Architecture Program First in Region to Receive Global Validation

The architectural engineering undergraduate program in the Department of Construction and Architectural Engineering has received a three-year validation, with no reservations, from the prestigious joint UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and International Union of Architects (UIA) Validation Council for Architectural Education. AUC’s program is the first in the Middle East and Africa to be granted this recognition.

“We are very proud to receive no reservations because this is not common,” noted Ahmed Sherif, professor of architecture and chair of the committee that initiated AUC’s architectural engineering program in 2007.

Highlighting the importance of this recognition for the University, Mohamed Nagib Abou-Zeid, chair of the construction and architectural engineering department, noted, “This validation crowns the massive effort exerted over the years and comes as yet another testimony of the high quality of education and quest for excellence at AUC and in our department. Validation is important not only because it is a seal of quality, but because it’s indicative of a commitment to continuous improvement, which is the mission of the department as well as the University.”

The Bachelor of Science in architectural engineering began seeking validation following the graduation of the first class in 2011. “The UIA is a global federation of national associations of architects that encompasses key professional organizations in more than 100 countries and territories, so UIA validation is essentially the label of excellence in architectural education,” explained Ahmed Sherif. “This international recognition complements the local recognition that was received in 2012 from the Egyptian Supreme Council of Universities, stipulating that our graduates are entitled to professional licensing by the Egyptian Syndicate of Engineers to practice architecture.”

Both students and faculty members in the program are ecstatic at news of the validation, affirmed Nour Essam, an architecture junior at AUC and president of the Architecture Association. “I feel absolutely great about this validation,” he said. “It opens up so much potential and opportunities for us as students and even for faculty members. It gives us an advantage over any other student in Egypt and neighboring countries since we are the first architecture program to get this validation in the Middle East. The department was so joyful when we heard the news; everyone was going wild!”

As part of the validation process, four members of the validation team and four members of Egyptian universities visited AUC’s construction and architectural engineering department. “When they came, they examined student work in an elaborate exhibition that was held in the Sharjah Art Gallery,” recalled Nagwa Sherif, associate chair of the construction and architectural engineering department.

The team also reviewed portfolios of student work and course objectives and outcomes, as well as extracurricular activities for students and faculty members. They had meetings with faculty members, students, professional practitioners and examiners to inquire about the quality of the program, and also met with top AUC administrators to inquire about the commitment of the University to the program and inspected the facilities on campus. The UNESCO-UIA validation team, noted Nagwa Sherif, was especially impressed by the drive and commitment of architecture students. “The team felt from their discussions with both students and faculty members that the students exhibit great passion, dedication and engagement,” she said. “Although the program is a lot of work, the students enjoy what they are doing and feel rewarded at the end. We are very proud of them.”

The feedback from the visiting team, Ahmed Sherif added, was “extremely useful, encouraging and thoughtful, and will help us improve the way we deliver our courses and shape the future of our program.”

Architectural engineering is one of the fastest growing programs at AUC and one of the most popular within the School of Sciences and Engineering. The program began with 42 students in 2007 and by 2013, there were 343 students enrolled. Graduates of the program have gone on to pursue advanced degrees at top universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania.

“This program will definitely help me if I want to continue my academic career and attend graduate school, or apply for work abroad,” affirmed Essam. “The program teaches you skills that are not just related to architecture, like time management and marketing projects to clients. I’ve also learned a lot about context-driven style, sustainable design and how to integrate them to develop new, innovative ideas. Another great thing is the spirit and unity the program fosters between the students, since we spend so much time together in the department.”

The validation team’s report also highlighted the importance of the AUC program’s unique balance between modern technology and influences from Egypt’s long architectural history. “The program mission is distinct from other reputable architecture programs by the fact that it relies upon and makes the best use of information technology and the digitized era, yet it also lends itself well to our heritage,” Abou-Zeid explained. “That kind of balance is something that the validation team admired and wanted us to continue reinforcing. The program also capitalizes on AUC’s liberal arts distinction and, in that sense, I believe our graduates have a better and more well-rounded experience.”

Echoing the same sentiment, Nagwa Sherif said, “Advancement in information and communications technology is emphasized throughout the program, along with the facilities and resources we have at AUC, as well as the rich cultural and social heritage that we have in Egypt, starting from the ancient Egyptian, Coptic and Islamic periods to the Renaissance, Classic and modern eras. These all exist in Egypt, so we are also capitalizing on this rich architectural and cultural heritage.”

AUC’s architecture program is part of a joint department including both construction and architectural engineering, giving students in both programs practical experience in the collaboration between architects and construction engineers. “Our students exchange experiences with their fellow students in the construction field, and they take joint courses where they get to understand the different approaches between the two teams,” said Ahmed Sherif. “This is very important for them because it prepares them for real life work where they will have to collaborate with their construction colleagues.”

Having gained the validation, the department is looking forward to expanding AUC’s architectural offerings. “We wanted to first make sure our undergraduate program was solid before building the next level, but we will explore the possibility of creating a graduate program in architectural engineering in the next few years,” said Abou-Zeid.