Designing The Perfect Architecture Tutor
10th November 2017Tutors play a key role in the development and final degree grade of architecture students, more so than in most other subjects. Their knowledge in the sector compared to new students who have never studied architecture before affords them a great deal of authority and power to steer their pupils’ values and opinions. During my first year I trusted the opinions of my tutors almost without question, and whilst this blind acceptance of their suggestions faded over time as I became more confident I still have huge respect for all but a couple of my tutors for how much they taught me and how well they nurtured my ability. Throughout your time in architecture school you encounter a whole range of tutors, some of whom are universally liked or disliked, and some who split the year group due to their teaching style or character suiting specific students and jarring with others. If you get the opportunity to choose your project, I would strongly advise picking one that is taught by your favourite tutors. The value they can bring in terms of academic support, positivity and organisation will be influential in your marks and enjoyment of the project. Of course, the perfect tutor is different for everyone, and they probably don’t exist (if you’re lucky enough to be tutored by them, cherish that project). However, that’s not going to stop me speculating about the traits of my perfect tutor, see if you agree with the ten characteristics I have outlined below.
They understand the timeline of the project. Drawing by Barney Sheppard
They understand the timeline of the projectWhen your mind is racing with ideas yet simultaneously spiralling out of control with stress about all the work you need to do, a good tutor will put everything in perspective. Having had experience of working on architecture projects for many years, they will be able to help you establish a plan for the coming weeks and calm you down sufficiently to ace your design. As someone who likes to rush into things, some of the best tutors I had were able to recognise when I needed to slow down and consider certain stages in more detail.
They are realistic about what can be done. Drawing by Barney Sheppard
They are realistic about what can be doneFrom my experience, as a general rule tutors always overestimate the speed at which things can be done. So many times they’ve said to me “this is really fast and easy, you’ll be able to smash it out in 5 minutes” whilst referring to tasks that actually took closer to half a day. Of course, one role of a tutor is to push students to maximise their potential, however, for me at least at times it got ridiculous and caused damaging stress and burn out. I’m going to explore this topic in a future article. With all this in mind, my perfect tutor would set realistic targets that balanced academic improvement and wellbeing.
They are organised and know what is happening when. Drawing by Barney Sheppard
They are organised and know what is happening whenThis trait is so basic that it almost seems silly, however, you’d be amazed at the lack of competency a small portion of tutors show. The constant presence of deadlines makes effective organisation and long term planning vital as an architect and tutor in architecture school. When a tutor is organised I trust and respect them more because it shows they are engaged in the job and therefore that they care about my development as an architect. In sequential semesters I moved from the most incompetent tutor running my studio to the most organised and my average mark moved up by 4%.
They reward those who make an effort. Drawing by Barney Sheppard
They reward those who make an effortMy favourite tutor had a great system for allocating tutorial times whereby he would put up a list of times on the notice board and you had to sign your name in your desired slot. Generally he would put up the sheet at the same time, therefore those who made an effort got first pick. To me it seems fair that students who are more dedicated and organised than others are rewarded with more choice or feedback etc., and this approach also encourages people to develop these useful traits. Whilst splitting everything evenly is democratic, by university students should be independent and mature enough to recognise and understand the value of effort.
They help to solve the problems they identify. Drawing by Barney Sheppard
They help to solve the problems they identifyThere are few things worse in architecture school than leaving a tutorial with lots of design issues that you have no clue how to solve. Since days pass between tutorials, not knowing what you need to do can be very damaging to your scheme. My ideal tutor would not only highlight problems, but also give me pointers on how they could be resolved. Often, subconsciously you know which parts of your project are poor, yet you don’t know how to improve them so you push them to the back of your mind. Having tutors which were able to recognise these flaws and then help me work them out developed my critical thinking skills and improved my designs. Of course, one could argue that tutors should not help in order to force students to figure things out on their own. However, I disagree. University is a teaching and learning process, and the different perspectives of the teachers are vital in expanding the knowledge of the learners.
They are critical yet remain positive and optimistic. Drawing by Barney Sheppard
They are critical yet remain positive and optimisticIn order to critique projects without disheartening students, one of my favourite and most helpful tutors worked on a “two positives, one negative” rule during reviews. In most cases he would remain generally optimistic about the project’s potential, especially if it was clear that the student had worked hard, then focus in on key areas which could be improved. For me, this approach simultaneously boosted my confidence yet also made me question my decisions in a thoughtful and positive way, which led to a more considered final scheme.
They are efficient. Drawing by Barney Sheppard
They are efficientIn an architecture degree time planning is everything due to the intensity of the course. Therefore, wasting time is particularly infuriating, especially when it’s due to someone else’s poor planning or inefficiency. From my experience, this often happens with tutorials if they overrun or consist of large groups. Also, some general speeches by studio staff can be vague, pointless and unnecessarily long. My ideal tutor would be ruthlessly efficient and organised in order to allow their students to maximise their time. In fact, my favourite tutor happened to be the only one that never overran on tutorials, so you’d never have to wait around.
They respect you and your ideas. Drawing by Barney Sheppard
They respect you and your ideasDespite their lack of technical knowledge at the start of the course, architecture students are brilliantly creative problem solvers that are unbounded by limiting necessities of the industry such as planning regulations. The best tutors are those that recognise this natural flair and nurture it alongside technical architectural education. The most obvious and pleasing show of respect shown by tutors in my experience was when they involved the student audience in providing feedback during a crit. Of course, working together to help one another is ideal, and often students picked out points for improvement that the tutor hadn’t noticed. Also, the whole group were able to contribute to maximise the success of the solution.
They are enthusiastic. Drawing by Barney Sheppard
They are enthusiasticIn many articles regarding architecture school my points often revolve around enthusiasm and motivation. When others share my natural enthusiasm for learning new things or solving problems I get a buzz which makes me think more creatively and work harder. If someone is employed as a tutor, I think it is their duty to be engaged in the work of the students in order to create an atmosphere of enthusiasm and excitement regarding architecture. Tutorials with staff who are animated and pay an interest in your scheme are significantly more productive and worthwhile than those with tutors who seem bored and indifferent to your work; it used to make my day if a tutor remembered my design from the last tutorial. One factor in my final year being my favourite was the enthusiasm of the studio staff, which rubbed off on us, the students, creating a highly supportive and positive atmosphere.
They work to your agenda, not theirs. Drawing by Barney Sheppard
They work to your agenda, not theirsThe final trait of my perfect tutor would be a willingness to let me dictate our tutorials. Most students head to tutorials with a general idea of what they want to discuss, so when tutors go off on a tangent speaking about something completely irrelevant, or even worse trying to change the whole design concept to suit their ideals, it is hugely frustrating. This point comes down to efficiency, as tutorials are short and infrequent so squeezing as much useful information as possible from them is vital. My most productive tutorials occurred when I went with a list of questions/issues to work through, with one of my third year tutors being especially adept at this way of working.