5 Things I Learnt in My First Month of Studying MArch

The jump from BArch to studying MArch is overwhelming to say the least. If you’ve managed to have a typical ‘year out’ working in practice, you’ll be even further distanced from the academic side of architecture.

This transition is daunting yet totally doable and in this post, I wanted to share some of the things I’ve been learning the past few weeks. I’ll explore concepts and mindsets I have discovered as well as advice that has been given to me by architects, alumni and tutors.

🚧 Research makes a good Foundation

In my undergraduate, I was never really one to visit the library or explore various drawing methods, theories and journals to further enhance my design ability. But this year, it’s been one of my biggest goals. This is because I saw the power of note-taking and research when working on this blog and I knew it can be transferred just as well to support a design project.

Having now had weekly tutorials, seminars and workshops, I’ve realised that research can form a solid base to formulate new ideas and also to back up your concepts. Doing desktop research via Google or through media is just as good as physical research through surveys, exploration and reading. The way in which you use this research is important to understand when studying MArch.

This honestly starts with the brief, something we’ve already touched on over in the blog post, ‘Dissecting an Architecture Brief’.

Once you have these ideas and concepts, you can then stick to 2 to 3 core sub-topics to explore. Finding connections between these ideas is what your job needs to be and this can be developed over time through drawings or collages or any kind of visual output.

Creating Your System

I’ve set up my own system for research that combines note-taking and collecting resources or references from the Internet. Of course, I’m using Notion but you can do something similar in other apps like Roam Research or Evernote. If you’d like to learn how to set up a system like this, you can book a 1 hour session with me where I’ll walk you through the basics of Notion and using it as a MArch student.

Research is underrated in design discipline.

If you’d like to know a bit more about how I use this system on a day-to-day basis to organise my research, you can check out the ‘research’ highlight over on my Instagram page.

πŸ“– Presentation & Narrative are Important at the Beginning

I know just how vague and slow things can be at the start of term where nothing is finalised or concrete and therefore most of your time is spent doing research or reading up on different parts of the brief. But once you start to talk to your tutors about the bits that interest you, these ideas can develop rapidly and will need to be slightly more thought-out for the upcoming deadlines.

So when presenting to your tutors, you really want to try and get across your ideas as clearly as possible. This is for two reasons.

  1. So that you practice a way of presenting in a clear and concise manner
  2. To ensure your tutor doesn’t go off on a different tangent that you might not like

Common mistakes architecture students make during the first few tutorials is that they bring too little or too much information, resulting in not enough to go on or develop – which then means a weeks delay in figuring out your direction. Or, if you have too many branches to go off on, it could mean you end up confused and with unlinked concepts at a later stage.

This is why I think it’s important that you treat tutorials as a design team meeting for a job or even as a mini-deadline. This will keep you motivated to work on if you set out constraints or write a simple list of outputs you want to deliver and will keep the process of your work organised at all times so you know what you worked on each week.

This ‘presentation pack’ doesn’t need to have incredible graphics or be part of your final portfolio, it just needs to convey the core ideas you want it to. I like to put mine together on an A3 page with minimal text and a spacious layout.

Here are some general rules when putting together a presentation for a tutorial:

  • 90% visuals and 10% text
  • Each page needs to convey one core idea
  • Find a link between each page to form a narrative
  • Breathing room, white space and an aligned structure is totally underrate

9-5 Mindset

Treating your presentations with a 9-5 mindset is really important to build discipline and keep you focused at a time where the correct building blocks can make for amazing projects going forward. Experimenting is also a factor that I think is best taken with some constraint. Trying out different forms of output, learning new techniques is all part of the process, but knowing when to stop and carry on producing work is something you will learn over time.

Treating your presentations as a job can be an interesting method to make sure you don’t go off track. Think of it as producing work for your boss or for a client. The quality of this work has to be impeccable, yes, even at this stage. This will train you to iterative and make sure your work is of a good quality throughout. This will also save you much more time in the long-run when putting together your portfolio.

πŸƒπŸ»β€β™€οΈ Push Yourself

A common advice I’ve been given this year is that –

Your 4th year is probably the best out of the entire journey because you have the experience of previous years, the drive to experiment and lesser pressure than being in your final year. Make sure you make the most of it.

Pushing yourself to explore new concepts or even learn skills outside of architecture to further your design abilities and bring in an interdisciplinary angle. Something that people don’t recognise as a method for pushing yourself is failure. Failure doesn’t necessarily need to mean coming up with something the majority of people don’t like because in architecture there really is no wrong way of doing things.

But the important thing is to try. Failing without trying will just leave you regretting the time you could have spent experimenting. But failing having tried something, whether its a collage or a model, can mean that you’re one step closer to something even better. And the time taken to come up with these ideas doesn’t need to go to waste either.

Make sure you keep a record of everything you do, don’t delete it. You never know where or when these lost ideas could come in handy again or become a catalyst for going into a new direction later on in your project.

Work on Your Skills

I know by the time deadlines roll around, there is barely enough time to even have a social life outside of architecture work. But, the first few months are your best opportunity to learn new skills or carry on with projects outside of university work. I highly reccommend this because you never know where these skills may come in handy.

This also gives you an interesting edge, because you may already know how to put together animations or work with 3D scanning (just examples). Or maybe you have your own side hustle that has taught you about the craft in model making, graphic design and qualitiative research. Bringing in these skills will allow you to develop them in a new setting.

Unsure about what other skills you could be building?

The skills you learn in university are as equally as valuable. Say you have a workshop on a new technique or way of drawing or presenting your work, don’t just attend the workshop and then put it at the back of your mind for the next few months. Having a proactive attitude towards building these skills and going the extra mile is what is going to help you stand out.

The beauty of skill-building is that they are going to be with you for the rest of your life and each one opens up new opportunities and branches you could explore. Similarly, if there are skills you need to re-familiarise yourself with, make sure to get on this sooner than later. Don’t wait until the last minute to start modelling in a software you haven’t used in 2 years.

Staying one step ahead and making sure you start learning things you might need later on will not just save you time but unlock the ability to use those skills much earlier.

πŸ“ Stay Organised

Right from the beginning, it is so so crucial to stay super organised. I know most of us will stick to this in the beginning, much like have a perfect first page of a notebook but that usually ends up going downhill very very quickly. In this case, you need to think about what is the Minimum Viable System for you that will keep you on track and make sure you are organised – no other option.

This includes components of your file management system, either locally or on a hard drive as well as the way in which you take notes; manually or digitally. I prefer having a synced system that I can use on all my devices in combination with my sketchbook of course!

But organisation doesn’t just mean digital systems, it can also include the healthy habits you implement into your routine on a daily basis. Does that mean creating an ideal routine and adapting and improving it? Or does it mean being strict with yourself and not resorting to all-nighters.

For me, the number one thing about being organised involves putting together a presentation pack each week for design tutorials and making sure I know what each component means, how it links to my research and that I understand what I am working on rather than just presenting fluffy concepts to try and impress the tutors.

Here are a few more articles that might interest you on organisational skills:

🐀 Parting Advice

Although the first few weeks of studying MArch has been a potential breeding ground for some upcoming burnout, I truly think that just being clever, sticking to your guts and working on stuff you find interesting is how you can not just get through it, but actually enjoy your time at university.

Studying MArch has been a really freeing experience so far and I’ve been sharing parts of my journey over on Instagram so if you’d like to join me, make sure you’re following me and join the archi-community on Discord.

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