The first day of architecture school is the beginning of a very long journey. A journey that will have many ups and downs, but will also be filled with numerous memories that you will be able to look back at once you graduate. It is a journey where you make new friends, learn new skills, try lots of new food around campus, make connections with professionals and most importantly, become thinkers who will shape our cities in the future. However, getting through architecture school is an art that takes time to master. Somewhere in between working hard to meet deadlines, learning new technical skills including softwares, attending history classes, doing readings, commuting to and from the studio, becoming an architect and making friends, you start to lose yourself. And in those dire moments, you will wish you had some tips or tricks that can help you survive architecture school. Worry not, because you have come to the right place to find those exact tips you will need in order to make your student experience more productive and get an insight of 10 great tips that you need in order to survive architecture school.
Make it a habit to always be developing new technical and drawing skills
Being an architect in the professional world is very different from being an architect in the academic world. In the professional world, your imagination is limited with a lot of practicalities of design such as a long list of city guidelines that you have to follow in order to make a building. In the academic world, there are no limits to your imagination. You are free to explore any area of design with no rules that you have to follow, and you can be super creative in terms of representing your ideas as well. A big part of being an architect is to be able to communicate your ideas visually to a client or your professor. This skill set is something which is learned, which is why it is important to make sure you are always learning new skills that will help you develop a visual language. Some good 3D Modelling softwares to learn include Rhino, and Sketch-Up. Some good softwares for post production and line work editing include Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. And finally, some of the greatest softwares out there for rendering and making videos of your designed spaces are Twin motion and Unreal Engine. Learning to work with the right softwares can go a long way and these are skills that you can use in any profession down the line as well.
If you are someone who is not used to keeping a planner, this is the time to develop the habit of keeping one because it will make your life a million times easier. Keeping track of deadlines is easy, but keeping track of the amount of tasks you have to do in order to successfully meet that deadline is where it gets really hard to follow up with everything. Having a design deadline means you have to make a set of drawings - and this set can include plans, sections, elevations, site plans, axonometric, renderings, and 3D models. Writing everything that needs to be prepared before the deadline, and allotting one task per day or more makes it so much easier to ensure you are always meeting deadlines and never rushing to get things done last minute. The key to success here is to spread apart the work over the few weeks you have, to work in segments and never leave everything for the last two days before a design review. In fact the last two days should be your most stress free days and should give you enough time to prepare what you want to say when you present your work. Keeping a planner is highly recommended even for keeping track of other things outside of school, like making sure you are doing your groceries on time, making time for friends and family, and most importantly allotting time out for personal things like self care.
When you are in the midst of it all, and deadlines from all your classes are weighing on, it is very easy to tell yourself, “I’ll just stay awake all night to get this done.” Never, I repeat, never ever get in the habit of doing this. Take it from someone who has attended architecture school for 7 years, it is never worth it to pull an all nighter. Working all night means being anxious and stressed to get work done, drowning in coffee trying to force yourself to stay awake, and feeling really tired the next morning when you are giving your presentation. Studies have shown that we are least productive when we work at night and much more productive when we work in the day hours. I always found waking up early to do some work much more productive than staying up late working. Ask yourself a simple question, what is the point of forcing yourself to stay awake, produce mediocre work because your productivity levels are low, not being able to think clearly on your ideas, and not feeling energetic enough during your presentation? Not to forget, your mental health is way more important that that deadline that is stressing you out. Keep it simple, be productive during that day, and use that planner to help you.
I repeat. Never make last minute changes to your work and own what you put on your drawings. First of all, you should be using your planner to make sure you are not working right up until the deadline. But if you are, do not make last minute changes because your ideas are not going to be fully reformed and if someone questions why you did something, you will not be able to answer them properly. If there is something you end up not liking and want to change, bring it up during conversation when you are presenting and ask the reviewers what they think and if they can suggest something that might make it better. They will definitely help you see a different side to your design and then you can take those comments and make the changes and be prepared for the next review. Owning what you put on the paper is also important because you should be able to defend your work if you ever need to. You don't ever want to be in a situation where someone critiques your work and you are not able to own up to what you made. Remember, a good review should not feel like instructions being thrown at you but instead should feel like a conversation.
- Only take productive comments from architecture reviews
Reviews can go in one of 3 directions. They can be filled with compliments about how amazing your work is, or they can be filled with remarks about everything wrong that you did, or they can be a balance of comments that point out the goods and bad in your project followed up by advice to help you improve. The bad news is, there is no way of predicting what type of review you are about to have - it all depends on the panel who is attending. The good news is, you can direct the conversation and try to get some productive comments out of the reviewers. Regardless of how good or bad your review goes, never think too hard about what they said, except productive comments that help you improve your project moving forward.
- Find a spot on campus where you can reflect and think
Stemming off of the importance of mental health, something that is super helpful is finding a spot on campus or near campus where you can go to simply unwind from all your stresses. It can be your place where you go to think about anything that might be stressing you out. Or your place where you go to think about great ideas, and reflect on life. Remember, as important as it is to understand and blend into the lifestyle of an architecture student, it is equally as important to have your life outside of school as well. You can also use this spot to write in your journal, listen to music, or draw in your sketchbook.
- Find a spot for focusing on school work that’s not in studio
Working in a studio is amazing. You see all the creative things your classmates are working on and be inspired by them, you can ask for help with anything you are stuck on, and you have your friends with you at all times working and eating together. However, this can get overwhelming sometimes especially when there is a deadline coming up and others are ahead of you and you're feeling like you are starting to fall behind. It can definitely get a little overwhelming sometimes. In moments like these, it is very important to have a favourite spot on campus, like a cozy library or a cafe with great coffee, where you can go and just be able to work alone. This allows you to focus on only your work and what is in front of you. This is also helpful if you feel like you are getting distracted in the studio and not being productive enough.
- Practice prioritization in school life and personal life
Giving importance to certain tasks over others is something which really helps in order to survive architecture school. Sometimes school is a priority, but other times it is important to recognize that your personal life is also a priority. Having a balance of the two and focusing on things that are important can lead to overall productivity in your career.
- Make friends with your classmates
Even if you have friends outside of your class, make friends with people in your class. These are the people who will lift you up when you are down, be there for you when you need help with something, and will also be helping you out with your ideas. You will be spending the majority of your time with your classmates, so it is a good idea to be friends with them. Trust me, it will make your time in architecture school so much more fun and memorable.
- Always think of the bigger picture
Lastly, in order to survive architecture school, you must always think about the bigger picture when it comes to design. Stick to the design guidelines of the assignment, but also ask yourself what this project means in the greater realm of things. Which communities will this design be affecting? Who would be occupying the space you are designing? Who will benefit from this space? Are you exploring new design methods? And most importantly, is your design working to make our living environment a better place to live in? Having answers to questions like these and more always allows for more meaningful conversations around design, and overall enhances your knowledge as an architect in training.
Whether coming to architecture school was a good or bad decision for you is something only time will tell. Some love it and while others never want to think about architecture once they graduate. But while you are in school, if you keep these 10 tips in mind, and practice them, I can confidently say that your time in school will be a hell of a lot smoother. Good luck on your journey to becoming an architect!