WAN talks to Martha Thorne and Javier Quintana to find out what sets the IE School of Architecture apart
When one thinks of the top design universities, institutions that come to mind usually include SCI-Arc in Los Angeles, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen or ETH in Zurich. Branching away from traditional teaching techniques is the IE School of Architecture, an arm of the award-winning IE University in Madrid, and its unusual approach to study is becoming ever more popular with budding architects and designers across the world.
WAN sat down with Martha Thorne, Associate Dean of External Relations and Javier Quintana, Dean of the School of Architecture and Design to find out what makes this young school so special.
The IE School of Architecture offers a range of study programmes based on the needs of the particular student, from undergraduate degrees through to post-professional programmes. An unusual proportion of the curriculum is taught online, enabling students from around the world to log in to a virtual community where they can share ideas and gain feedback on their work. Both Thorne and Quintana agree wholeheartedly that face-to-face teaching should not be removed from the programme altogether but ‘having this blend is the future and it gives you so much flexibility, not only for the students but for the professors’.
The school operates under a unique structure that enables students to engage in internships in the morning and follow a full academic load online in the afternoon, dipping in and out of a working environment to gain a flavour for architectural practice. Active internships are encouraged by many schools of architecture but as Thorne explains: “This kind of unique structure of blended learning allows us to have academics mixed with professional practice or, for the people who are taking post-professional courses, they can study while they work.”
Where the IE University truly differentiates itself from the masses is the style of internships that it encourages its students to take. In order to provide a well-rounded education in the field of architecture, the institution recommends its pupils for placements in external fields with links to the architecture industry, such as architecture film and product design.
Quintana details: “We are encouraging people not to always go to an architecture firm but to do other things such as working in a publishing company [in the past these have included numerous Spanish publications, Architects’ Journal and Casciani] or at foundations and museums. When we created the school we tried to come up with a model that would fill some gaps in architectural education. One of these was age - because after 35 trying to recycle yourself is complicated - and another was to bridge the gap between the profession and academia.
“There was also the idea of bringing people who are not really architects but are related with architecture to the school so it becomes more cross-disciplinary; to not be so rigid in the understanding of architecture and that means to believe in a model of being able to be an architect that isn’t just the designer in the office. Architecture is bigger than that and it belongs not only to architects. These internships that go beyond the architecture practices are a part of this.”
The guest speaker list at IE School of Architecture is a veritable who’s who of the design elite. From Sou Fujimoto to Shigeru Ban, Thom Mayne to David Chipperfield, students at the university are able to learn first-hand from internationally-acclaimed practicing architects. The permanent faculty is equally impressive with professionals from Bjarke Ingels Group, AECOM and Aedas regularly lecturing to the attending students.
As the daughter of a business school, the IE University’s School of Architecture prepares its students with the entrepreneurial skills necessary for a successful career. The school offers a Masters in Architectural Management and Design, where the master thesis takes the form of a venture lab similar to the business school.
Quintana explains how the staff expected most of the students to draw up plans for an architectural practice and were surprised at how many presented business ideas related to architecture. In the first edition of the programme, only 4 or 5 of 22 students drew up plans for an architecture firm. In recognition of outstanding work the university presents its students with awards and the winner last year had devised a social network for designers which has the potential to be taken forward into production.
Throughout their courses, students at the IE School of Architecture are taught how to market themselves, promote their work and negotiate effectively. “Design informs business and business decisions can impact design,” explains Thorne “so if you understand both and can get them to work together your design can be better and your business savvy can also support the work that you do.”
This first-class school of architecture may not have the long history that its competitors do but its unique approach to teaching and wealth of experienced tutors is exceptional. In providing its students with a full range of skills through untraditional teaching methods, its graduates are well-rounded and fully prepared for successful careers in a range of industries. Maybe it’s time that the more mature institutions looked to the IE School of Architecture for a little inspiration.