Ranking Architectural Academics: Suspect Methodology

I came across a link to a paper titled “Rating the Architecture Professors in Research: 2010 Report” by Garry Stevens, PhD from the Key Centre for Architectural Sociology this morning on Twitter by David Neustein (@dneus). Stevens compiled this report by obtaining lists of the faculty in every architecture department in a variety of predominantly English-speaking countries (see the report for details). It covers approximately 3,000 faculty members at 160 architecture schools. The academics are rated in percentiles, from the 90th down to zero. The rankings are entirely based on the number of time the academics are found in two databases: The online catalogue of the RIBA Architectural Library and The Avery Index.

While the author went to great lengths to avoid double-counting and to search for multiple spellings of the same name, I am not sure the methodology really gets to his goal of identifying “excellence in research.” Some of the academics that hold top (90th percentile) ranking are not a surprise: Annmarie Adams, Beatriz Colomina , Kenneth Frampton and Kazys Varnelis all have published a large amount of writing as active university faculty members. On the other hand, there are big-name architects in this top list (Frank Gehry and Thom Mayne ¬†for example) who would clearly come up frequently in a database search but are not known for prolific academic-quality writing.

I did a search of the RIBA catalogue and found many journal articles that referenced Thom Mayne, but I couldn’t find a single one he had actually written himself. I am sure Mr. Stevens spent more time on this than I did this morning, but if the entire point of the project was to identify the strongest architectural research academics in the English-speaking world, I’m not sure a bunch of “starchitects” belong on the list.

This is not to say the list is completely useless- I actually found the method of ranking rather interesting. I have seen somewhat similar rankings of entire departments in the past, but never individual faculty members ranked top to bottom like this.

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Mark is an architect in San Francisco.

One thought on “Ranking Architectural Academics: Suspect Methodology”

  1. Well said Mark. I think I was excited to see in that list architectural academics ranked in a manner normally reserved for riches, fame and athletic prowess.

    Speaking of fame and your earlier tweet about the AA of the 70s, Tom Heneghan has a great story about Bowie. As an AA student, Tom won a poster art competition for which the prize was a meeting with Bowie. But upon meeting him, Bowie was convinced he already knew Tom. They probably encountered each other at the AA bar! Anyway the point of all that is that it would be interesting to see alongside the academics names, the list of institutions where they both attended and have taught.

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