How Denmark’s $1.2 Billion Cutback Forces Architecture Schools to Rethink Their Priorities

© Ariana Zilliacus
© Ariana Zilliacus
 

18 June 2015: Denmark has a new right wing government. A couple of months later, despite student protests in front of city hall, the new government declares a decision to cut 8.7 billion Danish kroner (over $1.2 billion US) from education in Denmark, effectively cutting nearly 30 million kroner (around $4 million US) from the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation (KADK).

The result? 31 employees have been laid off this month; the student body is to be reduced by 30% over the coming years; 4 masters courses in architecture are being discontinued within the next 4 years; and 6 bachelor programs, 7 special programs and one entire institute in the Design School are being terminated. Teaching is being refocused towards technology and the professional sphere, but will this really improve the prospects of fresh architecture graduates, as they claim? Is it more important to challenge, or to adapt?

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© Ariana Zilliacus

© Ariana Zilliacus

These changes in architectural education are being titled “A New Focused KADK; A plan of action to secure more graduates jobs, faster.” This is the brief, the challenge, being set by the Danish government in a country where education, including the 5 years necessary to become an architect, is free for all. However, the unemployment rate of designers and architects in Denmark was double the average of all other graduates of higher education between 2008 and 2012.[1] Is there a consensus in the government that Denmark is not getting value for money when it comes to architecture graduates? Does this skepticism extend beyond this small Scandinavian nation? Are we simply doing it wrong?

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© Ariana Zilliacus

© Ariana Zilliacus

One of the major changes awaiting the architecture school is a mandatory internship over one semester, cutting out the option of an exchange during one’s Bachelor period. Anne Romme, Head of the Bachelor Program at the Institute of Culture at KADK, says that this decision “is probably a good one.” She continues to explain: “One could also discuss the question, because it directly cuts away a very fruitful and valuable semester out of a ten semester education; but if we do it in the right way, I think it can become a good thing that opens up our minds and sends students out to all corners of the profession and the world, and brings back new impressions. I think it’s probably going to be a very positive thing, we just have to do it in the right way.”

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The vocational direction that the school is taking is an attempt to answer to the demands placed by the government. The possible advantages that await are obvious: higher employment rates, and architects that are better prepared for a life in the profession. On the other hand, the architectural discipline could begin to go down a less desired path.

“It’s very important to remember this balance between educating people directly for the profession, as if it was a kind of conveyor belt where we spit out people who hopefully fit into the ‘sharper,’ ‘better,’ front running part of the profession, but also our role in pushing the profession to new places,” says Romme. “It’s a balance. Architecture is a profession, but it’s certainly also a discipline, which is much more grounded in long-term questions and proposals. It’s not so concerned with which computer program is the ‘hottest’ right now… or what the big architecture firms in Denmark need right now; we need to tell them what they need.”

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It’s undeniable that this change in Denmark’s most well known architecture school, the starting point for many well-known architects such as Bjarke Ingels and Henning Larsen, will affect the evolution of the entire architecture discipline in Denmark; and who knows what it could do to the profession beyond Danish borders? Will it dampen exploration, in favor of safety?

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Young architecture students have responded to the Administration’s decisions with critical retaliation, albeit with minimal success. Yet Romme is positive: “There’s a lot of disagreement in the school whether this is the right decision, but luckily enough that’s good for schools: disagreement.” Hopefully this process will give birth to greater architects than ever. We’ll have to wait and see.

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