Architecture and design is a field which seamlessly merges diverse skills, ideologies, methods and through the course of the education journey, even proliferates freshers to branch out to other creative fields such as film and art direction, photography, writing/ journaling, animation, etc. It is a field where one truly discovers, navigates and channelizes their creative instincts in a process-based journey to realise their true strengths and Studio System potentials in this typical 5 year course.
With all such assets and idiosyncrasies of this unique field, the routines and lifestyle of a typical architecture student stands uniquely as compared to the other fields of education.
Architecture and design students often carry the reputation of crazy work cultures and lifestyle which includes pulling all-nighters, having their models and sheets damaged during intense discussions, disappearing into the mysterious and often intimidating to other non-architect friends called ‘The Studio’, glued to their laptops and forever being stressed out about deadlines and submissions.
The often raised questions on these cultures are suppressed by the pressure of the standard that one has to uphold as a student of these universities, leading to an unhealthy lifestyle, slowly deteriorating eyesight and a constant back-pain.
The question is, is the glorification of unhealthy routines, constant stress, spending excruciatingly long hours without breaks and constantly receiving demotivation, the only way to end up with a successful, meaningful project?
Here are a few common controversial issues often faced by architecture/ design students that might help in spurring a discussion for the same.
Time is a constantly endangered resource | Studio System
Be it near deadlines, which are almost every other day, or just another day in the life of an architecture student, time is never enough. The mind is trained since the day one of entering the university, to be constantly in panic of losing precious time over short breaks, or even over the much-necessary yet neglected reflection on the discussion earlier with the faculty.
On top of this, working in the same room through the day and night, with there being no difference between work time and leisure time, students often fail to fix a routine for the day.
With the studio being the common place for both leisure time and work hours, one persistently tries to focus on the work while constantly falling prey to easy distractions around. This culture of non-stop work often creates the illusion of hard work, when it is often realised by students that the same amount of work could have been produced in much less time and more effectively in a private and calmer zone, than the more-public and less introspective studio ambience.
There is a world outside of the studio
‘No pain, no gain’ is the general tone of architecture education culture.
Excruciating hard work, efficient or not, and all-nighters are often given more priority than smart work. The very thought of any time spent in doing other activities such as family events, festivals, physical activities, hobby activities, etc. is frowned upon and the student is quickly claimed as ‘not serious/ interested in work’. Since the very nature of the evaluation system is based on hierarchy and power of the tutors over grades, the students can’t help but give their sole time and energy only to the academics, persistently confined to one room so as to not indulge in conflicting relation with the faculty.
Unavailability of Practicing Architects as Teachers | Studio System
The ratio of permanent and visiting faculty is prescribed by the Council of Architecture, however, this is not followed by most institutes. Such a scenario makes the students’ exposure and studio discussions more theoretical and conceptual despite architecture being a practical field. The disparity of practical and theoretical balance in education leads to students feeling lost during the training/ internship period, with many realising that the practical field might actually not be for them.
Artists Vs Designers | Fantasy vs Sensitivity | Process Vs Presentation
Design process is as important as the final outcome of the project, in both the quality of the project and the presentation method applied. However, with the commencement of digital media, it is lately seen that the focus has shifted to working day and night to work on the aesthetics of the final presentation sheets, impressive 3d renders and graphic qualities of the project proposal than solving the issues or extracting finer details for the project.
Along with this, architecture students are expected to ‘talk like artists’, ‘create like graphic designers’ and ‘sell like salesperson’, leading to a lot of demotivation and lack of confidence of students on their work, based on these side-skills.
Apart from this, faculties are often heard encouraging the students to come up with impressive, out-of-the-world forms, crazy structures without guiding them to develop the process and reasoning of coming up with the same. The projects then often are left devoid of the actual relevance of our field, i.e. the society we serve with our built forms, and is reduced to coming up with often impractical solutions in the name of exciting projects and fancy, artistic forms. The curriculum is vaguely designed where students are not even aware of practicality and construction possibility of their designed structures, especially in the context surrounding them.
