Against the conventional conjecture that we learn to make plans and read about history and materials, there is a world of things that we learn, apart from that in reality. We assimilate the skills and life lessons required to be a good architect more than how to design buildings. So, here are a few ammunitions that we gather along the gruelling path, during the five years of architecture education:

Learning to be an Architect

Architecture as a profession is a very demanding and passion-driven one. For so many years, people have been constructing a building without an architect as few know about this profession. So, it is quite a natural thing that we have our friends, extended family members, and acquaintances asking- what do you learn in the 5-long years of education? It is a fairly reasonable question considering how curious people are. But every time I have to answer it, I recall Bernard Tschumi‘s words-

“Architecture is not so much a knowledge of form, but a form of knowledge.”

Against the conventional conjecture that we learn to make plans and read about history and materials, there is a world of things that we learn, apart from that in reality. We assimilate the skills and life lessons required to be a good architect more than how to design buildings. So, here are a few ammunitions that we gather along the gruelling path, during the five years of architecture education:

Thinking from all angles (literally sometimes):

The job of an architect requires creativity, technical knowledge, practical and strategic perspective. The wide variety of projects and copious amount of considerations and challenges that come along keeps us on our toes.

 “Each new situation requires a new architecture.” Jean Nouvel.

True to Nouvel’s words, every site has its obstacles, and we work towards reshaping those into opportunities. In the face of difficult scenarios, architects tend to look for the possibility of creating magic. Architectural thinking is the art of transforming weakness or challenge in a project into strength. It is a unique ability an architect develops, that determines how they look at things, approach a project, and interpret the nuances. The plethora of design exercises that a student does aid in evolving this problem-solving ability.

Learning to swiftly move on from mistakes and never give up attitude:

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Architects, unlike many other professionals, profoundly bank on their imagination and experimentation to work out a design idea. The mantra that every architect repeats to themselves is Buckminster fuller’s words-

“There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes.”

 In architecture schools, students think the unthinkable and try to achieve things that seem impossible. At times it may work, and other times it may not. But the most important thing that is absorbed is, it is okay to come up with a bad unviable idea, but it is crucial to accept it and learn from it. The faculty and the guides, time and again advise us to not cling to a bad idea only because a lot of time was spent on it. It is an important lesson when it comes to a design process. Quickly realising a mistake, quashing the idea, and moving on to greener pastures is a process that every student masters before the end of their education. When an idea doesn’t work out, it only means it’s time to work out a better one, and it doesn’t have to be a failure. It is one major thing that architecture schools prepare their students.

Bending the rules, yet convincing people:

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Marty Neumeier once strongly stated-

 “The most innovative designers consciously reject the standard option box and cultivate an appetite for thinking wrong.”

Architects persistently try to challenge conventional thinking and come up with new ideas. There are multiple ways to solve a design problem within a rigid set of rules. But there may be times when one could achieve the design goal by bending or even breaking a few rules. All these rules are put in place for reasons that serve a bigger picture. Students are not just taught these rules but also are enlightened to reasons for having them in place. With that piece of knowledge, a calculated risk could work wonders. Sometimes taking a leap of faith is essential to achieve the full potential of a project. Once a good design is in place, defending it to clients and getting them on board is a task in itself. Architecture students go through a multitude of intense reviews and juries. During these reviews, the professor or the jury person invariably drills them about their design choices. Students learn to confidently answer questions and stand rock solid by their choices without getting defensive about it. These skills are essential during a debate or discussion with fellow architects, clients, or other professionals.

Taking things up their stride:

While studying in schools, the students, apart from strenuous work, go through things outside their comfort zone. They get acclimated to people giving them weird looks when they carry T-scales and rolls and rolls of sheets that are more often than not taller than them. Analysing a restaurant design while they are out for dinner, or sitting in the corner of a busy road to document, is all in a day’s work for an architect. Though they hear gags and feel all eyes on them when they walk around carrying a model tall enough to obscure their vision, they are habituated to turn a blind eye towards it. This practice has been of assistance to an array of them to gain confidence. So much so that even in life, they do what has to be done, without being conscious about how they look while doing it or fear the judgement people would pass.

Survival on nocturnal habits:

Working through the nights to finish work on a presentation is a common habit that students undoubtedly cultivate. In all likelihood, they would have mastered this skill by the time they graduate. It undeniably is put to use multiple times every once in a while. By the time they hit the deadline, they are literally dying for the much-needed rest. Inspiration always strikes when there is a deadline hanging over the head. Needless to say they ‘hit the iron when it’s hot.’ Time management may not be the forte of the students. Surviving on a few hours or minutes of sleep, and being able to be fully functional, is in itself an art. Architects are Picassos of this art.

Being a team player:

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Architecture sure is subjective, but the irony is, the manifestation of it by a single person is not possible. All the buildings constructed are an outcome of the efforts of multiple people. In today’s scenario, various stakeholders and professionals come into the picture. Working with a team is the bread and butter for an architect. Schools inculcate such indispensable skills in students by making them work in groups. Students working on large scale and urban scale projects during undergrad are a quintessential example of building their ability to collaborate and coordinate multiple ideas and viewpoints. Joining forces with various other fields for school projects also helps them to grasp the notion of working hand in hand with other professionals earlier on in their careers.

Create an impression when it matters:

Aren’t architects always dressed to the nines in the meetings? There is an out-and-out shift, from the everyday mundane look to a voguish one when the client is in the picture. Zaha Hadid hit bulls’ eye when she explained-

 “I’m into fashion because it contains the mood of the day, of the moment – like music, literature, and art.”

Architecture is a field that requires making an impression every so often. Grooming oneself- looks as well as personality is a necessary evil. It is a job requirement that an architect has to be a good orator, great communicator, and impeccable presenter. Moulding a fashion trailblazer may not have been on the school’s to-do checklist, but it is just a happy by-product. All that the schools had to do was, bring the students in front of a group, and automatically they try to put their best foot forward in all aspects, quite literally sometimes. Well, all the knowledge about colour theory is practically put to use quite extensively.  Don’t we all ‘dress to impress’?

John Ruskin‘s words of wisdom,

“When we build, let us think that we build forever.”,

has always been the life mantra of many architects. Circling back, in a nutshell, students learn to build themselves for their future in the field. The schools help them develop into the kind of architect they want themselves to be. Knowledge is considered power, and learning new things is a constant process. These lessons learned are applicable for not just professional but, in many cases, personal lives too. Similar to the training in a gurukul, when a student fully commits to the learning process, they come out as a changed, enhanced version of themselves.


Srinidhi Sriraman is a climate responsive architect who believes in giving back to the environment. A travel enthusiast who strongly believes “what is life worth if there are no stories to tell.” She took to writing to share, learn and also grow in the process.