Architecture school was a revelation. I would be lying to myself if I said that I knew exactly what I was signing up for all those years ago when I enrolled for my Bachelor in Architecture degree, all I had was a tiny bit of passion for the built environment, and a keen interest for drawing and sketching—it is safe to say I was in for a life-changing experience.
Some amount of mental preparation for what was to come would have been nice, it was for this reason I was slightly envious of students who had architects in their family; I always wondered if they navigated the deep waters better!
Students in undergraduate architecture school are expected to be a jack of all trades—we were learning color theory on one end and calculating structural loads on the other, and from ancient Mughal architecture to the principles of urban design; the breadth of the curriculum was staggering.
Graduate school, on the other hand, was quite another beast to tame. After working for a long time I was back in school, but this time I knew the way things worked. Or so I thought. I was now in the same class as so many people who were trying to get their masters in architecture degree but were not architects—from art historians to civil engineers, we were a highly diverse group of students!
This posed a unique set of challenges, and as one can assume, a peek into concomitant professions and perspectives. The classes were more grueling than before, more customizable, but demanding nevertheless.
Collaboration is Key
One of the quickest bubbles to burst on starting architecture school was on what constituted the role of an architect itself. Popular culture often showed the architect as a lone crusader, always clad in black with shades of arrogance, dismissive of a client’s aesthetic and liking nothing but his own (note the ‘his’, for it was always a ‘he’), a Rand-Esque visage bearing the responsibility of good design on his solitary shoulders.
Unless your project is in 50’s Hollywood, it’s safe to assume that an architect does not go strutting about the site with contractors at his heel. School made it apparent very quickly that the architect is but another cog in the machinery that is necessary for a project to see completion—various players hold the baton at different stages, from the client to the contractors, consultants to the workmen at the site.
It is one thing to have a vision for the project, but I realized it was equally important for the vision to be accommodating; we could learn about the systems that were needed in a building, but a professional consultant would ideally give sound advice.
Although, there were experiences in my professional career that reinforced the need to work in tandem with all the stakeholders on a project, the merits of collaboration and teamwork were heavily stressed during school itself. From making large-scale urban design models during undergraduate days to participating in worldwide competitions during graduate school, it would be implausible to think of getting through architecture school merely relying on individual efforts.
The range of projects we were given in school grew as the years went on, and I soon realized that even though hiring an architect to do a private residence by the urban elite can be considered a luxury, that is not all that architects were capable of doing.
We are responsible for several civic and public projects, holding positions in government offices and departments—it was always about the people. A lot of my research went on to be focused on the user; for it was them that would be affected by the architectural intervention, and the idea of shaping lives and molding behaviors was always at the forefront when doing any project.
Physical to the Digital
In a time when automation and artificial intelligence is taking over architectural processes, our curriculum needs a major overhaul. That being said, and at the risk of sounding dated, I deeply appreciate the amount of stress that was laid on the art of drawing.
The first three years of my architectural education were solely dedicated to hand drafting- from construction drawings to rendering perspectives, we had stippled till our fingertips went numb. We were learning all kinds of software soon after, and it was a relief to automate repetitive tasks, for it meant more time to design and to do multiple iterations without fear of the finality that comes with hand rendering. It was especially interesting to see the range of projects in class once the software was introduced.
Complex geometry could now be easily computed in Rhino, Lumion and VRAY took photorealism to another level, AutoCAD and Revit could produce drawings faster than ever. By the end of year five, several students had picked out the software they would use in accordance with their design aesthetic!
On starting graduate school, it was assumed that everyone would be technically able, and the level of skill on display was astounding. Diverse backgrounds and career choices meant an even greater range of projects to be intimidated by!
I have always held the belief that architectural education is akin to learning about life itself. The various subjects, the group tasks, field trips, finding internships, sleepless work nights, parties, debates about architectural theory, famous architects, favorite buildings, sketches, excelling at Structures (not), laser-cut models, drafting details, rendering at night, juries, constructive criticism, measuring road widths, making steadfast friends—it all lead to one thing, finding our feet as architects, and proudly calling ourselves one.