Starting Architecture School
Starting architecture school can be very different from anything that you have experienced before. Most of the things that you will learn in architecture school are unique to the practice of architecture and so you are unlikely to have encountered much of the content before – unless you have done some previous study or reading in architecture. But don’t worry – most of the other students will be in the same place.
When you start architecture school, the way you learn may be very different from school, and there will be some things to get used to. The main things to get used to are the way you study and learn, and the types of classes you will attend.
Study and Independent Learning
The big difference between school and any college or university course is that you are now engaging in independent adult learning. You are choosing to be at architecture school and no-one is making you be there or chasing you if you are not.
In your first weeks your tutors may reach out via email if you are not attending classes, but if you are in a big architecture school with hundreds of students, no-one has the time to make sure you are getting to class.
This means you have to take responsibility for your learning and make the choice to get organized, go to class and do the work. You have to be disciplined and consistent and get yourself into good habits and routines from the start. You need to figure out what you need to do and when you need to do it, and how it is going to get done.
The workload at architecture school or any design school for that matter is big. Probably bigger than most of your friends studying business, or science or anything.
You may find your friends in other disciplines skipping classes, cramming at the last minute, or writing an essay hours before it is due. Architecture and design disciplines are not like this. They require rigorous and consistent work, and to do well you will most likely have to do more than the recommended workload and required hours – that is the truth of it.
Architecture students will often be found building models or finishing drawings in the middle of the night or using their weekends and mid-semester breaks or holidays to finish a project or learn a new skill or software.
Other Students and Competition
At architecture school, you will encounter a wide range of students who have come from different backgrounds and have a diverse range of experience and skills.
The first year of architecture school can be a little daunting. Some people will be very good at drawing, or design, or graphic presentation, or software, or documentation. Some people will work incredibly hard, and others not so much. You may find that many students decide that architecture is not for them, while others just adore it, and pretty much live and breathe architecture and nothing else.
Architecture and design disciplines can be very competitive. Students can constantly compare themselves to others in terms of skills, knowledge, capabilities, ideas and grades. It is important to understand, especially in early years, that everyone has different skills and over time this can level out, and that architecture offers a wide range of opportunities for these different skills. You don’t have to be the best concept designer or software guru in the world if you are great at understanding how buildings are constructed or how to run a project. It is up to you to find the parts of architecture you enjoy and interest you and bring that into your work. It is up to you to constantly take responsibility for your learning to figure out what you are great at and what you love, and focus on that.
Something unique to architecture school is the range of learning styles.
While more theoretical subjects can follow fairly traditional modes of study, assignments, essays and exams, architecture is primarily a design discipline. Which means that you need to expect to be creative, to engage in critical thinking, analysis and problem solving and to experiment, explore and test ideas, as well as play and make and draw and design.
There is also the opportunity to work in a studio culture, where you may work with other students to research, analyse, explore ideas, or review and critique others work – both in and out of the classroom. Creating a study group and working and studying with other students is a great way to develop your learning.
Much of architecture is about learning through testing, experimenting and exploring and it is this process of developing your understanding that is as important as the outcome and showing your understanding. You will do this in a range of different classes.
Types Of Classes
The first thing you will notice about architecture school is the range of classes that you will take. Many of these will contain content that may be unfamiliar and new to you.
From the start of your studies, you will most likely have a design studio every semester which are a large focus of your degree.
Design studios are an unusual environment. For each design studio, you will be given one or more projects and you will generally be asked to design an architectural or spatial structure or solution for people.
You will be taken through a creative design process where you are introduced to a project brief and the requirements of the project. You will undertake research and analysis to understand what is required by the project and what the opportunities are. You will then be asked to explore many different options for possible solutions to the project.
Be prepared to draw, sketch, diagram, collage, make models and explore your ideas through a range of different mediums. Be prepared to revise your work multiple times, constantly testing and refining your ideas and design with multiple iterations.
Be prepared to do lots and lots of work in design studios, and be to work constantly and consistently. You will be assessed on your ideas, processes and weekly development, as well as your final presentation. And finally, be prepared to fail, make mistakes and get things wrong in the process of learning.
History and Theory Classes
In your early years, you will study history and theory which will give you foundation knowledge and skills.
Architectural history will include case studies of architectural styles as well as buildings, architects and other structures and designs. It may also consider the relationship of architecture to society, art, design, psychology and many other disciplines.
Architectural theory includes study and understanding of architectural elements and architectural principles and how they are used in architecture and can be used in architecture.
The importance of this subject is that it provides underlying theory and ideas that should be addressed and utilised in your design projects and into your career. Much of this content forms very important foundations of knowledge in your work as an architect and designer.
You will be generally assessed with essays, assignments or exams. The specific content and focus on different aspects of history and theory will vary between universities and institutions.
In your first year, you may undertake a communications subject or two. Communications is literally about how to communicate as an architect. Communications is about the different graphic and three-dimensional tools that architects use to communicate their ideas about space and buildings and structures.
There are many different analogue, digital and three-dimensional communication tools including many drawing types, diagrams, collage, mapping, physical model-making, digital model-making, digital software, architectural drawing and documentation systems and presentation techniques.
Your classes will introduce you to these ideas and there may be a lot of independent study and activities to help you improve your knowledge and skills. It is up to you to learn and apply these tools in your design studios and develop your interest and understanding of architectural communication throughout your design career.
Some institutions may not have specific communications classes – but the development of different architectural communication skills such as drawing, software or model-making may be built into other subjects.
You will undertake construction classes throughout much of your studies. These will introduce you to building systems, materials and how buildings and structures go together. You will also learn how to design, document and draw a building in detail so that a builder can build it, as well as a lot of terminologies that are used in industry and throughout your studies and career.
Construction is about understanding how to practically convert your design ideas into something that can be built. The materials and systems you learn about will become more complex as you move through your degree. They may also be referred to as technology classes which could include learning about broader aspects of building such as sustainable design, or more complex or unique building systems.
You will learn theory and may have assignments or exams, or be asked to research materials and building systems, and design and document a part of a structure using particular materials and building systems. Sometimes part of your assessment will be to solve how a part of your design studio project would be built in real life.
During your studies, you may have other classes such as professional practice which will help prepare you for your work as an architect after school. You may have a range of elective subjects to choose from that refer to a more specific area of architectural practice. These areas of interest could include various software programs, sustainability, economic, urban design, connections to society, impacts on psychology, building types or a very diverse range of other topics – architecture and buildings affect so much of our society!
What is important here is to choose elective subjects that you are interested in, or to help you explore and find things that you are interested in.
The important thing about all your classes is to remember that you are not cramming for an exam. You are learning fundamental information that is forming the basis of your knowledge as an architect and designer and will be used in every project and built on throughout your career.
Architecture school is hard work if you want to do well, or even if you want to pass!! Like most design disciplines, it is not something easy to just breeze through, but if it is your thing, it can be very rewarding, and provide you with a variety of career opportunities and areas of interest.
Architecture should be treated as a lifelong practice, and architecture school is an introduction to your learning. There is a lot to learn to be a good architect, and everything you learn is important to your practice. It is up to you to consider how committed you are, how much you love it, and what areas of architecture interest you, and architecture school should be considered an important start of this process, and not the final destination.