Mental health issues and the plight of stressed-out architecture students have been at the forefront of my mind these last few months, after a survey published in the UK magazine 'The Architect's Journal' (AJ) suggested that about a quarter of architecture students are suffering from mental health issues.
It's not hard to see that that's a pretty large proportion. It's hard not to be concerned. And, it's underlined by an even more significant proportion of students who have either sought help for mental issues in the past, or think they will be likely to in the future.
But to me, putting these statistics on the table is only the first step. The real question is what do they mean? What are they a reflection of? How can we begin to change things? And, whether you're at, or perhaps thinking about going to architecture school, how can you support and look after yourself, so you can live your dreams to your full potential?
They're often humorous, yes. But what you'll also notice is that these kinds of articles usually offer a long, long list made up of sound bites and pretty obvious things you might not learn at architecture school, but you'd hope you'd learn by just operating in the world as an inquisitive human being!
So I didn't want to just add to that whirlpool of consumable lists. Instead, I'm bringing you a new series: 5 things you won't get taught at architecture school. Each edition in the series will cover a different theme.
This week, we're starting things off with: 5 things you won't get taught at architecture school: the work edition.
"So, what do you learn at Architecture School, anyway?"
It's a simple question, but it's also the one I am asked most often, both by readers of Portico and by anyone who happens to know I studied architecture: friends in different fields, family members, and people I've just met. It sometimes seems like everyone is interested in architecture, but no one knows quite what it is or exactly how you go about doing it.
That's why it's a fairly understandable question, really. Most teenagers won't have met an architect, let alone understand what they do every day, or what you might need to learn to become one.
Funnily enough though, my answer is never that in Architecture School "you learn to draw plans," or "you learn how to build houses." As Gary Stevens writes in The Favored Circle, it's not about learning to "do architecture."
But I also don't usually respond that "you learn to become an architect." Instead, my most-used line is:
at architecture school you learn two things:
first, how to think architecturally; and then how to apply your architectural thinking.
In my experience - both as a student and as a teacher - there are two kinds of people at architecture school:
those who love group projects; and
those who begin trembling with anxiety at any mention of working with others.
Unfortunately, all it takes is one bad group project experience to tip those in the first group into the latter group. And going back the other way isn't such an easy slope to climb.
You think you're at architecture school to develop your individual creativity, your unique architectural potential, and to realise your dreams. And you are. But how you develop your sense of self is intricately connected to how you relate that self to others, how you communicate your ideas, and how you can identify personalities and skills to complement your own.
group work and architecture school
Increasingly, Architecture schools are turning away from the image of the individual Architect. Instead, their aim, in varying degrees, is to enable students to be widely engaged professionals, with advanced collaboration skills and abilities to interact with a range of other people - from coworkers to children to lawyers, clients and consultants.
The ‘gap’ between university and practice is a hot topic of discussion in the architectural community worldwide. A large part of this discussion focuses on scrutinising everything that Architecture School doesn't teach you - but practice does. The phrase I've heard architects and graduates use time and time again when talking to students is that:
"You'll learn more in your first year of practice than you ever did in architecture school."
It's true there’s things you won’t learn at Architecture School. But let me ask - did you really plan on studying for 5 years, and then learning nothing more and just going through the motions day in and day out for the next 45 years? Probably not. I certainly plan on - and revel in - learning something new every single day. On the flipside, that doesn't mean I don't value my time at architecture school immensely.
It's interesting to me how much my perspective on learning about architecture, and about what is important, changes over time. After a few years in practice now, I feel like I'm fairly well positioned to assess, from my own experience, not just what but also how I learnt at university, versus the what and how of learning in practice.
And to me - the idea that you'll learn more in 1 year of practice in an architecture firm than you will do in 5 years of study just isn't true. It's a myth.
THE MYTH OF LEARNING ABOUT ARCHITECTURE
This post isn't about content - the quantifiable 'stuff' you learn - in either situation, or about how well architecture school 'prepares' you for practice. Instead, I'm going to unpack for you:
why I think it is a myth that you learn more in practice;
the conditions that perpetuate this myth; and
why it's a dangerous way to think - not matter what stage you're at in your journey.
I hope that in doing so, you'll understand that it's just a myth, and doesn't have to be your reality!
Instead of falling prey to the myth, you can choose to be strategic in your education, and take the driving seat in your architectural journey.
Your first year of architecture school will be exciting - there's no doubt about that! But it might also be daunting, and even overwhelming at times.
The class structures, workload and expectations are probably very different to what you have experienced before, either at school or in the workplace. In fact, even if you have studied at university before coming to architecture, the expectations and intensity of the studio environment can catch you off guard.
In this post, I'm going to share with you some of the things that might be different at architecture school.
I'll let you know:
what to expect;
what the workload is like,
how you can manage your time.
I'll also talk through some ways you can prepare for and manage them - so you can focus on doing your best work!