Forsyth, Ann. " Great Programs in Architecture: Rankings, Performance Assessments, and Diverse Paths to Prominence," in ArchNet-IJAR: International Journal of Architectural Research, vol. 2, issue 2 (2008).
What makes a great program in architecture? This paper grapples with a key dilemma faced by architecture programs seeking to be recognized on campus and among their peers. How do schools position themselves to be perceived as programs valued by their universities, faculties, and students, distinguished in ways that represent important dimensions of architecture? The paper first explains how success or performance is currently measured in various ranking and assessment exercises: via reputational surveys; employer reviews; publication and citation counts; complex assessment rankings; and multiple, uncombined performance measures. It then outlines diverse paths or definitions of what it means to be a top or prominent program: elite design; practical readiness; technological sophistication; other substantive or pedagogical niches; and research.
This paper argues there are multiple ways in which architecture can be practiced and thus diverse paths to prominence but at present ranking schemes reflect only a narrow range of practice. To take advantage of current rankings schemes, or provide real alternatives, requires institutional activity, however. Individual schools already promote their interests on their web sites and in academic guidebooks but such self representations do not have the appeal to students and university administrators that comparative rankings present. Alternative assessments need to be created such as in the multiple performance measure approach—an approach that allows comparisons among schools but on many dimensions. Merely creating indicators of achievement does not create or improve excellence, of course. However, such measures could provide students with better information for selecting programs, help programs argue for both their worth and their need for resources, and, most importantly, enlarge debates about architectural excellence and the future of the profession.