Becoming an architect in Hong Kong : an inquiry into the work-based learning process transforming architectural graduates into professionals


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Chi Ming Nicholas LAI


Awarding Institution
Award date15 Feb 2013


Like the professions of medicine or engineering, the full professional training of architects normally consists of a five-year two-tiered academic programme in university followed by a further two to four years of working experience before sitting and passing the professional registration examination. In this system, the architecture students learn the core theoretical, technical and design knowledge and skills as part of the architectural curriculum with the hope and expectation that the real world practical knowledge and skills, and the application of the theoretical knowledge learned, could be picked up, naturally, in the architect's office. It is assumed the architectural graduate concerned would work under the guidance and supervision of a registered architect, who allocates work and provides guidance. This academic-postgraduate internship system, as a reminiscent of the medieval apprentice system, is increasingly under fired by all stakeholders. There are complaints by the professional firms that the recent graduates, fresh from the university, are ill-prepared for the real world. On the other hand, the young graduates complain about labour exploitation, low pay, long hours, lack of diversity of work experience and guidance, responsibility, respect, leadership and relevancy of experience at work to passing the registration portal. While the academic programme, together with its pedagogy, is closely monitored as part of the university's quality assurance system as well as the accreditation system of the professional institute, there is so far no accreditation system for professional firms or the architects acting as the supervisors or advisors to architectural graduates. Indeed, while there appears to be a lack of research and knowledge about architectural internship, which accounts for something like 40 percent of the full architectural education in term of years, the notion that the place of work is also a place of learning is gaining momentum with the recent emergence of the work-based learning theory, and practice. A review of the experiential, social cognition, situated, adult, and work-based learning theories revealed that this mode of learning through work at the postgraduate internship stage of professional formation has considerable merits albeit there are obstacles and problems. A number of work-based learning strategies, or methods, applicable to various disciplines and which may be applied to architectural internship were identified from the literature. The author hypothesized that there is a recipe or mix of learning strategies that has a more significant impact on this work-based learning for architectural graduates. This required digging deeper into the enabling roots of these learning strategies. A set of enabling attributes, which facilitate learning at work, was distillated from the writings of theorists. Which attributes are more applicable to the architectural internship could then be ranked by experienced architects, recently qualified architects, and architectural graduates separately. The co-relationship between these learning strategies and the enabling factors, or attributes, could then be established by means of statistics. There were two research instruments used - a structured questionnaire and a semi-structured interview. The results were used to quantitatively compare and explore the preference and actual practice of the architectural graduates against those of the recently qualified architects and other senior members. The quantitative analysis revealed that the most preferred and effective work-based learning strategy is action learning, or learning through work itself, implying that learning must be embedded in work. The strategies that follow in terms of preference are mentoring, reflective practice and community of practice. Feedback, role model, and participation fully, challenges and encouragement to take different views, are but some of the top enabling attributes. A question may be asked if this learning process is unique to the architectural profession due to its specific creative nature. A sample of engineers and engineering graduates was used as comparison. The quantitative analysis indicates that there is no statistically significant difference between the two professions, implying that the findings and recommendations could generally be applied to the construction professions. Work-based learning process at the internship stage is indeed complex and as a social phenomenon, it is subject to a host of variables much richer than numbers can tell. 12 recently qualified architects, whose memories of their internship process were still vivid, were interviewed and this served as the qualitative analysis for triangulation purposes. A total of 24 qualitative themes have emerged and these add contextual significance to triangulate the quantitative analysis. This study utilized the perspective of learning theories and applied onto the architectural domain. The study combined theoretical, methodological and practical knowledge to provide insight into the learning process transforming graduates into full professional. The findings conclude that there is no definitive recipe of learning strategies for architectural internship. In contrary, the findings reaffirm the process of work-based learning is complex and integrated. The findings call for alignment of individual and collective learning, adding argumentation on the renewed interest in apprenticeship and studio setting. The findings also highlight the key roles of meta-cognition and self-motivation in the transformation process. The findings, however, illustrate only weak co-relations between the variables suggesting that learning is an organic interaction between the learner, experience, knowledge, and context. Practical improvement measures to architectural internship process were suggested. This research also revealed the encompassing and multi-disciplinary nature of work-based learning, which, after all, serves to respond to the changing complexity of contemporary work and learning practice.

    Research areas

  • China, Architecture, Hong Kong, Vocational guidance