11 Things I Wish I Knew as an Architecture Student

There are things I wish someone told me which could have allowed me to be more efficient, get over difficulties faster, get more work done, avoid wasting time, and help me produce better work.

So if you’re an architecture student, hopefully, you can take some valuable ideas you can implement within the next 10 minutes to get most out of university.

1. Appreciate that your tutor is putting pressure on you

One of the things I used to complain about was that my tutor was giving too much work for me. Sometimes it even felt like their expectation exceeded the amount I could take on, I had a tutor just like that during my second year of architecture.

After I graduated though, I was looking back at my work I did over 3 years of bachelor’s, and my second-year projects were one the strongest.

It was also the only year that my learning skyrocketed and it taught me valuable lessons about myself and how to work efficiently throughout the process.

Even though it might feel as if your tutor might be just taking the mickey out of you right now, you will look back and have loads of good quality work to put in your portfolio.

The greatest achievements are done outside of your comfort zone.

2. Learn to be decisive. Stick to an idea and go for it.

This one is a major one especially if you are the type of person that has too many ideas and can’t decide on one. Time is against us architecture students from the moment we receive the brief.

Don’t be fooled when the project deadline is in 8 or 10 weeks, cause time spent in week 1 is as valuable as week 10.

Spend your first 2 weeks gathering as many ideas as possible, experiment, but you also need to be quick at making decisions. It eliminates you from thinking about an idea for more than needed and allows you to concentrate on other tasks that have to get done.

It takes a certain amount of courage and trust from yourself to take the leap, but you need to learn to take the step in order to progress.

3. Don’t start from scratch midway.

There’s so much time to get one idea done, let alone starting another one midway.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people do is deciding on a completely new brief for their project, and that costs their presentation during critiques.

An advice to you if you decide you don’t like your idea halfway, find or create an element within your building which you like based on your current idea of the project. Let me give you an example.

During my third year, my tutor really pushed his own concept of having a market in my building which I absolutely despised.

It wasn’t anything I was interested in, and in my opinion, it looked bad. Time was against me and not having a program for my building was costing my overall performance, I had to make a decision and fast.

So I decided to stick to the market.

I might have not liked the program but I was absolutely obsessed with the architecture idea I was working on. It worked in my favor as I showed keenness and exploration in my portfolio.

Making small adjustments as such will teach you more things about yourself and how to handle situations you’re not necessarily excited about.

So please, don’t scratch ideas midway through the project, transform them!

4. Produce quality work than loads of scrappy ones.

Yes, during the first weeks of the project you SHOULD work fast and have as many ideas as possible.

Quality is not as important in those stages and having loads of scrap papers with sketches and thought processes is actually a good thing. This means you are thinking about your project and exploring all possible scenarios.

After you have come to a decision (hopefully by those first few weeks) you should move forward and think about what type of drawings you need to be making more carefully.

Some, you might decide are not worth putting too much time on in order to progress to more important drawings. I have many of those in my portfolio and one of the things I regret not doing is taking the time to make them presentable and a bit more effort in.

There’s no worse situation than trying to assemble a page with good drawings and having multiple just-not-there-yet drawings to explain your idea clearly.

Aim to have 1 good drawing that explains your building better instead of 3 mediocre ones.

5. Know the difference between opinion and constructive criticism.

I know how it feels like to work on a drawing or idea for weeks just to be told to change it. A lot of the feedback from my tutors were not so great.

There was this one time during a critique one of the judges told me:

“I don’t understand why you’re trying to control people to go where you want, just let them go wherever they want!”

My answer was, but that’s what architecture is about. Designing spaces with reason, creating a thought out, intentional experience for users. ( I may not have said it that way but something along those lines).

One of the major lessons I wish I implemented earlier is to stop listening to opinions, start listening to constructive criticism.

There’s a fine line between those two, and you can easily detect it by asking yourself 2 questions.

Did I learn something from it?

  1. Is it necessary to implement it?

Let’s see an example.

An opinionated statement would sound something along the lines of:

“I just think your project reminds me of (place an indirect yet direct insult). I really think you should implement that idea from the Fun Palace, have you looked at it as a precedent?”

Have you learned something from that statement that is useful? Probably not. Maybe yes if you did some research on the Fun Palace. Horray! now you know about it. Is it necessary to implement it? No. Will you fail if you don’t use it? Most likely no if you select a program of your own with solid reasoning.

Let’s see what constructive criticism might sound like:

“I just think your structure is not working quite well because of x and y. I really think you should look at a project like the Fun Palace because the way you have drawn it looks quite similar to it, will help you show it correctly.”

Have you learned something from it? Yes. Your structure is not drawn properly. Is it necessary to implement it? Most likely. Will you fail if you don’t use it? Perhaps might lower your grade, as you’re not showing your understanding of the structure.

Opinions are just statements with no reasoning. They tell more about the likes and dislikes of a person.

Constructive criticism explains where you might be doing something wrong and guides you to correct your work.

So next time you have a talk with your tutor or have a critique, ask yourself am I receiving help, or am I being thrown a persons’ architectural preferences?

