build their own curricula that interpret and demonstrate the Graduate Criteria of the RIBA/ARB Validation process, the twenty-one ‘things’ of Dobson’s book are a helpful reminder to both educators and the profession that some core employability skills continue to be overlooked by both universities and the profession. Perhaps, taken together, Brookhouse and Dobson’s two new books are a timely reminder of our profession’s widespread educational delusion with teaching design in isolation from clients and construction industry collaborators.

Part 3 Handbook (Third Edition)

Stephen Brookhouse
RIBA Publishing
£19.95
ISBN 978-1-85946-569-7

21 Things You Won’t Learn in Architecture School

Adrian Dobson
RIBA Publishing
£19.95
ISBN 978-1-85946-567-7

The publisher provided the author with complimentary review copies of this title.

Small – Thoughts and Projects by Carl Turner Architects

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In 1995 OMA published S,M,L,XL. Consisting of more than 1300 pages and weighing 2.7kg, the book quickly joined the canon of essential postpostmodern texts on architecture, mostly for no other reason than it existed. Whatever content (see what I did there?) that Koolhaas, Mau and OMA included therein was buried in the detritus collected over twenty years of practice.

Architects are no strangers to vanity publishing monographs and S,M,L,XL re-invigorated the genre by proving that if a practice was going to publish a book about itself in the service of self-promotion, it might as well throw all the spaghetti at the wall.

On receiving Small: Thoughts and Projects by Carl Turner Architects, my first thought was that it might represent the first instalment in a four volume series. Covering the practice’s first seven years in one tenth the pages of S,M,L,XL, Small finds a different balance. Fifteen projects and seven ‘thoughts’ are categorised as urban, suburban or rural. The projects, all mostly built, range from the scale of low cost exhibitions to large domestic properties. The ‘thoughts’ are modest and jovial, clearly inspired by both teaching and the practice of both designing and making buildings.

The book celebrates not only the small scale of the projects therein, but also the small size of the practice itself. Smallness, fragility and the short-term are highlighted not as threats, but as opportunities for sustainable employment. Given that Carl Turner Architects has existed for only a few years longer than the current recession, it is undeniably the right of a practice to celebrate it’s continuing existence. Credited to the practice rather than its director (although the text regularly slips into the first person), the book makes a rewarding connection between the modest nimbleness of a small practice and carefully realised projects.

Although the Slip House (2012) may be amongst Turner’s more notable buildings (winning the 2013 RIBA Manser Medal and RIBA National Award, and featuring in an episode of Grand Designs), it was a pleasure to rediscover a few projects here in East Anglia – the Ochre Barn and adjacent Stealth Barn in Walpole Saint Peter (both 2011). These projects remind the reader of the tremendous architectural opportunities of the Fens: land is cheap (a hundred metre stretch of single street in the little village of Prickwillow is home to two early houses by Jonathan Ellis-Miller and one by Meredith Bowles) and old barns are less likely to have been gentrified. Not to mention the fact that the vastness of sky is enough to make you cry with joy and/or fear on a daily basis, making a perfect backdrop for houses as objects-between-land-and-sky.

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The sub-£35,000 Stealth Barn is a particular favourite of mine, not so much  because of its low cost (having a contractor for a brother helps, according to a cynical acquaintance of mine) but because of the way in which it uses a set of pad-stone and brackets to plant the house on an existing piece of farmyard concrete hardstanding. In generational terms, I may be a child of Thatcher, but that means I’ve arrived late to the housing market party and all the decent habitable barns have been converted (Turner and his wife sold the Ochre and Stealth Barns to fund the Slip House back in London town). There remain, however, hundreds of these tough little patches of concrete throughout the Norfolk landscape, many of them obsolete. Carl Turner Architects popped a little black box on one of them and proved that they have enormous potential as cheap pad foundations for lightweight and low cost homes. Small, smart and beautiful in its simplicity.

Small – Thoughts and Projects
Carl Turner Architects
Artifice Books on Architecture
£16.95 / $24.95
ISBN 978-1-908967-37-4

The publisher provided the author with a complimentary review copy of this title.