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Communications Class

When you start architecture school, you may be required to take a class called communications, or visual representation or something similar. This is going to be new to most people whether you have done any kind of drawing, graphics or design before. So it’s important to know the point of a Communications class.

And if you don’t have a specific Communications class listed on your schedule, you still want to know, because this content is going to be built in somewhere else, or you might have to figure some of it out yourself.

The Purpose Of Architectural Communication

Communication is the exchange of thoughts, ideas, messages or information.

Architectural communication is the exchange of thoughts, ideas, messages or information about architecture, architectural design or the process of architectural design.

Communication is a two-dimensional or three-dimensional representation in graphic or visual form of an idea, design or finished project. It is important to remember that communication tools are merely one way of representation. The communication is an abstraction of an idea, design or project – it is one way of representing a part or perspective. Communication is not the idea, or the design or the finished project. It is one way of representing that thing.

Communication classes exist to teach you:

  • Conventions of architectural drawing;
  • Different tools, skills and software used to communicate architectural design, ideas and architecture; and
  • Different methods and processes for creating visual and graphic communication of architectural ideas.

Types Of Architectural Communication

There are many different ways to communicate your ideas about your architectural design and final design process. These types of communication are used in different ways throughout the entire design and documentation process, as well as after a project has been built and constructed.

Types of architectural communication skills and tools you may learn about include:

  • Collage – Collage is often used in the early stages of design to explore ideas and concepts about the project and the design.
  • Drawing Types – Drawing is the primary method of representation in architecture. There are many different types of drawings including:
    • Sketches – Rough or unfinished drawings used in the process of developing designs and exploring ideas of space – perspective, plan, section etc.
    • Diagrams – Representation of parts of a whole or an idea in a simple, graphic form.
    • Two-dimensional (2D) drawings – Represents three-dimensional forms in 2D with orthographic drawing systems. These include plans, sections and elevations.
    • Three-dimensional (3D) drawings – Represents three-dimensional forms with oblique projections or perspective drawing systems.
  • Analogue drawing – Drawing by hand with pen, pencil and paper. Even with all the digital software available, this is an important skill to be able to draw quickly, especially in the early, conceptual stages of design.
  • Physical model making – A physical 3D representation of an object or thing or proposed structure. Used throughout the design process to test ideas and forms as well as represent the final design. Physical models can be made with many different materials.
  • Photography – Photography is used to capture 3-dimensional objects, structures and spaces such as models used in the design process, project sites, design process, finished architectural buildings and interior spaces.
  • 2D digital software – Computer Aided Drawing (CAD) programs such as AutoCAD to develop orthographic and other drawings once the initial design has been developed.
  • 3D digital software – Programs such as Sketchup, Revit or Rhino are used to test and document the three-dimensional form of a design project.
  • Rendering software – You may use rendering software such as Grasshopper to develop final presentation drawings. This is more advanced software and is not usually introduced in the first year.
  • Graphic design software – Programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign to help you develop images, collages, presentations and also graphic folios, books or reports.

It is important to know communications and software are not the be-all and end-all, especially if you cannot design, or do not know how a building goes together. They are one tool in architecture. You can have a great drawing or photograph of a terrible design and vice versa. So it is important to understand communication as just one part of your architectural toolkit.

Teaching Style And Content

Communications classes can be run in different ways. Similar to a design studio class, there will often be a theory and practical component, and also a focus on skill development, especially in your first year.

  • Lectures (content) – You may participate in a series of lectures that cover different types of communications types, examples, analyses and possibly processes and tips and tricks for creating different methods of representation.
  • Skills and software – You will be asked to develop and test both analogue and digital skills which you will continue to evolve and master over your architectural studies and career. Analogue includes hand drawing, sketching, physical model making, collage and photography. These skills involve testing different materials, pens, papers and processes to represent your ideas. Digital skills may include learning a range of software that can be used to draw, create models or develop graphic presentations. You may be asked to complete short exercises or video or other tutorials to help you learn the basics of these skills.
  • Communication projects – You will be asked to apply software and skills in practical projects. These may be a series of small, independent projects, or they may connect into your design studio projects. They are likely to be individual projects.

