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The Gap Between School and the Profession
// Michael Twitchel


Abstract: There is a large gap between the knowledge we are given and the knowledge we should know before taking first steps into the professional design world. It a problem, and it needs to be addressed before leaving school as they are crucial parts of design.


Audience: The target audience are the students and professors of any and all design schools.

"The Gap Between School and the Profession"


I have heard on several occasions that school is nothing like the real world. I hear this and yet I don’t see any changes being made to change the fact that there is a gap between learning in school and out in the design profession. In my opinion, the practice should be as close to the real thing as possible. With this year’s design-make project, I can see a clear and distinct difference between what I have been taught and what I should know. This semester I have worked on, and witnessed how an actual budget is maintained and followed. In addition to that, the detail level is far more sophisticated, on every aspect including the budget all the way down to the type a screws to fasten the walls. It is these two things that I personally have found lacking from school. If we could just bridge this gap, the whole of Architecture students would be much better prepared for the transition from school into practice.


The budget of a project is probably the single most important piece of information for any and all real projects. How often have we ever talked or learned about budget in school… … NEVER! I have never once had a class based on budget. This is the make or break of the project and it is never talked about. The number one thing that the owners ask after everything we talk about, are we still under budget or how does this affect the budget? It is obviously very important to our clients, it is there money, and they want to know exactly what it’s paying for. We are currently at our max budget and everything that happens or needs to be taken care of is now coming out of other aspect of the project. The porch budget is getting cut every time something uncalculated happens that needs to be paid for. We have already reduced the amount of ipe for the front and back porches. The porch has now had to have been reworked to account for the reduced amount of wood to cover the steel of the front porch. We have already cut almost two thousand dollars from the front porch budget due to allocating into to other specs of work. We have even changed the type of wood we are using because of the price difference so we can get more for the reduced money allocation.


Originally we were to make and brake all of our own flashing. The was our original intent, but we later came to find out that it would be much better in the long run to have someone else make it but still install all the pieces ourselves. To figure out who was making the flashing we had to find out our capabilities and the numbers to match. How much the steel cost (uncut), how much was the brake going to cost because we didn’t have the capabilities needed with our current equipment? In the end for economical reason we realized the better efficiency with money and time to outsource the bending process. Even though for the final product the flashing was professionally made, our mock-up model was made by us using a brake. Again to simulate the closest possible reality we used a break to bend the mock-up flashing because we needed the experience and knowledge for any and all field modification that are needed to be done. 


The details are something I’ve always been interested in, how things go together, how to attach between two different materials, and how to keep water out so that walls or roofs functions properly. I school we are taught very little on the actual details, more like a generic brand of details that may or may not work on that specific location.  Along with that is knowing and seeing how these actual details are used on real projects. Our mock-up model was build to see all the conditions that we made with flashing and corner conditions and all the interaction between multiple pieces of the building. The very real reality of flashing not working or flashing not protecting not has actual implications rather than just a lower grade. If water penetrates an opening, the house now has mold in the walls, or bugs just ate the insulation on the Zip panels. These were never real conditions that we have had to deal with so the details matter too little and were not emphasized until this fifth year design-build project. Not only do you need to solve all the problems with how to keep water out, but how those solutions are getting implemented and attached. Can they get nailed, does it need rivets, or does a simple bolt on method work for the aesthetic and the functions? This was the first time I have ever had to spec where to place the screws and what type of screw to use. We needed a specific length to screw through the ridge of the corrugated metal, we had to match paint/color of the screw head, and we had to make sure it had a rubber grommet to ensure no water was penetrating the whole we just made into the panels. These are the details I’ve never seen until now, ones I didn’t even know I need to figure out as an Architectural Designer.


These are two major point in a project that determine the make or break of the building and the longevity of the building. How much money is there to buy the good, quality items to ensure this building last? Are the details going to work where the owners don’t have to spend thousands or millions of dollars two or three years after the building is finished? I feel these very important topics should be addressed before we leave school considering the play some the most impactful aspects of the design process. I have not taken or even seen a class that talks either of these two point to the degree that I have done this year on the Waldo Affordable Housing Project. Luckily, this studio exists to teach at least some of the students in my class, about 22 percent, the experience and take what we have learned and apply this to the future projects we will have in our professional career. There is a major gap between school and practice in my eyes, one that we need to close and address here in the immediate future to better prepare design students for real world applications.

Written by Michael Twitchel

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