5 Things I Didn’t Know When I Started Architecture

To be completely honest, there was a lot I didn’t know when I started architecture. I was pretty much going into it blind, having done little research and no real support throughout sixth form. I was the only person in my school to apply for architecture (and design in general really). I also knew very little about the big industry names or what the experience would be like.

But there are certain aspects of my undergraduate that I only learnt after graduating and these are the few tips I would give to first years or prospective students. There are also things I only realised much later on but the whole point of this is to learn from each other’s mistakes right?

Being able to tell a story is key

neon sign reads 'What is your story?'
5 Things I Didn't Know When I Started Architecture

You might be thinking, have I landed on the wrong blog? No. Storytelling isn’t just about writing fiction, it’s a pretty valuable skill across many different disciplines such as marketing, fashion and of course architecture. The projects you work on across all years need to have some kind of story and narrative to drive the project. If you’re not passionate or curious about what you’re designing, chances are that at some point your progress will plateau.

No one is going to teach you story-telling at architecture school but it might be worth doing so through your writing. If you can start by listing out the key aspects of your project, what it’s been inspired by, the kind of atmosphere and aesthetic you want to create, you can then translate these into your drawings.

During crits and tutorials, you’re usually aiming to tell a story through your design. The reason for this is to coherently explain what you’re trying to achieve and why it’s needed. Essentially, you’re also selling your design to your tutors and this prepares you for your professional career. When it comes to live projects, you’ll need to be able to sell your vision to a client or a planning council and instead of pointing out components of a drawing, you can really connect with them through the narrative. When I started architecture I had no idea that presentation skills were so important in this one of work.

You don’t need fancy or expensive tools

Last year we wrote a blog on Real Tools You Need for Architectural Drawings, which included some basic tools that I personally use. But in architecture, you can combine a myriad of skills and disciplines such as model-making or photography within your projects. All I want to emphasise here is that you don’t need to splurge on absolutely every single tool that seems attractive.

I’ve still got a brand new drawing board lying in my shed after only 5 or 6 uses that I bought when I started architecture. The truth is that I don’t really take hand-drawing seriously to the point of needing a drawing board. It was a poor investment choice but I learnt a lesson from it. As architecture students, we are already paying enormous amounts of tuition fees, printing costs and more and I’m sure you’re familiar with the general student budget. Keeping things to a minimum doesn’t have to compromise the quality of your work.

You could easily photograph models with your phone instead of a DSLR camera and then edit it to seem of a higher quality. Utilise the tools you already own and try and make them work. Most of the time, it might even work out for the better. Of course, if you are investing in a proper set of tools that you know you are going to use then go for it!

Your tutors can make and shape your experience

Straight off the bat, not everyone gets the same kind of tutors. Even in the same university, each studio and tutor will have their own way of working, teaching and level of support. I believe that the kinds of skills and techniques I was exposed to via my tutors are what has shaped me to be the kind of designer I am. Unless you know their way of working, you can’t exactly pick and choose but I think the kind of brief you go for should be equally important as the tutors.

One advice I would try and give is to try not and get overly influenced by them either. Your tutors are there to encourage and guide you, not to take over your project (I’ve seen this happen). Navigating around this can be especially tricky the developed your project is so try and set some kind of direction early on. If that means slightly deviating from what your tutors have suggested, that’s all good as long as you can back up your reasoning and ideas.

Architecture is hard

Surprise! Not. Architecture has previously been compared to the likes of studying medicine in terms of how long it takes to get qualified, the starting salaries, the amount of hard work and long hours – the list could go on. But I think we decide to choose this profession because of its creativity and the ability to literally shape the spaces around us. Architecture is only as good as its designer. If you feel as if you may not be cut out for it, that’s completely fine. I don’t think you should bound yourself to a certain career if your heart’s not 100% into it.

On the other hand, architecture is one of those courses that can leapfrog you into various careers and opportunities.

The course and industry have many negative notions and traits that are embedded in architectural education. But I think we can still make a positive impact by being smarter with the way we work. If that means rejecting all-nighters and actually getting decent sleep once in a while then why not? There’s no rule that all good work has to come from a mountain of stress. Depending on whether you are a glass half full or glass half empty person, there are many rewards that can come with architecture; the creativity, freedom and intricacy of designing spaces.

The difficult aspects of the course include the constant iterative process which probably leads to feeling like it’s never really over. The best practices to tackle the workload and pressure would be to manage your time carefully and try to stay on track with what you’re doing. But I won’t sugarcoat it, each person’s journey in architecture is different than when I started architecture, and often difficult. But it can be such a freeing and amazing path that could also lead to many different routes in the future.

Organisation is your best friend

I wish I honestly knew about Notion long before I started architecture. I really feel as if being organised is the key to better time management, less stress and chaos. Even if it’s something simple as a to-do list or a project tracker, it can be incredibly beneficial in all aspects. Digital tools don’t cost much and are pretty accessible, they can be a great hub for keeping resources in one place or sharing information with your peers. I’ve even made a series of templates on Notion to help other students manage their projects, track job applications and set up their own digital hubs.

Having systems in place will simply make tasks a lot quicker to get through and put in place a routine or tried and tested workflow. In fact, this is the sole reason I’ve created my Building a Second Brain course over on the Architecture Social. It’s the beginner’s guide to building your own digital system that will push you towards the circle of productivity. It doesn’t solely focus on the tools but more on the system and concepts behind some of the most well-known systems for workflows and time management.

I hope that gave you some insight into some of the general stereotypes that come with studying architecture. Whether you’re only beginning your journey in the industry or moving on to the next chapter in your career, let me know in the comments what’s one thing you’ve learnt so far that you would share with your past self?

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