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Architecture Studio Culture
I recently met up with a medic friend of mine and we discussed the hours we put in for our degree. In a way our degrees are similar, we are required to work very hard and the course is certainly intense. We were joking how we never see each other as she’s always in lectures (approximately 30 hours per week) and I’m always in the studio. This conversation got me thinking about whether studio culture in architecture schools is a positive or negative thing.
The studio definitely inspires creativity. With so many students around from different year groups, there is always someone to ask if you need guidance on an idea or decision. And since everyone’s opinion is different, you can build up a large web of ideas and solutions to constraints presented by your project. I’ve said in a previous blog post how I often get new ideas from other people’s work. Obviously direct copying doesn’t occur, but I try to use and develop other people’s ideas sometimes in relation to my own concept.
Also in the studio you are surrounded by people who are working through the same long and laborious tasks as you, so they feel your pain and everyone supports each other. Architecture is a unique degree in terms of the number of hours you must put in, and whilst the tasks aren’t always difficult, you need to remain focused and concentrated for long periods. During projects I regularly work twelve hour days, and towards deadlines everything else in my life goes on hold so I can work from 7am-7pm every single day. I’ve always thought of the input hours as a trade off for the ease and relaxed nature of the work. For example, I’d still definitely prefer to be doing my degree rather than a medicine one where I have to sit in a lecture theatre for 30 hours per week then take one hugely important exam at the end of the year.
Despite encouraging creativity and housing an understanding and helpful pool of likeminded students, studio culture does have some negatives. Since the studio is a closed environment, what’s going on in the outside world often passes students by. For example, whilst at university I rarely watch the news or hear about things that are happening in the wider university community. Architecture students miss out on opportunities to partake in events/classes that would develop them as a person in other areas, such as languages, sports or trips. Having a one track mind that is concentrated on architecture all the time may be beneficial for the degree, however non-architecture students can only bear so much architecture chat before they get bored.

At an introduction lecture to Liverpool School of Architecture the head of year mentioned the school’s “record” for the most married couples in one year group as four. This represents approximately 8% of the year group, which is a large proportion of people to get married in group of 100 students. This figure demonstrates how isolating architecture school can be, and shows how you must make an effort to spend time with people other than other architecture students. Isolation also comes from missing out on social events such as going out or meeting friends for lunch, and relationships can suffer as a result. Balancing a romantic relationship, friends, family, and an architecture degree is a very challenging task, and sometimes difficult priorities must be decided.

Some students essentially sacrifice some of their marks in order to have fun, learn other skills or relax, however as a perfectionist I find it difficult to not completely apply myself to a task. If I know I can achieve more by working harder, I will sacrifice almost everything in order to do better. In the past this approach has been effective since relatively I didn’t have to put many hours into my education, however now that I spend so much time working it is a hard juggling act. Most students are quite competitive, with their natural drive aiding them in getting to university. This is especially prevalent in architecture schools, where the bar of effort that is put into work is unhealthily high. When one person does an all nighter, many others follow as they can’t bear to know that someone else is working while they’re not. This competitiveness is positive in a way, however in my opinion many architecture students become too wrapped up in their work. Of course I’m included in this group, however I wouldn’t be willing to become more relaxed unless everyone else did, which sadly won’t happen.

I don’t know who set the precedent for architecture students working so hard, maybe it’s because of our love for the degree and profession that everyone works harder on average. This explains my reasoning that you should only study architecture if you really love it, since otherwise you won’t be able to cope. Studio culture does have many positives that contribute to the creation of incredible architects, however I often worry it can lead to isolation, psychological problems and an unhealthy work schedule.