6. Don’t take criticism personally. You’re there to learn, and you can learn to become great.

Along with criticism comes the courage to handle feedback. Some people are nice enough to understand the stress of presenting your project and manage to kindly let you know where you are wrong.

There are others though, that give it to you plain and hard, with no mercy.

My first year of university was the toughest, as I was not used to people judging my work. It’s especially painful when you know you worked your hardest and you can’t afford to fail the course.

Of course, it became easier (stress is still always still there) throughout time, but one thing I wish I done earlier is to realise I’m not a failure if I get bad feedback. It doesn’t make me a bad designer either. I just need direction and time to learn.

Take in the hits, and implement the feedback as soon as you get them!

7. Know what everyone else is doing and how they are doing it

Your best teachers are your classmates. Someone else is bound to know a quicker, more efficient, prettier way of doing things than you do, and being aware of what people around you are doing will improve your performance.

Get to know your studio peers, hang out in other studios and see what people are doing. Find out what programs they are using, what techniques they are implementing, styles of work, and borrow it, make it your own.

Don’t copy-paste please respect other people’s hard work.

8. Find a productive team to work with

It’s straightforward- you are the average of the 5 people you hang out with. Find a group of peers that will motivate you to get up early and get work done.

9. Work at your university not home

I remember my last year of university I spent most of my time working at home, just cause I thought it was more efficient.

Since I knew what I needed to be doing, I thought I could work from home on my laptop, spend less on travel and food. This was partly true until about a month in I started to realise I’m enclosing my self in a bubble with no external feedback. Work can become one-sided and can lead you to:

  1. Focus on small detail for days and lose track of time on a bigger scale.
  2. Make you blind on things you might not see because you’re looking to close for long periods of time.

I seemed to also lose connection with my classmates on what their up to in their projects which secluded me from being in a creative environment.

If I spent more time in university, being around people that were better in certain skills could have pushed me to learn more.

So spend more time at your university. Take time to build friendships, these few years of studies will go by faster than you think.

10. Utilise the free software at your university

One of the few things I took for granted is not using the free software that the university PC’s provided.

The majority, if not all rendering software, sell their licenses for a stupendous amount of money and ask for heavy software requirements that a laptop may not be able to handle (sorry mac users).

Photoshop is a great tool to know, but that should be the minimum you can operate to produce render images and increase your chances of landing a job after graduating.

I’ve seen software like Revit, V-Ray, Rhino, Enscape, and Sketchup (yes I know people still use it in offices) as a requirement for job applications far more often than I thought before graduating university.

Of course, some offices teach you those skills when you get the job, but having them already might be that push which will make the employer choose you instead of someone else.

Learning to produce images in higher quality than Photoshop quality, also will help you to communicate your project clearer. Making a collage in Photoshop can easily mask mistakes and allow some errors which might be part of your creative process- and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Once you’re able to produce higher quality images though, everything is out in the open, rendering forces you to think about materials, connections, structure, colors more precisely.

The sad truth is also that portfolios are praised more when realistic renders are present, partly because the project can be understood better and because it shows off your skills.

So learning software not only will give your project more clarity, it will force you to think about details you are not worried about whilst making a collage.

It may also land you a job faster after you graduate.

11. Follow an organised file system and name your files properly

I know when deadlines come up especially you may not be bothered or have the time to put files in their named folders. You may have 20 different “finalfinal” named files because you thought this final drawing will be your final-final one.

This might be a quick and easy solution thinking you will remember where the correct files are located but after a few years, it will be impossible for you to do so.

One of the things I wish I done from the beginning is to create an organised system and name files in a way I could easily search in the future.

I bang on my head when I find files all in one folder named “A1’s” or “long section with no background” making it a long process to find the right images for job applications.

If your files sound something like this, do your future self a favor and name your files properly.

Here are some ideas as to how you can name your files. Feel free to add your own criteria, but the idea is to stick to it throughout the studies so you can easily search and find the right drawings when needed.

Project name or number/type of drawing/draft,critique,discussion/version

i.e. 01/elevation/draft/5

Have the project name or allocate a number for your project i.e. 01 for year 1 semester 1, 02 for year 1 semester 2, and so on. This is a good naming system for drafts because you will probably have multiple versions of the same image.

Note I did not include submission because these files should only have one version and have their separate folder. If you decide to change a “submission” file, put the according to version number and place it in the drafts folder.

Tip: Keep the final drawings, in the finals folder.

Here are some suggestions for the type of folders you could have on your desktop to help you stay organised.

Any software program you’re using should have its own folder. If you are working on Illustrator save it in its own folder same goes for Autocad, Photoshop, etc.

Your render images of JPG or PDF format should go to a separate folder. Here you will save your drafts and your different versions of drawings.

A “submission” folder should only contain images that are ready to be used in a portfolio. That way you don’t need to search through a whole folder of drafts to find the final drawing in the future.

What was the most valuable take away that you can implement now?

I’ve elaborated so far on things I wish I knew as an architecture student which would make my university learning so much easier whether it’s by organising files better or knowing tactics to make decisions fast to boost my performance.

Let me know if any of those ideas clicked with you. I’d love to hear some of your tactics that helped you improve during architecture studies.

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