Why did Open Architecture come about?

Open Architecture is being rolled out by the South African Institute of Architects (SAIA) as the first of its transformation projects aligned to Skills Development to address the educational and structural bottlenecks being experienced on the currently available model of full-time study only.

The SACAP accredited Schools of Architecture have limited enrolment capacities at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and at some of these institutions there are fewer positions available into the post-graduate programmes than are being graduated at undergraduate level.

Current statistics reveal that the bulk of previously disadvantaged persons in the field of Architecture are registered at Draughtsperson, Technologist or Senior Technologist levels. In many cases it is affordability that precludes advancement of qualifications and it is difficult for these persons to give up employment to continue their studies.

Open Architecture aims to offer an alternative to mainstream graduate and postgraduate architecture education, in the form of a blended programme of online, office-based and face to face engagements to enable them to further their architectural studies.

When will Open Architecture’s first batch of students have graduate?

The Open Architecture programme was started in 2014 and the first cohort of students will be completing their studies and presenting their portfolios in November 2015. They will then graduate in 2016.

I think there are a lot of people who still don’t really understand how Open Architecture actually works. Can you explain the basic structure of the course?

The part-time BTech: Architectural Technology (Applied Design) programme is presented as a joint initiative of OpenArchitecture (OA) and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). The BTech degree runs over two years of part time studies conducted online and through short block releases on campus at CPUT.

Students can be located anywhere as the majority of the work is done online and in their own time. We have students and staff in the Cape Town area, Gauteng, Durban and even three students in Windhoek in Namibia. Student work gets uploaded on a Monday and online crits via a webinar are conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. Lectures, briefing sessions and the crits are recorded and uploaded to the portal so the students can access them in their own time. The students also keep a design journal which is like a blog and lecturers and students can add comments and suggest links to relevant information.

What kind of qualification does a student leave with?

In the current BTech programme the students register with CPUT and receive the CPUT accredited BTech: Architectural Technology (Applied Design) degree which enables them to register with SACAP as a Senior Architectural Technologist.

Does it require that a student is employed beforehand?

Students registered on the part time OA programme are required to be employed and mentored by a Senior Architectural Technologist or Professional Architect in the practice. Students are expected to spend the equivalent of 50% of the time that full time students spend on their studies. The study time commitments vary during the academic year but amounts to about 2½ days per week during term time. Although some of these hours can be done after office hours and on weekends, an agreement between the employer and the student requires that the employer allows the student some study time during normal working hours. Students will also need occasional leave from work to attend an Orientation Block (February), Mid-year Review Block (June) and Year–end Review Block (November) for academic preparation work, tests and portfolio assessments.

How much does the degree cost?

The fees are the same as for full time BTech degree but spread over two years and in addition, there is a levy charged for the online platform.

Since opening what were the biggest hurdles you, and the students, needed to get over?

We had anticipated that the biggest hurdle would be the online interaction but in fact that has been the easiest part and the students have taken to this mode of learning like ducks to water. The biggest hurdle is balancing work, studies and social life. Students who have good support from their employers are generally coping better than those who get limited employer support. The other major challenge is financial sustainability of the programme but we are exploring various alternatives to make it work.

There are plans in the works for a MTech. How’s that coming along?

We are currently in discussions with other institutions to roll out a BAS(Hons) and M.Arch(Prof) or a MTech(Prof) part-time programme and we are optimistic that we may be able to implement it in 2017.

For more information visit Open Architecture.