An Architectural Model

The built environment is not only the focus for Young Urbanists programs and advocacy, it is the process of studying the built environment itself, that serves as our model for 21st century learning.

Deeper Learning

Our vision states: Young Urbanists seeks to equip young people for a future they cannot grasp. But what do we mean when we say that? We are of course responding to Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk (50M views and counting) calling for a radical rethink of our school systems. And how can this be delivered? We believe that the skills required for the 21st century are developed as part of a contemporary architectural education, and that these programs can serve as a model for educators.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Deeper Learning report identified five key competencies for today’s students – the ability to master core academic content, to think critically and solve complex problems, to work collaboratively, to communicate effectively and to learn how to learn.

Analysis, Synthesis, and Creation

An architectural education requires the rigorous habits of learning and deeper understanding of content vital to these competencies. Architectural programs cover a breadth of demanding subject matter (including history, theory, sociology, drawing, art, aesthetics, materials science, engineering, construction, law, cost planning and so on), surrounding a core creative subject – the design studio.

This focus on the mastery of complex, integrated subject matter concurs with the thinking of senior STEM educators, such as Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, who, in a recent keynote address titled ‘Raising Twenty-First Century Citizens‘ stated

I want to talk about why, in 2018, there is still a fundamental duty to teach students content: concepts, facts and principles. Taught by teachers trained as experts in that content, with all the status and resources and professional development that we would demand in any other expert occupation.

But importantly for architecture, this content is not learned in a vacuum, but rather, designers need to apply this knowledge and grapple with hands-on projects through the design studio process. Architecture requires both analysis of design issues, such as site, client and context and a synthesis of interdisciplinary subjects, these concepts, facts and principles, to create human centred solutions to real world problems.

The flexible character of many architectural courses and the nature of the design studio itself requires students to direct their own eduction and become independent learners. Architecture is, in essence, a collaborative profession, requiring practitioners to work in teams both within firms and across disciplines. Architecture also requires strong oral, written and drawing communication skills to express its ideas.


In addition to these skills identified in the Deeper Learning report, an architectural education also develops important ideation and kinaesthetic skills. The design studio is a dynamic process of ideation. Week after week, the project design is shared and developed, allowing for safe ‘failure’ and evolution of ideas. Similarly, architecture’s ‘hands on learning’ – through drawing, model making and experimental constriction – enables the brain-hand relationship to be explored and refined.

The success of the ‘design thinking’ movement, a method which, at it’s heart, gives a framework to the process of architectural design, shows that an architectural education can serve as a model for 21st century learning, developing higher order skills and thinking for todays students.

For ideas and resources for Urban Educators click here.