The most compelling thing about architecture school is that it is, in essence, a bunch of semi-related subjects thrown into a blender to create something that, by the time you graduate, has somehow translated into a cohesive understanding of how the built environment we live in works. 

Unfortunately, this does mean that a good portion of the actual course is spent wondering why exactly we are being subjected to particular subjects or exercises, and only realizing later how much we’ve learned consciously or unconsciously and incorporated into our mentality.

Architecture College: How to Find Humor in Situations - Sheet1
Sleeping in the studio ©

Adapting to Stress

Going into architecture, I had heard all the horror stories- say goodbye to sleep, prepare to have all your work constantly criticized, learn to breathe architecture if you want to survive, so I was naturally apprehensive. Our first week did not help, since our teachers followed the tried and tested teaching method of throwing us directly into the deep end and seeing who would make it to a vague semblance of floating. 

The eclectic mix of subjects and ideologies introduced was at least a fun challenge to figure out, but it was still a challenge. Everything I had heard was completely proven within two weeks. 

The most important trait of our species however is adaptability. After a month most of us had more or less gotten used to the stress. The sight of our classmates sleeping under and on top of tables had become commonplace, as were the random pieces of model-making materials and random measuring and cutting tools. 

Every week we would collectively panic the day before our design class despite having had plenty of time to make changes from the previous week. The stress had not reduced, it had just become more manageable from long-term exposure.

Collaboration is Key 

This shared stress led to the actual most important thing you can learn in architecture schoolcollaboration. We were tied by common experiences and suffering, and it meant that even if we had wildly different personalities and interests, we were united in the things that were most important in this phase of life; architecture, our despair at the workload, and our common experiences of falling asleep in the studio halfway through an all-night work session, among other things. 

When I met friends from other streams, a common complaint was about the competitive nature of the course, but despite architecture being just as competitive there was always an implicit understanding that I could go to any classmate or senior, and they would help me out with architecture related problems, regardless of how well we got along as people. 

Architecture College: How to Find Humor in Situations - Sheet2
Collaborative studio culture ©

This sense of camaraderie tended to be strongest on days we had submissions because regardless of how much time management had been attempted, there would always be something left to be done the night before, and all of us were in the same boat, especially when we had multiple submissions on the same day. The high workload became manageable with the knowledge that we weren’t alone and even became fun when we worked together either over the phone or in the studio. 

The ire of our professors was also a bonding experience. While I logically understood that we had good teachers, and today I am so grateful to them for the things they shouted into my head, it was still very therapeutic to crib together as a class. Since our teachers were human and occasionally liked to tease us, we had a lot of material, both baseless and not.

Humor in Mistakes

An incident that perfectly showed this occurred during my first semester. Our college was designed so that the school of architecture was a separate building, connected to the engineering building through the auditorium. However, because all our studios and workspaces were in the architecture building, we hadn’t needed to go into the engineering building at that point. 

The submission that day had been a cube made of about 10 kilos of Plaster of Paris, with random crevices. At that point, we had not yet become accustomed to the practice of doing things in the studio, and so all of us proceeded to cart a 10kg cube all the way to the 4th floor, where our studio was. 

The staffroom was near the staircase, so our teacher had a good view of all of us first semester students struggling up the stairs – the stronger ones making multiple trips to help others, and he said nothing. It was only after he saw about 10 people go by that he casually asked why none of us had used the lift in the engineering building and then used the connecting passage into ours. We all stared blankly at him as he laughed at us and told us to be more aware of the building we were in before we thought of designing one.

At the time, the prominent emotions I felt was exhaustion and betrayal, but looking back, it was and is good advice. Over the years, we have used various spaces within our college to explain and understand the depth and capacity of the spaces we were designing. Our biggest influence in conceptualization is the existing built environment. It also didn’t take long for us to laugh at ourselves when we realized how we had complicated our lives, and it was a great example of how there is always humor to be found when you go through situations together. 

Architecture students moving models ©Jason Koski- Cornell University

Humor is a great way to reduce stress. Architecture school has taught me many things, but one of the more easily forgotten lessons is the ability to laugh in stressful situations. Yes, the work is overwhelming and tedious at the same time, but there are always things to laugh about and to find joy in. 

As High School Musical accurately put it, “we’re all in this together”, and burdens shared are burdens halved. Laughing, even if it’s only at the mistakes you made, is a good way to manage the hellscape of architecture school.


Mythili Nair is an aspiring architect and lifelong student. She loves to discover the various ways architecture impacts culture, society and experiences, and firmly believes in sustainability and inclusivity.