Arch students consider No. 3 ranking

Students at the Architecture School weigh the new rankings by DesignIntelligence.
Students at the Architecture School weigh the new rankings by DesignIntelligence. Photo by Annelisa Leinbach.

Although Yale’s School of Architecture ranked third on DesignIntelligence’s 2013 list of “America’s Best Architecture and Design Schools,” students and faculty contend that the strong showing provides a limited view of what the program has to offer.

A bimonthly report on developments in the architecture, design and real estate industries, DesignIntelligence publishes annual rankings of the top 20 graduate and undergraduate architecture and design programs in the United States. Compiling input from deans, administrators, students and practitioners, this year’s lists rate schools across 22 different categories.

Yale has historically maintained high standings on the report, and in 2012, the school was recognized as the second best in the nation. But students and administrators said they think such quantitative evaluations fail to provide a holistic analysis of each school’s unique philosophies and teaching methods.

“We are not running the school for rankings,” School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern said. “We’re running the school for the top education we can offer to the top students that apply.”

Two School of Architecture students expressed skepticism about DesignIntelligence’s methodology. Henry Chan ARC ’14 said that while he follows news about the rankings, he questions their ability to accurately express the complex structures of an architecture school, noting that each program places emphasis on different design philosophies. One of Yale’s unique strengths, he said, is the functionality of its designs.

“Like any list, they have a quantitative way of putting it together,” undergraduate architecture major Samantha Kaser ’14 said. “But for any school that teaches art, it’s about the methodology that you feel most productive in. Art is very subjective, very dependent on opinion.”

Chan cited the University of Michigan’s astronomic rise in the rankings as an example of DesignIntelligence’s seemingly arbitrary standards. After a yearslong absence from the list of top 20 architecture graduate programs, Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning usurped Harvard from its long-held No. 1 seat in 2011.

“The sense I get from DesignIntelligence is that it’s not a very comprehensive index,” Chan noted.

Altair Peterson ARC ’13, who did not know about the rankings’ release, said she was more aware of such lists when she was applying to architecture school. Now that she is enrolled in a program that consistently ranks among the top in the country, she said has the luxury of feeling secure in Yale’s high ranking.

Four students interviewed said they do not pay attention to small shifts in rank because of Yale’s generally strong reputation. But two of them, who are currently in the graduate program, said they took the DesignIntelligence list into consideration when choosing a professional school.

Stern said he thinks rankings are always influenced by “political agendas” and does not agree that they should factor into students’ choices about professional school.

“It’s a little like the Academy Awards or the Golden Globes — they do not affect a thinking man’s decision about what movie to go see,” Stern said.

While the School of Architecture has always featured prominently in national rankings, Yale College’s undergraduate architecture major is not eligible for DesignIntelligence’s ranking of undergraduate architecture programs.

The major is not a professional program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board, and students who graduate from the University’s program receive a bachelor of arts, as opposed to the bachelor of architecture offered by institutions like Cornell University and the Southern California Institute of Architecture.

Kaser said that the undergraduate architecture program’s place within Yale’s broader liberal arts curriculum makes it difficult to evaluate.

“The undergraduate major is unlike [any] other major at Yale, in terms of how it’s structured and how you must commit yourself to the field of study,” Kaser said. “But it is designed so that you still have an arts education.”

DesignIntelligence began ranking architecture schools in 1998.

Correction: Jan. 18

A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that Yale College offers a bachelor of arts in architecture. In fact, Yale College does not offer a professional degree in architecture; the degree given to undergraduates in the architecture major is a bachelor of arts. 

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