University of Arkansas, Fayetteville


There is evidence that architecture students are increasingly unprepared to enter the architectural workforce upon graduation. Some research has identified a growing gap between architectural education and architectural practice in terms of real-world concerns as the reason for students’ unpreparedness. By involving real-world stakeholders in architectural design studios – by which I mean individuals drawn from outside the academy with a professional, financial, or emotional investment in a project – educators may be able to create a more authentic learning environment that will better prepare students for architectural practice. This study describes my personal experiences as a student working on design projects involving real-world stakeholders, including both benefits and drawbacks. My experiences are set into context by relating the outcomes of six semi-structured interviews with current faculty, current students, and a recent graduate of the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas, all of whom have participated in school projects involving real-world stakeholders. Generally speaking, students were more engaged when real-world stakeholders were involved in their studio projects, though professors often faced additional challenges in coordinating the stakeholders’ participation with the academic schedule. Ultimately, the students interviewed expressed a preference for projects involving stakeholders, believing that such projects bore greater resemblance to projects in architecture practice. Professors, on the other hand, tended to have mixed thoughts regarding the value of such projects. The paper concludes with tentative recommendations about how to best accommodate stakeholder participation into architectural school design projects.