Things I Learned in Architecture School

I recently received my Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cal Poly Pomona, an accomplishment I am extremely proud of and still in slight disbelief over. Since graduation in June, I have started a job at a professional architectural practice, which has really brought to my attention all of the valuable lessons I learned in school. It was the toughest 5 years of my life without a doubt, testing me mentally, physically, and emotionally, and I loved every second of it (that’s the stockholm syndrome speaking). All kidding aside, it truly was a unique and wonderful experience. I learned so much, pushed myself so far, and made lifelong friends. It really did mold me into the person I am today. And with that chapter of my life closing, I thought I would impart onto you, the reader, some of the wisdom I picked up along the way.

  • With practice, necessary human behaviors like eating, sleeping, and going to the restroom can be suppressed at your convenience.
  • Design is subjective. Your logic for solving a design problem might be different than someone else’s (often your professor’s) but that doesn’t make your way bad or wrong. There are infinite solutions to one problem. Understand the other approaches, know why yours has merit or might be better, and know how to argue for it. (See drawing “Scenario 1”)archschool_1
  • Function is not subjective. There are practical things that could be wrong with your design. This is when pride must be put aside and when your professors are always right (assuming they actually understand structures, systems, code, etc – which a whole other discussion). (See drawing “Scenario 2”)archschool_2
  • Criticism makes you stronger. Don’t take a bad review personally. Instead use it to make yourself stronger. Take the criticism with grace, even if it hurts a little bit. Reflect on it later and figure out how you can use it to improve yourself.
  • How you present yourself is key to gaining respect from jurors. Show you have respect for yourself and your work by making time after your all-nighters to at least take a quick shower. Though you might think showing up in your sweats will show jurors you stayed up all night and are therefore a hard worker, it usually has the opposite effect. You come off as sloppy. Neat models without glue all over and clear, cohesive drawing graphics also show you care. Even seemingly small things like pinning your drawings up straight on the wall show jurors that you have it together (even if you don’t).
  • Success in architecture school is more based on devotion, hard work, and being willing to push yourself than it is based on talent.
  • Things always take at least 5x longer than you think they will. And things will always go wrong. Plan accordingly.
  • Knowing how to speak about your work is of utmost importance. You must be able to clearly explain your work/process/logic/ideas. It is a skill you develop and use constantly in school, and one you continue to hone daily in practice. People that cannot speak eloquently about their work will not thrive in design.
  • Knowing how to use power tools is awesome, especially as a woman. During my schooling I had to build some very large models using a variety of materials, so we had to learn how to use the wood shop and all its many power tools. At first I didn’t think it was possible for me to learn, but out of necessity I did it, and it was such an empowering feeling.  I’m still amazed I built that stuff!
  • You won’t like every project you do, and that is okay. Making mistakes is a great learning opportunity. Besides, you decide what goes into your portfolio. Just show the best stuff!
  • The real world is very different than school, so getting an internship is a great way to see firsthand what you’re in for after graduation. My internship was one of the most valuable parts of my education. I learned so much about the professional practice of architecture that they don’t teach in school! And it made the transition to work after school very smooth.
  • You can only do your best. Don’t let intense and demanding professors make you feel inadequate – as long as you are doing your best, you can’t really do more.

Thank you for reading!

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