Architectural Blatherations

Surviving Architecture School

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The Good Oil

Architecture school can be a lot of fun. It is radically different from anything else in the academy, and does not simply consist of years of tedious lectures. But there can be problems. Dr Garry explains this in detail his last book The Favored Circle. For now a precis.

A most peculiar education

The design studio, the main educational vehicle used in architecture schools, is particularly gruelling. The studio system requires students to spend a great deal of time talking about their design, talking to other students, talking to professors at desk crits, and, of course, talking at jury presentations.

Students from cultured families have already acquired the basic dispositions required to further their symbolic mastery of architectural language. They already know how to talk and manipulate culture, and most important, they already have a visceral feel for the nature of the game they are playing.

Dr Garry has seen any number of young people, male and female, emerge in tears from these studios, especially in their first year. If you don't mind being told what a complete idiot and fool you are, then you will have no problem. Here is one British student:

At the ** School, the attitudes of certain tutors {TA's or adjunct profs]} towards averagely [sic] talented members of my class was dismissed and utterly shocking. I was lucky I had the strength of character to come out of the course relatively unscathed. I saw three highly intelligent individuals suffer a complete breakdown in confidence due to the tutors in this course. You could pass every other aspect of the course with 100 per cent, but if your design work was not favoured, you were left to rot.

One of the very few saving graces of the typical (that is, non-architectural) university lecture system is that your lecturer will not read out your last embarrassing assignment, essay or term paper to the entire class and point out how inadequate it is, point by sad point. In architecture, your last 'assignment' is discussed and dissected before all your colleagues. A great ego boost if you are doing well; completely crushing if you are not.

Ugly possibilities

The unusually intimate nature of architectural education gives any form of harassment a decided edge. In most other fields, you see your lecturer from the back of a huge lecture hall once or twice a week, and encounter his or her assistants face-to-face for an hour or two likewise. Personal contact is pretty limited, and hence so are the opportunities for persecution.

In architecture, though, you will be in face-to-face contact with your studio master and tutors for five to ten or more hours each week. If you are not getting along with these people, you have to put up with it. If someone is putting the heavy word on you, you can't just skip the studio for the rest of semester and sit for an exam: assessment is in person. In the end, you will have to encounter the odious one, and that is that.