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The Value Of Liking Your Architecture: Interview #1
At university, I was always under the impression that the majority of my year group liked the designs that they produced. However whilst on holiday with one of my classmates, a discussion revealed that to my surprise he didn’t like many of his designs at all. Since then, I’ve wondered about the value of liking your work at architecture school, and how it can affect someone’s motivation, wellbeing and marks. To seek broader perspectives and an answer to my queries, I’ve decided to interview some of my former classmates. This article is the first in what will hopefully be an interesting series that establishes some of the home truths of architecture school.
Did you like your designs at university?
I liked exactly half of them. I normally liked them more when I got a bit more freedom and actually got into the project. I liked them least when my tutors started trying to constrain me to a specific style. Weirdly, it was always the first project in the first half of the year that I didn’t like, those in which I was forced to go with what the tutor wanted because I was a bit shy. That happened in the first term of third year…
What happened in the first term of third year?
I had a tutor who didn’t really know what they were doing and I didn’t feel any passion towards the project, and so I just didn’t enjoy it at all. They gave me no advice whatsoever. When I went to them with my work it wasn’t criticised, they would just say “yeah yeah that’s fine, it works I guess”. I prefer it when tutors criticise a bit and say if ideas are good or not.
Ah ok, but you found that you liked projects more when your decisions weren’t dictated by the tutor, so does that mean that there’s a kind of balance that was missing?
Yeah I think there’s a balance. I think you have to be critical, but you shouldn’t force someone to do something that doesn’t match their vision. During my favourite project I would bring ideas to the tutor and they would say “Ok, that doesn’t work. Let’s see what works and I’ll help you to express it more and find your style” instead of “Ok that doesn’t work, I’m going to make you work in my style”, which happened in some other projects.
Regarding the projects you didn’t like, why did you take the decisions you weren’t happy with in retrospect?
I guess it was just down to lack of confidence, I didn’t believe in myself that much, and I felt like the tutors would probably know more and have better decision making skills than I did at that point.
And do you think that was a general trend within our architecture school?
I think it was dependent on people’s perception of their own ability. Some students who were more confident wouldn’t take shit from anyone, whereas others who were more shy like me were more like “ah I don’t really know what to do here”.
If you were to rewind time and redo the course with the knowledge and experience you have now, would you do it differently?
Yeah I would do things differently. I would explore ideas that are more interesting instead of disregarding them.
I know you disliked half of your designs, but looking back on it, does it really matter? I mean you have a degree now, you’re happy with your degree, so are you bothered that you didn’t like some of the designs?
No, because I made sure to learn from those mistakes in the first half of the year so I wouldn’t make the same ones. I did tend to improve throughout the year too so I’m happy I made those errors so I could get better. And at the end of the course I still graduated, so I’m fine.
Did you enjoy the course in general?
I think in retrospect I did. I think it was fun to do something interesting that was hard work as opposed to something that’s just based on memory. Like when we did multiple choice exams and stuff, that wasn’t testing any skill. With our degree I could feel myself developing, which meant it was worth the money that I was putting towards it. If it was a fact based subject I think I could learn that on my own to a certain level.
Did you enjoy the course more when you were working on the designs that you preferred?
Oh definitely, 100%. When I was working on projects that I didn’t enjoy I’d look for excuses not to do them, which usually led to me leaving things to the last minute. Whereas with projects I was enjoying I would actually explore ideas and try to make the design as good as it could be.
So you were motivated because you were engaged in what you were doing?
Yeah, I mean it showed in marks at the end of the day. I got better marks in the projects I enjoyed as opposed to the ones I didn’t because I spent more time on them.
Do you think liking your designs will benefit your marks?
It did for me, there’s not much more to say than that.
But there’s a line isn’t there… because if you always do what you want to make yourself happy in your design, but go against the tutor, you risk your marks not being as high because you haven’t taken their advice. However, you don’t just go with the tutor, because then you’ll lose that sense of motivation and optimism in your work and ability.
I think it depends on the type of person that you are. During the projects that I enjoyed I was still being criticised on ideas that didn’t work, but I wasn’t being shoehorned into a particular style, so I think it’s important to be able to accept criticism. Someone who understands what design is, they get that being critiqued and what other people think is more important than their own opinions. However it’s also important to understand whose critique is more important, like maybe you shouldn’t listen to someone who can’t phrase the critique in a way that benefits your design or tries to fit it to their own vision.
True, I mean we’ve had tutorials before when tutor doesn’t really get your project so they tell you to make changes that don’t seem to make much sense.
That’s a situation when they don’t really get your project so they essentially try to make it their own, probably subconsciously. I think that happened to me once or twice but I didn’t change my design; I just made sure I explained it better in the next tutorial with more diagrams and drawings, and normally then they would understand. It’s important, because if your tutor can’t understand what you’re going for then what’s that going to look like in marking, no one’s going to understand your project. That’s why it’s good to have that feedback instead of just saying “screw this tutor they don’t know what they want”.
Do you think someone has to like their designs to enjoy the architecture course?
*Pause* Umm, yeah, because otherwise you’re going to be spending months on a project that you hate. Architecture’s not a course where you just do something for a short period of time then leave it. You’re going to be working on projects for a number of months and if you don’t like the design then it’s just going to be a miserable time. When I worked on a project that I didn’t like every time I had to work on it my attitude would be “ugh, I’m going to do the bare minimum then do anything else that isn’t the course”. At the end of the day the design projects are the largest aspect of the course. If you just enjoy the structural or historical elements you’ll enjoy one, maybe two, hours per week, and you’ll hate the other thirty five.
Do you have any advice for new or current students on balancing that enjoyment of the course and liking your designs whilst fitting the ideals of the tutors and making them happy with your work so you can get high marks?
I think the easiest way to get high marks and enjoy your projects is to find a small aspect that you enjoy and try to do that as much as possible. For me, in my modelling I like doing small details such as chairs and people all in paper instead of laser cutting them. I’d always look forward to doing that, so when I was doing the plans for example, I’d think “ah I can’t wait to do this bit in the model”. That’d really push me to work hard. No one enjoys every aspect of architecture, like I really didn’t enjoy the drawing that much, so I’d just get through it so I could get onto modelling.