A common statement by numerous faculties heard by every architecture student – ‘You only have academic projects to come up with crazy ideas and forms. You will not get to do this in practice later in life, so make the most out of it.’ – is what develops the faulty intention behind creating each project in a student. Functionality, practicality and reasoning should undoubtedly be the first priority, even before random experimentation to develop ground-breaking and mesmerising structures.
As quoted by Pablo Picasso, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist”
Peer-influence | Studio System
The Studio, the architecture classroom where students work college-hours as well as after-hours in the same room through the day, and often pulling all-nighters as well, can become a place of constant peer influence. Students develop a habit of unnecessary craving for constant validation from peer discussions on every idea, relying on fellow students to establish the standard of quantity and quality bar for each submission, neglecting the importance of self evaluation and reflection based on the discussions, and reluctantly getting involved in comparisons. It is often found that students develop similar outcomes for submissions – in quantity, quality and presentation methods as well, developing a mob mentality rather than individual creativity.
In-studio culture- Subjective evaluation
The very nature of the architecture education and evaluation system is subjective. The rigid hierarchy and personal student-faculty relationship plays a big role in the final outcome of the semester. Due to these loosely defined evaluation criteria, other side-skills like selling skill, story-telling, confident narrations, false portrayal of intense work, impressive graphical presentation etc. often play a significant role in a student’s grades and performance. This subjective evaluation introduces too much room for prejudices and biases, misunderstandings and preferences.
Other commonly occurring incidents include confusions during conflicts between two co-teaching faculties, leaving students in a helpless state not knowing how to conclude their projects without offending either one.
Another berating aspect of the culture of architecture schools, is the fear of power of hierarchy of the faculties and jurors, giving rise to ego-feeding rituals like tearing up sheets in the name of the philosophy – do not fall in love with our work – leading to atrocious and otherwise unforgiving acts like vandalizing a student work, marking on hand-rendered sheets, breaking models, etc. in the name of teaching. Such acts lead to a deeper effect on the minds of the students where they end up not only developing insecurities and losing confidence, but also developing no respect and pride for their hard work and projects.
Loosely defined goals and learning outcomes, often unorganized or vaguely planned semesters, grading and terming ‘the best project’ based on subjective evaluations, etc. all lead to a negative and damaging education environment where one never truly understands where one stands in the understanding of the field.
Even educators can learn,
A jury system, very unique to the architecture field, typically involves students to pin up their final presentation sheets in front of a jury panel, often unaware of the design process of the studio, with typically 15-20 minutes spent on each student for the whole jury, leaving the student with mere 5-7 minutes to not only explain their whole process of 4-6 months of work, but to also sell the final proposal. In practice, the first couple projects take up a larger chunk of the entire jury time where the jury is still trying to understand the relevance of the studio project, and very quick and disinterested last few projects by the end of the day. This common pattern of jury often leads to neglectance on the discussion over process and more on arguments based on ‘why it works’ and ‘why it doesn’t work’. The argument often falls flat as there are no objective parameters to evaluate, but only suggestions and opinions.
The aim of juries should be to provide a unique point of view for each project, so that the student may reflect on those suggestions and counter arguments to make the project richer. The good of every student must prevail, hence grades, which can impede productive assessment, must not be given utmost importance. However, there is hardly any reflection and reworking done in most colleges based on the comments once the jury is over.
Lack of Construction and Practical Knowledge | Studio System
Architectural graduates seem to know little about the physical and material aspects of construction, though are effectively trained to have artistic narrations for their projects, which are more often than not, subjective. Even after countless site visits, site analyses, case studies, etc., freshers go to the professional world with lack of confidence and rigour of inquiry, precision and material knowledge.
The question arises, are we producing artists or designers? Is our education system efficient enough to produce graduates who are confident in their creativity as well as knowledge? Is enough attention being given to the expression of details, sensitivity to the society and context and the reality of the practice