Journey of an Architect is a blog started by Tim Ung to document his journey to design 30 projects by the age of 30 (May 2020). His posts focus on his design process, thoughts, struggles, and successes throughout his journey.

10 Things I wish I knew about Architecture School

10 Things I wish I knew about Architecture School

As the summer comes to an end, my morning drive to the office will be filled with parents who are running late to school, school buses stopping at every corner, and an influx of college students driving to the bars downtown. While driving back home from an amazing vacation, I saw countless vehicles filled with storage totes, mini fridges, and the important stuffed animals heading to the university.

Then, I found myself reminiscing about my first year in architecture school and all of the struggles that I went through in order to find my way as an Architect. From the long nights in the computer lab to the countless hours of gluing together laser cut pieces for a final model, the roller coaster ride of architecture school is one that I’ll always remember.

So, I wondered, If I could write a letter of advice to myself in architecture school, what would I say?

Dear Tim,

Your freshman toolkit will cost an arm and leg. You don't need everything.

When you receive your welcome packet from the school of architecture, read through all of the information and hold off on spending $700 for all of the tools on the materials list. I know you’re anxious about starting your semester strong and that you know very little about architecture. So go into your first day of class and ask your professor or teaching assistant about what supplies you'll definitely need for the semester.

Throughout the semester you'll most likely be able to share tools with the other students and purchase supplies from anyone who decides architecture isn't the right field for them.

Your first physical models won't be perfect. Keep practicing.

Keep in mind that you've never made an architectural model nor do you have any experience in architectural drafting. This means your first physical model will look terrible, you'll be confused about what a miter saw is, you’ll be searching for what your professor and TA think perfect line weights are, and you think para-liners were made to stop pencils and tools from rolling off of your table.

As you develop your projects in every studio course, you'll inevitably run into issues with crafting a perfect final model or hand drawing an axonometric view of a curved object. In these times of high stress and anxiety, remember that you'll only get better by practicing and asking your peers questions. Try drawing different shapes or views of your project until you can clearly imagine it in your mind. This will help you draw and make better models.

You’ll be spending long nights in a place called studio. Learn to manage your time.

When you start architecture school, you'll have one course on your schedule called architecture studio or something similar that's worth about 6 credits. After your orientation and first class, you'll think that this course will be as easy as an art class in high school, but beware, you'll slowly find it taking up all of your time.

Once this starts to happen, you'll either embrace it and enjoy the constant love-hate relationship that develops along with the long nights and endless caffeine highs. Or, you'll know that this field just isn't right for you. The only way to figure this out is to fully immerse yourself in your project and give it your all for a month or a semester. Don't be discouraged or depressed if you decide to leave. Know that you gave it your all and keep moving forward with your life.

Whenever you get stuck, ask your neighbor for their opinion or help. You'll be happy you did.

During your semester, you'll be constantly refining and redesigning your project just like you do with revisions for your English papers. This means that you'll stare at your project so much that you'll miss the simple errors and opportunities for design development. You'll run out of ideas, pull all nighters, and feel your heart sink because of the prospect of a bad review.

When you feel like you're in this situation, ask your friend, peer, or anyone in the architecture school for their opinion on your project, tips for making your drawings stronger, and even advice for crafting a better physical model. Professors and students in the years above you are always eager to show off their expertise and preach their own architectural beliefs to the students in the earlier years of school.

By simply asking someone else in the architecture school for their opinion or help with your project, you'll develop a new friendship and begin growing your network. You'll spend less time trying to find answers to develop your designs and more time on producing amazing work.

You'll hear jargon like spatial relationship and juxtaposition. Don't worry, it'll all make sense.

Once you enter architecture school, you’ll start noticing that your professors, teaching assistants, and upper classmen using new terminology that won’t make sense. At first, you’ll Google the definition of the new set of vocabulary around you like “you should play with the form and the spatial relationship of your project”.

If you’re having trouble understanding the comments of your professors and TA’s, stay calm and don’t worry about it. Try asking your professor or TA to explain what they mean and they’ll find a different way to explain their design ideas to you. Otherwise, remember what they’ve said and ask your peers for their opinion on what it means.

You might learn that it wasn’t as important as you thought.

Your life as an architect is starting. Develop everlasting friendships with your peers.

