3 Things to know when studying architecture

In this blog post I will share three things that I wish someone would have told me when I was in the school of architecture. If I had known these three things, I think they would have helped me to make better projects and have a less stressful and a more enjoyable university experience.

Before we dive into the three topics, let’s zoom out for a second and have look at what the school of architecture is all about. The main objective of the school of architecture, at least in the UK, is to produce design talent. Design is the main driving force in the way the teaching is structured, to the point where all other things are almost secondary in nature.

But design process requires an enormous amount of effort and energy, because it is a non-linear creative process which doesn’t follow a structured path. Throughout this process you might have to go back and forth several times just to make some sort of progress and often it gets trashed anyway during the review.

So, knowing that the school of architecture puts design at the centre of educational process, let’s look at few ways to make the design process easier and more enjoyable

Above is the original video if you don’t fancy reading the blog, alternatively the full blog post is just below!

It’s OK to suck at design & how to improve

 

First of all, I think it’s useful to adopt a psychological attitude that it is absolutely 100% ok to suck in architectural design. It’s ok to not know the architectural theory, how to draw well, how to do maths, and to not know much about computers or 3d modelling. In fact, it is surprising how many seasoned pros are actually not that great in many of these skills.

There are a lot of disciplines that architecture profession covers, and because of that architects are generalists, we are not specialists. We know a little bit from every field that relates to architecture but we are not experts in any of these. We might know a little about landscape design, structure, art, composition etc. but we are unlikely to be experts in any of these.

The generalist approach is the reason why it’s so fun to study architecture, because the spread of learning is so vast, unlike other degrees which focus more narrowly. But with so many things to know, rather than trying to be great at all of them, which is hard and time consuming, I think it is way more useful to adopt the mentality of getting hold of the information just before you’ll need it. Rather than filling your head with information in advance just in case you’ll need it later on.

To illustrate the point, imagine you have a rendering of your design project you’d like to make. Rather than going online and trying to learn everything there is a bout rendering (the just in case approach), it is far more useful to find a good quality online tutorial that shows a similar scene setup to yours with a detailed step by step guide on how to set it up. Then at an appropriate point in your design development process you can replicate this in your rendering (the just in time approach).

I’m not saying that you must stop studying in advance. In many cases it’s great to read over the summer breaks when you are in a relaxed mode and able to take in the information easily and get inspired by new ideas. And you definitely have to revise before exams! But in most other cases I think it’s far more efficient to spend time and energy required for digesting, reading, understanding and implementing the information just before you need in you design project. This way the information will stay fresh in your head and you will get a chance to use it practically immediately after, which means it will stick with you for longer without the need to revisit it.

The importance of iterations

 

One of the myths of being a good architecture student is that you need to be super smart, talented or well read. And although this is true to an extent, there is another far more important skill and that is an ability to produce several iterations of an idea. Since design is such a huge component in architectural education, the way to become better at it is through iterations or repetitions.

Importance of having several bad versions of a creation before arriving to a good one is a well-documented process in arts and other creative disciplines like design, art, writing etc. It is basically a numbers game. Often times it takes 10 bad ideas to get to a single decent one. This means that the quickest way to improve is by make a large number of versions of a design idea before a good one shows up. The more iterations you go through the better your design become.

This means that when working on a project, it is better to make 7-10 bad/mediocre design versions than trying to come up with a single pristine design solution. In fact, by having gone through a large number of iterations you build up a creative muscle that will make you a better at coming up with other design proposals in the future.

In the world of personal opinions that is the school of architecture, having several design options will make you more credible in your tutorials and reviews. All of the work will serve as a proof that what you have put forward works and it’s not just some fragile concept developed overnight. All those design options will serve as a proof to your professors that what you are designing is actually credible, even if they themselves would approach the problem differently.

Specialisation

 

The school of architecture is very much about the creative journey and exploration. But in order to compete in the crowded market of architecture industry you do want to become good at something specific.

Why is specialisation important? Well specialisation is not important at all if you want to continue with architecture as an art vocation. But if you’d like to build a career as a sustainable source of income then you do want to narrow down in a specific direction.

To illustrate this point, I like the analogy of passing driver’s exam. This is a difficult accomplishment but it’s not uncommon, because many other people drive. And if you’d like to earn money as a driver, then it’s best to position yourself in such way to distinguish you from all other drivers. It’s better to decide which position is best for you, is it delivery driver, taxi driver, race driver or something else?

The similar analogy exists in architecture, just because I’m an architect doesn’t make me special in any way, because guess what, there are many other architects and more getting produced every year. Many of whom have exactly the same or better capabilities than I have. So, I would encourage you to try think regularly about what you really like about architecture, what is it that draws you to it. What kind of architect would you like to be in an ideal world?

A good hypothetical question to position yourself might be – if you were only allowed to design a single type of building – what would that be? You might also ask yourself, what size of a company you would prefer to work for, would you like to work in a firm of 200 people, or in a cosy 7 people collective? Are you interested in high tech architecture or is more ecologically conscious architecture closer to your heart? Would you be happy to continue as an employee in a firm or would you want to establish your own practice? All of these questions are useful to ponder about before settling for a long-term position.

Conclusion

 

Every architect’s journey is different.  Luck, skill and connections play a major role in the path to success. Some of these elements are harder to have a direct control over compared to the others. However, developing habit of finding the just in case informationm, sourcing the right type of information just before you need it and the focus to specialise are all the elements within our control that have a lot of weight on their own.

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