College of Architecture: Debunking Myths and Legends – part 1


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A large majority of my Tumblr followers are fresh young designers, and many are just entering a collegiate architecture program. Many readers have asked about various topics related to studies, so I thought a series of posts about what to expect from a college of architecture would be helpful.

Sometimes the best way of explaining something is to focus on what it is not, rather than what it is. By de-bunking some of the myths and legends of architecture school, I hope readers will be more prepared for their first (or fourth) year in architecture school.

Myth #1: Every project and task has a highly academic and noble purpose – after all, its architecture!

When one of my professors asked us to produce 10 study models for every class (which met three times a week), I was overwhelmed. I was a third year student, and I was used to creating a lot of work under tight deadlines, but to this point, the majority had been 2D work which I excelled at. 3D models were not exactly my forte, and I struggled to keep up producing the quantity of models. After a few weeks of late nights and in class critiques where only three or four of the models were actually discussed, I decided I was done following the rules.

Instead of producing 10 models that were hastily put together for the sake of a deadline, and obsessing over quantity of work, I decided I would focus my efforts on a handful of well planned and executed models. Whether that meant I did two, three, or all ten was not important. What was important, I decided, was that I pursued a strong concept and could justify my decision to only submit the selected models for critique.


Image by Caliper Studio via Flickr

At the next class meeting, I displayed my four models to the professor, and we discussed them like prior classes. After reviewing the last model, he asked, “Where are the rest?”. I was a bit nervous, but I answered as confidently as possible that I felt these were my strongest pieces, and that creating another six models was not a good use of time if I already arrived at a design conclusion. He paused while looking over my models, then nodded in agreement and we continued to discuss the ramifications of my current design concepts.

At the time, it felt like a simple victory. I had more time to produce quality work and I stopped when I had arrived at a reasonable design conclusion (thus allowing me to sleep!). However, looking back, I realize it was a much bigger ‘life lesson’ that I had encountered.

No two projects are alike. We hear this in architecture a lot, but only in reference to the aesthetics and siting of a building. A typical example is that you would not design a tropical hut for an Alaskan site. The building must respond to its surroundings after all. Take this principle a step further, and you’ll realize that not every job necessitates the same tasks. In studio, many professors will require models and drawings in mass quantities. No one ever stops to question whether this is necessary to completing the job in a timely and effective way. Night after night, students are face-planting into a pile of projects because quantity is the priority, when quality of concept and execution should be driving the presentation materials.

My suggestion is to stop. Stop following orders and think about the project at hand. Examine the purpose of your tasks, and evaluate the ultimate goal: will these tasks help you meet that goal? If they don’t, realign your tasks so that you meet your goal efficiently and effectively. It is a decision making process that you’ll experience in your career on a daily basis. Learning to do this early on while in school will not only help in the future, but it will eliminate many all-nighters.

If you don’t understand the purpose behind an assignment, ask the professor for clarification. Sometimes (though not always) there is a purpose for producing a large quantity of models or drawings: learning what the process of design exploration looks like, creating drawings and models to push the project farther instead of settling, and asking you to think in creative new ways about a stale problem are all legitimate reasons for high quantity production. Just keep in mind that no two people are alike. Just because a classmate needs to create 20 models to arrive at a conclusion doesn’t mean you do. That is why I come back to the idea that no two projects are alike.

2nd, 4th, & 5th Year Studios (NewSchool of Arc...

Image via Wikipedia

After you’ve decided on the course of action you need to take for a project, be confident in that decision and stand up for it. Much of architecture has to do with who can dish out the most convincing BS. Confidence in your design and presentation materials will go a long way at convincing your professor (and eventually, your client) that your decisions are sound. Be prepared to have a convincing reason for the materials you submit for review, but also be prepared to take criticism and respond appropriately. If a legitimate concern is made about quality or quantity, reconsider your stance. Be flexible, but be confident.

At the end of the day, an architectural education teaches you more than just design. It teaches you how to sell your ideas, projects, and ultimately, yourself. Your creativity will be wrapped up in each project you create. Confidence in your abilities and ideas will translate into confidence in the project. Work smarter, not harder, and learn to produce projects you can be confident in.


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  • Good points made here.  I always struggled in school when I tried to keep up with the schedule my classmates made for themselves or tried to produce the same quantity/quality deliverables as they did – until I figured out that my process was mine alone, and as long as I could come to the table with something to discuss and show progress, I would be okay.  
    It really is so much about the process and showing HOW you came to your conclusions – good lesson for the new students and good reminder for all designers!  

    • You’re right – understanding the thought process and how you arrive at a conclusion is important, not the number of tries it takes to get there. The length of the process will be different for everyone. Thanks for reading and for your comment!

  • I remember a time when someone made a rubber band ball inside of a plexi-glass cube… “this is fire” is what he proclaimed in front of the whole class. So certain in his metaphor, I don’t think anyone thought twice at the time, though I don’t think he did well in the class as a whole! 

  • Anonymous

    Brinn, you’d do well in my studio, but I’m not one for rules. I believe in iterations and multiple solutions, but there needs to be balance. An idea must be tested to know its worth, but 10 models??? I think you’ve described it very well.