Communications Class Format

Communications classes can vary in format and can be similar to design studios in some ways.

There is likely to be a lecture or content component with the whole year group. This could be delivered live or online. If it is online, it is always important to complete all your preparation work before the tutorial class so you get the maximum benefit and value. That means being organised!!

Tutorial classes are usually in smaller groups. The format will depend on the current content, skills and projects. The tutor may vary the format of a class depending on where the group is at in their work, or particular questions or understanding. So if the work you do in your class is different from a friend, that’s OK. Every tutor is different and every group of students is different. That’s what makes architecture school so interesting.

A communications class may have a range of activities including:

  • Content Review – Review and discussion of content from weekly lectures and readings. Come prepared and with any questions.
  • New content – The tutorial may include some content specific to a communications skill, software, project or activity that is separate to the lecture.
  • Assessment discussion and Q+A – Detailed discussion of the assessment and project expectations and requirements, with an opportunity to ask questions.
  • Informal presentations and feedback – Informal presentation of student work for feedback and discussion – this may occur as individual presentations to the class, in smaller groups or one-on-one to your tutor. The teacher may ask some or all students to present their work and ideas, or may just give general comments and feedback to the whole class.
  • Formal presentation – Formal presentation at the end of a project or semester. This is more likely in a design studio as communications is more often a folio based assessment on how well your work and ideas communicate graphically without you having to explain it.
  • In-class Activities – Specific in-class activities such as model making or collage, drawing or design, that will move you towards developing your ideas for your major project. These may or may not be presented in the class or continued at home.

Iterative Design

Skills development will likely consist of tutorials or small activities or exercises that once completed, are done.

However, like design studios, communications projects are often an iterative process. This means that on your project work, you will be unlikely to complete it once and it’s finished. There will always be feedback and room for development and revisions. This does not mean your work is bad. It just means that you are learning and there is room for improvement. For most of your degree, and even throughout your professional life, there will always be room for some improvement, for everyone. That is the nature of creative processes and design.

Workload and Independent Study

Communications class may seem a little bit like a mini design studio, as it may have a series of small projects that involve a certain level of design. However, it is important to note that the focus is on the development of your skills and ability to communicate ideas using architectural conventions and methods, and not so much the concept or design.

The workload of a communications class could be similar to that of a design studio, as it is quite practical. You can choose to explore and experiment with the skills, tools and methods as much or as little as you like. However, the more you play around, the broader your options for presenting your ideas.

If you have a communications class you will likely be introduced to specific skills and software that your particular institution prefer, or maybe can provide access to. Dedicated communications classes will likely cover all the basic skills and tools you will need to get started in your early years of architecture.

If you do not have a dedicated communications class, then some of these skills, tools and representation methods will probably be introduced in other classes. You may learn drawing types, collage, model making in some of your design studios. Digital software may be introduced in design studios or construction classes.

Either way, you will likely only be introduced to these skills and tools at a basic level. It will be expected that you continue to develop and test these skills in your design studios and other subjects as you move through your degree. You may be expected to learn some software independently. There are some great software tutorials available. Your tutor or lecturer may suggest some or start with the software developer for the best ones.

Do your best to develop some kind of study group or a group of friends who you can talk to and help each other figure out any of these new skills or ideas.

In Summary

Communications is essential in every part of the architectural design and documentation process. Like most of your early subjects, it is not something that is learned for a test and then forgotten. It is developing foundation skills, knowledge and understanding that you will use and continue to build upon for the remainder of your career.

Understanding of communications includes learning skills and software and also knowing how to communicate your ideas well, visually and graphically. It is important to look at other student work and professional work with a critical eye. Collect examples of great methods of communication where you can immediately understand what the author is trying to represent. Consider the techniques, the tools, the layout and general methods of presentation. Analyse examples and experiment with different ideas in your work as you develop a unique representation style of your own.

Don’t be scared to experiment with technique and test different ways of communicating your ideas. Every idea is unique, so why not develop a unique style of representation.

Liz, ArchiMash

PS… If you have any specific questions or comments about communications subjects or communications in general, I would love to know.


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