11 Things to know before starting architecture school
Top tips for students of architecture about to begin their course: Tea vs coffee, power napping and when to ignore your tutor
Drink tea not coffee. Coffee is great for a sudden burst of energy propping you up during late nights on CAD but beware! The caffeine in coffee gets into your blood quickly giving you an initial rush that, if sustained, will cause your body to burn out. A strong mug of tea has a similar amount of caffeine but it’s released more gradually keeping you focused but calm for longer. Tea is also an antioxidant, relieves tension and is less of a faff to make.
Draw lots and draw by hand. Drawing isn’t just a way of communicating with others it’s a way of thinking. From Le Corbusier’s messy sketches to Zaha Hadid’s vast paintings, drawing is essential to the practice, culture and progress of architecture.
When making models use a sharp scalpel. Scalpel blades are not cheap when bought from craft shops and blunt quickly but don’t be tempted to cut your costs by using dull blades. If you slip and cut yourself a blunt blade will give you a messy and painful wound that takes ages to heal. However, if you cut yourself with a fresh blade the wound will be cleaner, will heal faster and if serious will be easier for a medic to dress. You can save money buying scalpel blades online in bulk.
Pin-up straight. Sounds like a no brainer but it is amazing how many first year pin-ups lead to hastily taping drawings to walls wonkily. Even a rough sketch on torn butter paper deserves better than that. Invest in a huge box of pins and line up your drawings with each other as well as the wall.
Your tutors are an invaluable source of wisdom and ideas – use them lots. Don’t just wait for your weekly tutorial to roll around; actively seek out the advice, opinions and critique of your school’s faculty. Knock on their doors, email them, chase them through hallways, lie in wait near their office. Do whatever it takes.
Your tutors’ knowledge only goes so far. Intelligence, experience and damning criticisms they may have, a monopoly on the truth they do not. Sometimes the best tutor is the one who tells you to design the blue house so you become even more determined to design the red one. Listen carefully and understand their point of view but take what your tutors say with a pinch of salt.
Power nap with caution. By the end of your time at architecture school your friends will have experimented with every sleeping cycle under the sun. Some will swear that 20 minutes sleep is more refreshing than 40. Others will switch to sleeping in four-hour bursts alone. You’ll see students making beds beneath their desks in studio or going 80 hours without sleep. There may well be times when you have to work late but the truth is that you’re never going to produce great work when knackered – far better to stay focused and productive during normal working hours than to let your course steal your sleep and productivity. Keep a regular daily timetable. Give yourself firm finishing times in the evening and stick to them.
Subscribe to a journal. Regularly reading an architecture magazine is an invaluable source of inspiration. A good journal should challenge you to think deeply about architecture and its relationship to the wider world but should also be a thoroughly good read and beautifully designed. From a tutor’s point of view the difference between students who are regularly reading articles or short essays in architectural journals and those who are not is dramatic. Luckily many architecture journals have great student deals on at the moment if you can find them. The Architectural Review is just £1 a week for students.
University grading systems are odd and architecture marking is brutal. Students who’ve been at the top of their class all their lives arrive at architecture school and find themselves struggling to get middle-of-the-road marks. Take heart. Your final grade is far less important than the skills and portfolio you’ll build on your way to it. The line up of internationally acclaimed architects is littered with designers who did badly at architecture school, dropped out or didn’t study architecture at all.
Eat delicious food. With so many deadlines it can be tempting to buy ready meals and takeaways rather than waste time cooking. This is a false economy. A good diet gives you more energy through the day, keeps you healthy and prepares you for a life of wearing slinky black turtlenecks. If you’re not the next Bompas and Parr already learn to cook some simple meals in large quantities that will keep for a few days – soups, stews, pastas and pastries.
Explore. Travel often with an open mind. Understand cultures and traditions different to your own. That doesn’t necessarily mean jet setting around the world or hitchhiking to Morocco. Wherever you are based there will be a myriad of unfamiliar communities and landscapes within easy reach. Get to know the country you are studying in better – even if you grew up there.