5 Things I wish I learned in Architecture School

A common topic of conversation between architects is their time at school.

Like old war veterans, we like sharing stories about those days and almost everyone has great stories to share because it is, in fact, a transformative experience that will change you forever. However, after graduating from school, most people struggle during the first year(s) due to a lack of skills/habits that, in my opinion, could have been trained beforehand. Some are naturally gifted at some of these skills, but for the majority of people, including myself, the ability to thrive in these areas would have been a great advantage.

Here are 5 of the things I wished I learned in Architecture school:

Managing your time

If you are an Architect or studying to become one, you will know exactly what I am talking about in this item. For some reason, most architects have terrible time management and I think those habits can be traced back to when we were in school. Does printing 2 hours before a deadline sound familiar? How many “all-nighters” did you have to do to complete that specific academic project?

This specific time management strategy has thrown our industry into a cycle of bad habits that tends to perpetuate until we start promoting efficient time management in school.

Architecture is a business (I will further explore this topic in the article) and in any business time is one of the most important assets. Typically, architectural fees are based on hourly rate times the number of hours spent working on a job. If we can complete the job in fewer hours, our profits are higher. On the other hand, if we spend more than the quoted hours working on that project, we are committing professional suicide.

For reasons unknown, this is not how project delivery is outlined in most of our architectural schools and students are left with the impression that they will always have all the time in the world to think about how the baseboard meets the floor tile. Although all projects are different, this is not the case in the majority of projects, where budgets and schedules are tight and you need to achieve that same level of quality and resolution relatively quickly to be effectively managing your time.

TU Delft in the Netherlands – View of the Model Room

Working in a team

Since completing my Master’s degree, I honestly can’t remember a single project that I have worked on without having to collaborate and interact with many disciplines and people.

When I was in school most of the assignments were individual and you had almost no exposure to collaboration with your peers and zero knowledge or experience coordinating with other disciplines, such as Structural & MEP. Junior Architects mention many times that they only learned how to organize a complete drawing package after being exposed to a real project when they are employed.

I believe that not only should students be exposed to working with other architects, they should also get some exposure to working with engineering students and basic knowledge of all components and systems that go into buildings. Both employers and students would appreciate that shift of mentality because buildings today are so complex and require such high levels of expertise that you need to work in multi-disciplinary teams to be able to deliver projects.

Sharing

Because some schools do not encourage students to work in teams, the main consequence is isolation and an unnecessary cult of competition between peers.

Most students leave class after speaking to their professor and go work individually on their projects, either at home or in the studios at school.

This method of teaching does have its advantages but I believe it is based on a notion of what an architectural practice used to be 50 years ago when the majority of professionals were sole-practitioners.

There is also a lot to be said about sharing your knowledge and experience with others as it will foster a better sense of community and companionship between colleagues. Maybe, in the long run, architects will become a stronger class that works together towards a better future instead of working against each other for a bigger piece of the pie.

Business Mindset

This one took a long time for me to understand.

Because most architects really enjoy what they do, they have a hard time thinking of their work as a business that needs to become profitable to be sustainable.

Most architecture schools do a great job creating great conceptual thinkers but doing a lousy job preparing these brilliant young minds to sell their services to the public.

I believe that this would be solved quite easily if there was a small business component added to the degree so everyone understands early on that in the real world you need to make money to pay your bills and have food on the table.

Harvard School of Design

Marketing & Communication

Architects should be great communicators. Period.

We output drawings, details, specifications that are not always fully understood by the majority of people (our target market), and we have the ability to produce beautiful content that would create a significant impact.

We tend to structure our presentation material as if we were presenting to other architects and the reality is that, unfortunately, there are not a lot of architects that are looking for an architect to design their home.

It is very important for architects to be able to communicate to their industry, but it would be very interesting if architecture schools encouraged their students to undertake assignments that would be open to the feedback of their local community to create interaction between these young designers and the public. This would force us to develop a narrative and a communication strategy that would appeal to the general public and not only to a panel of architectural critics.

Things you can’t learn in school

Although what you learn in school can set you up on the right track for success, you will always be exposed to new and exciting challenges during your career, and that is one of the best parts of our profession. Part of what distinguishes great and average is the ability to adapt and react and that cannot be taught in school.

As long as you keep an open mind and an open heart you will be able to learn along the way.

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