Alumni demand influence on Built Environment Education Policy

Influential alumni of the Department of the Built Environment want to be involved in the renewal of the educational policy for architects. “We hire architects from TU/e ourselves. It’s in our own best interest that the program is of good quality.”

There has been unrest within TU/e’s Department of the Built Environment for some time now. In September 2023, three professors resigned out of dissatisfaction with the education policy. The professors in question were prominent architects Christian Rapp, Paul Diederen and David Gianotten. Their departures followed an investigation initiated by the Executive Board into a breach of trust between five professors and the Department Board. According to the professors, the results of the investigation were disregarded. They spoke of “mismanagement”. Three of the five professors handed in their resignations.

In early February, five prominent alumni – Janneke Bierman, Geert Bosch, Eugène Franken, Annemariken Hilberink and Machiel Spaan – sent an urgent letter to the Executive Board and the Department Board. In this letter, which was signed by dozens of alumni, they express their “concerns” about the reports in the media. They fear that, under the new educational policy, the DNA of the typical “Eindhoven School” will be compromised. The Eindhoven School does not represent a single distinctive style, but is characterized by a rational approach to architecture in which engineering, culture and history take center stage.

Helping hand

The letter writers offer a “helping hand”. “The question of how to respond to major societal changes such as climate, agriculture, public housing, energy, population aging and healthcare is on everyone’s mind,” they write. “The spatial planning of our living environment is where the urgent questions of our time come together. The energy and dynamism this entails necessitates intelligent and integral spatial and architectural design.”

In the letter, the alumni request a seat at the table: “In our view, it is [...] essential to include practitioners at the table when shaping academic architectural education.”

Concerns alleviated?

And that is exactly what Built Environment dean Theo Salet is doing. Architecture is not being marginalized within the Built Environment programs, he asserts. “Are we still offering architecture education? Most certainly, and even more intensely than before.” In February, Salet invited the letter writers for a discussion. “It was a very pleasant meeting,” he reflects. “I explained the new curriculum, and I think I managed to alleviate concerns about both this new curriculum and preserving the Eindhoven School. They also offered their help in dispelling the unrest and expressed their willingness to help find candidates to fill any vacancies.” 

“All concerns alleviated?”, Janneke Bierman responds with surprise. “That is certainly not the case. But it’s true that we had a very pleasant conversation. We see it as a first introduction and a new start.”

Machiel Spaan, who acts as a spokesperson for the letter writers, elaborates: “There has been a lot of commotion. We think it’s important to communicate transparently about this matter. Why exactly did those professors leave?”

Looking forward

Salet prefers not to go into that: “They decided to leave. They have stated their reasons for doing so in the media. It’s been quite a conflict and we’re all still processing it. I don’t want to drag it up again at this time. I want to restore the calm and work on the future.”

Spaan and the rest of the alumni also prefer to look forward. “As alumni, we are firmly rooted in the industry. “We hire architects from TU/e ourselves. It’s in our own best interest that the program is of good quality.” Spaan emphasizes that they want to help improve education policy. “We have knowledge and expertise; make use of that. We urge the Department Board not to form an island, but to involve the professional community.”

According to Spaan, Salet has agreed to a follow-up. He is going to think about how to better involve alumni in education policy. The Department Board is going to invite us for a follow-up meeting.” 

Salet and Spaan confirm that the invitation has been sent. 

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