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Collaborative Teaching of Engineering and Architecture Students


Engineering and Architecture Combined Module

MODULE TITLE: The Engineering and Architecture of Structures 1/ Engineering and Architecture
MODULE CODE: CVEN10060 for Engineering and ARCT10150 for Architecture
TARGET AUDIENCE: Stage 1 full time – typically 125 students.


Engineers and Architects require effective communication and interdisciplinary team working to be successful throughout their career which, is often overlooked during formal undergraduate education. Historically, the engineer and architect were the same person before the spilt between art and science. In modern times, their relationship can be strained as they each have their own sub-culture and stereotype. There’s a lot of focus on the quality of communication and teamwork skills in graduates. Communication and Teamwork might even be more important that Engineering knowledge (Engineer’s Ireland, 2019). Architecture graduates are expected to have strong teamwork and communication skills (RIBA, 2015). The National Strategy for Higher Education notes that teamwork skills are essential for graduates of the 21st Century. Curiously, the educational system has separated these two professions completely in their formal training.


We created a joint teaching module for engineers and architects with a view to producing graduates who are better able to work together, with experience of working together as part of their formal training.  The students learn together and are assessed on their joint projects.  The purpose of this is to develop their understanding of each other's profession and to be able to empathise with alternative perspectives.  

This approach aimed to address specific skills and knowledge such as:

  • team work;
  • communication;
  • project management and
  • technical content about structural engineering (forces, moments etc).

The module is a proactive intervention designed to break down the tribal barriers and begin to improve the dialogue between engineers and architects. 

The Innovative Approach

This module is taught to a diverse group of typically 100 first years every year. It was carefully designed to ensure constructive alignment between learning outcomes, assessment, content and teaching and learning strategies. Students participate in a variety of formative and summative group tasks and projects.

  1. Firstly, students are presented with the concept of hitchhikers. These are team members who refuse to do their share of the work but still get the same grade.
  2. Then, an ice-breaker activity. Students discuss what each profession is typically good at and ideas of how they can work best together. Engineers explain Engineering to the Architects, and likewise Architects explain Architecture to the Engineers.
  3. Next, teams prepare and sign a team contract. Each team decides on realistic expectations for their group that all members agree to honour.
  4. Then students engage in a role play activity. It allows them to explore realistic situations they will encounter in their future careers in relation to building projects.
  5. For the first summative assessment, students create a poster of free-body diagrams, depicting forces shown in photographs. They sketch the geometry, add dimensions, forces, and notes explaining their reasoning. The Engineers tend to be strong with force-diagrams, whereas the Architects tend to have better sketching skills.
  6. For the second assessment, students participate in a table quiz. Questions are drawn from content delivered in class and students debate their answers as would occur in any typical table quiz.
  7. Students then perform a precedence study of 5 structural types and then focus on one in detail. The project focuses on the structural form, layout, loads and how bending moments and shear forces dictate the overall structure. Architects are familiar with precedence studies whereas Engineers tend to have a better understanding of structural forms and bending moments.
  8. For the final assessment, teams design and create a model timber tower to demonstrate stability and how lateral and gravity loads are transferred to ground. Each team is given one sheet of MDF and access to a laser cutter. The goal is to achieve the tallest, lightest and most load resisting structure possible.  The following are some examples of laser cut models: model 1, model 2model 3 and models 4 and 5.

For more detail on the approach, watch the video.


Data was gathered from Student Feedback on Modules but also using questionnaires distributed in class.  For the SFM, extra questions were asked.  Student feedback has been very positive.  Students liked the module and it will run again every year.  

Of the feedback received from students, 34% commented on communication skills, 41% on the Engineering student’s technical knowledge, and 25% mentioned teamwork.  It is interesting to read the observations of the engineering students and architecture students.  These reflect their different perspectives and insights from working together.

From a module coordinator perspective I am extremely pleased with how the module has gone. I have been getting very positive feedback from industry about how much they value the fact that engineers and architects are been formally taught in an interdisciplinary manner. It is incredibly satisfying at the end of the module when student feedback demonstrates that they have met the learning outcomes of understanding the importance of each other's profession, but also the subtleties of it.

Jennifer Keenahan

A paper on this work titled: "Developing interdisciplinary understanding and dialogue between Engineering and Architectural students: design and evaluation of a problem-based learning module" has been published in the European Journal of Engineering Education at https://doi.org/10.1080/03043797.2020.1826909