It seems clear that interprofessional understanding is key to successful architecture in the real world. So often, however, whilst working in practice, there are deep divisions and frictions between the various parties involved with the building process. Some of these divisions are based on prejudice and lack of understanding; others are due to different attitudes and opinions on crucial subjects. The only prospect for a more harmonious and therefore efficient building process is better understanding between professions.
The relationship between architects and planners exemplifies this situation. Traditionally this has been an acrimonious liaison with both parties seeking opposing goals, and often being forced to agree on a compromise that suits nobody. However, on the face of it, there seems to be no fundamental reason why good architects and good planners should not desire the same outcome. Certainly, a better understanding of how either side sees the world can only help in fostering a productive relationship.
Whilst in the real world existing barriers are hard to break down, in the more open-minded atmosphere of the university there is an ideal arena for the pursuit of the inter-professional approach. I therefore applaud the sentiments of the course leaders in the conception of this studio and believe that it has had the potential to benefit greatly both groups of students.
Clearly, with this being the first attempt at running such an inter-professional studio, there have been certain practical difficulties. The problems caused by the skills gap between architects and planners have been well documented. Architects have had at least 4 years experience in the graphical presentation of ideas, whilst the planning students have had none. It has been suggested that the combined unit should wait until later in the two year planning course to enable the planning students to develop more confidence in their ideas, and this may be a smart move.
However, in a group environment, where planners and architects are working together, it should not be necessary for planners to possess advance graphical skills, just as architects do not often posses advanced knowledge of planning policy. With only a basic knowledge of policy, planning students can begin to usefully inform the design process, with more input possible as their knowledge grows. By their mere presence in the studio we as architects are forced to consider design questions from an alternative standpoint.
There have also been some practical problems within the studio. With planners having a smaller proportion of their time devoted to the combined project than architects, there was sometimes very little input from planners. Early in the semester one of my group members contributed half an hour of his time to a three week project, although this was more due to working in Selfridges three days a week than any other course commitments. The quality of some of the combined lectures was also poor, and their content occasionally seemed to offer no benefit to either the planners or architects. Unless a more inspiring lecture series can be established, I would suggest they be left out next time.
Another important benefit of the studio for me was the external involvement of the members of the Knowledge Capital steering group. The two sessions were enlightening in the sense that they illustrated the concerns and preoccupations of the members of the group. Their openness and seemingly genuine interest in our work illustrated how little the physical manifestation of their ideas had been discussed by the group. This was perhaps surprising for such a seemingly ambitious project and left me with questions about how much substance actually lay behind the concept. It seems to me that if the image-led rebranding of Manchester as the 'Knowledge Capital' is to take place in any meaningful way, the strategic thinkers of the steering group must engage in some interprofessional working of their own. Although aspirational thinking is often desirable, a utilization of the combined skills of planners and architects in the future might help the steering group to determine whether their vision is possible or even desirable.