When you’re in architecture school, everyone around you are there for a common purpose. Your professors are working on research projects or running their own architecture firms outside of the university, your teaching assistants are working on their thesis or final projects for graduation, and your peers are learning and working on the same projects.

Remember that you’re in a position where you can talk to others and start developing your network and friendships. When you’re all done with school, your network and friends will be the ones that help you find your first job at a firm that you’ll enjoy. So be sure to learn how to talk and work with others.

You'll be forced to teach yourself new software. Don't be afraid to ask others for help.

Although you’ve always been technologically savvy, you’ll most likely be given a new software to learn like AutoCAD, Rhinoceros, or Revit with very little instructions. You’ll be forced to use it on your current project and immediately struggle with drawing several shapes and lines. You’ll most likely turn to Google or YouTube and seek answers or tutorials there.

However, you should also remember that your peers, both in your class and the years above you, are also learning new software as well. Head over to the computer lab after class and work there with your peers. Turn to them and ask if they could show you a few simple commands. You’ll save so much time and you’ll be able to focus on the design of your project.

A panel of critics will periodically review your work. Have confidence and lead the discussion.

Throughout a semester, you’ll have days where you pin your work up on the walls, wear nice clothes, and present your work to a panel of upper classmen, professors, or outside critics. You’ve most likely worked in your own bubble and your introverted personality will make you nervous. You might forget some of the important points about your project or run out of time to finish your presentation.

So work hard on preparing your drawings for the presentation, determine a time to put down your pencil, and make sure you have everything done the night before. Take the morning to pin your work up and develop a compelling story about your design. When you’re up to present to the critics, know that you’re in the best position that you could’ve possibly been in, and present with confidence. When you’re done, point out some of the design decision that you’re currently struggling with and simply ask for their opinion.

You'll never have enough time for your studio project. Remember that you have a deadline and put your pencil down.

Every time you get a new project for the semester, you’ll be working as hard as you can to develop a complete set of drawings, a perfect physical model, and a beautiful portfolio. This means that you’ll be pushed by your professors to develop in depth designs for the project and you’ll always feel like you’re under pressure to produce more work.

Remember to stop and take a second to understand your own project. Don’t let your design ideas and voice be lost in the words of your professor or critics. Once you know what your project is truly about and you’ve crafted a compelling story to explain your ideas to everyone else, work hard to develop the drawings that represent your ideas and put your pencil down.

There will be a time where you'll contemplate quitting architecture. Don't give up.

During your freshman and sophomore years of architecture school, you’ll come to a point where you contemplate whether or not you’d like to pursue architecture. After the countless nights of confusion with your project, the harsh criticism that you hear critics saying to your peers, and the constant strive for perfection that every professor pushes for, you’ll have had enough. You’ll call your mother, siblings, and closest friends, and let them know that you might not continue pursuing architecture.

Don’t give up until you’ve given it your all and asked everyone around you for help. You’ll find that devoting all of your time to architecture will either enlighten you and help you find your true passion for the field or you’ll really know if it’s just not right for you. By asking others for help, you’ll be able to escape the endless confusion of complex design ideas and really develop one that is your own.

Give it your all, then decide if you’ll leave or stay.

Good luck,

Tim Ung


This post is part of the ArchiTalks blog series hosted by Architect Bob Borson owner of the blog, Life of an Architect  where a topic is chosen for fellow bloggers to interpret and write about. This month's topic was "Back to school". Check out some of the other posts from this series below!

Enoch Sears - Business of Architecture (@businessofarch)
Back to school!

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
I wish I were going Back to School

Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
Designing Back to School

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
What Have We Learned? It's Back To School For #ArchiTalks 21

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
good to go back to school

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
4 Tips As You Go Back To School

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
#architalks 21 "back to school"

brady ernst - Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
Back to the Cartography Board

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Back to School

Michael LaValley - Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
#ArchiTalks / 15 Ways to Make the Most of Your Architectural Education

Eric Wittman - intern[life] (@rico_w)
getting [schooled] again

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept)
Back to {Architecture} School

Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign)
bettermenTen

Adam Denais - Defragging Architecture (@DefragArch)
[ArchiTalks #21] 10 Things Architecture Students Say Going Back to School

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Back to School? It Doesn't Stop there for Architects.

Tim Ung - Journey of an Architect (@timothy_ung)
10 Things I wish I knew about Architecture School

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