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A First Year Student Experience in Architecture

Hi everyone! I am currently in my 2nd year of Architecture studying at the Liverpool School of Art and Design – LJMU. Before coming to University, I attended Sale Grammar School Sixth Form to complete my A Levels in Mathematics, Physics and History, plus an Extended Project Qualification. 2 Years and a Results Day later, I was heading to Liverpool to begin my Architecture journey!

Despite really enjoying my 1st Year of University, I did sometimes find myself with sudden extraordinary challenges. However, this is a normal feeling that many students experience studying architecture for the first time. The majority of us come into university with little knowledge of what to expect starting the course. Suddenly, in a matter of months or even weeks, most of us become absorbed into this universal ‘Architecture Student Lifestyle’. Unfortunately, this is inevitable as Architecture is associated with long days, long nights, and many hours of hard work. However, how you manage this, can make what is considered to be an intensive experience; a fun and enjoyable one!

In this article, I will share what helped in my first Year of Architecture school; emphasising the importance in balancing academia with other aspects of university life. I hope this will be helpful for those starting university soon! I understand how both nerve-wracking and exciting this new beginning can be, especially if you are moving to a new city and living with new people. Hopefully, the following tips will give you a head start in terms of what to expect in your first year as an architecture student. 

  1. Prepare for Tutorials & Reviews/Crits 

Coming in straight from A-levels, tutorials and crits, were a brand new experience compared to the standard learning structure. Presenting ideas was something I did not do much before. However, it becomes a very frequent activity in architecture school so you eventually get used to it very quickly. 

Tutorials 🡪 A weekly session, where you discuss your project with your tutor. This is an opportunity to get feedback on your work, discuss ideas and ask questions. 

Review/Crits 🡪 This is considered to be the most important day in your design process. This is where you pin up your work and present your design proposal to reviewers, including guests (depending on the University). It can be considered to be a very formal and sometimes difficult process or a casual experience (the experience varies between design units and universities). 

Ultimately, how you come out of these sessions is dependent on the quality of work and preparations you have done. Before a tutorial session, be sure to prepare what you want to show to your tutor and list some questions you have, to make the most of the sessions. Before a review/crit, be sure to prepare a pin-up which showcases your hard work and understanding of the project. Prepare what you are going to say during the review/crit, even if that means writing up some notes and presenting to yourself in your room the night before.   

  1. Get to know studio mates 

These are the people who will change your experience in architecture for the better! Architecture is an intensive experience, but who you surround yourself with can make that experience enjoyable. During my first year, I was lucky enough not only to find a group of people who are passionate and good at what they are doing, but also, looks out for one another. You will find that people have different skill sets and are open to sharing opinions and tips. Be sure to get to know the older years as well! They are more experienced and are eager to help when you are struggling with something as they understand what it is like being in your place.

  1. Keep involved in your hobbies through University Societies, Clubs, or Personal

University is the perfect opportunity to either try something new or enhance skills you already have. Before coming in September, I knew that I wanted to keep fit and continue playing sports at university. Therefore, I attended badminton training sessions and now play for the university badminton team, as well as selected for varsity. 

I always tell people that balancing architecture and badminton was a struggle, which in most cases, it was. However, the pros outweigh the cons. Getting involved taught me to have a balance and to organise my time properly. This helped me become more productive and I found when I came back from training or competitions, I was refreshed, and ready to start work again. 

  1. Start early – Wake up early 

This was something I struggled with in first year. Waking up early to start my work was only achieved the day before a review/crit. This was so that I could do as much work in the day and prevent working through the night. Unfortunately, I failed to recognise just how effective this could have been if I incorporated it into my everyday life.

Waking up early is really efficient in terms of productivity. It allows you to get a lot more work done. This is definitely something I want to do more often, and I would encourage others to try and do the same. Start early, finish early, and then you are free to enjoy the rest of your day! 

  1. Take breaks 

Breaks are very important, both short and long. When spending a day in the studio, make sure to take breaks! Go on walks with your friends, go to the local café, or sit outside for a bit. This may sound obvious but remember to eat! The Architecture Society at my University did an architecture-type ‘Bingo’ and one box read ‘Forgot to eat all day because you were too busy doing uni work’. It seemed as though the majority of students from all years ticked it off, proving this habit to be quite common among Architecture Students. 

Lastly, breaks are important due to the fact that Architecture consists of many projects and reports. In some Universities, there are few exams, however for others, it may be 100% coursework. The fact that coursework is significant in Architecture makes the workload quite intense. However, do not feel as though you need to constantly work on your project from the day you have been given the brief, to review/crit or submission day. Manage your time properly, allocate breaks, even if that includes days where you will not do any architecture work. Be productive in a healthy way and remember: quality over quantity! 

The main point for first year architecture is to enjoy yourself! Especially for 1st years where the university experience is so much more than the course. It is about trying new things, getting to know new people, and enjoy exploring the city you are in. As you progress in your architectural studies, you will start to appreciate the architecture around you more. My perspective of Liverpool in my first month of living there compared to my last month has completely changed. I am really excited to continue my Part 1 Architecture degree there. Whether you will be starting architecture in Liverpool, a different city, the UK or a different country, I am sure the city you will be in, will be a city you love, and if not, you will learn to love. Best of luck this year, and be sure to ask me anything you are unsure about  🙂 

This article was written by a community member!

Learn more about Elyza Yunus on our Writers page.

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Workflow Tips You Need to Implement Right Now

A solid workflow is important when you have deadlines to meet and projects to finish. First let’s make sure we know what workflow is. Workflow as described in the dictionary is ‘the sequence of industrial, administrative, or other processes through which a piece of work passes from initiation to completion’. This is the part where you are being productive, not planning for it, not refining it, but the actual process.

Over the course of your studies, you might build up a workflow that works for you, a method that ensures you are working to the best of your ability. If you’re a newer architecture student, it can get very overwhelming very quickly. By the time Christmas rolls around, you have deadlines, crits, weekly tutorials and a project to be working on so your workflow could change over time.

Implementing some good habits and creating systems is the best thing you can do right now. If you’ve just graduated, this could be a way to prepare for work or to make sure you are using your time as well as you can and sending out applications. If you’re in between years, creating a workflow that suits you can be the best thing you do over summer.

🟢 Keep a sketchbook

A sketchbook is a must and you will have heard that multiple times on our website and from other architects. Having online productivity tools like Notion is great for note-taking or collecting links and resources but there is something different about drawing out your ideas. You can also do this on some trace, and scan it in, but remember that these are simply tools for you to output your thoughts and creativity.

You will inevitably be using a sketchbook in university and in practice, so try and make sure that you keep it on hand at all times. You could even have multiple sketchbooks that you use for individual purposes. Make sure you keep track of important details of your projects so that you can refer back to them. Sometimes your sketchbook can be much more informative of your design approach and decisions than your final portfolio.

🟢 Organise your tasks

This point links to the previous point. How you use your sketchbook is up to you at the end of the day. But it might be better to keep a separate planner or online system that can allow you to organise your tasks. If you didn’t know already, we’ve been using Notion, and it has been a gamechanger. There are many possibilities and uses but to start out, a simple to-do list can work. If you often end up giving yourself too many tasks or don’t always check off tasks, Notion can provide multiple views such as a table or Kanban board to make it more interactive.

The purpose of organising your tasks is so that you have a clear set of actions to complete in an hour, in a day or in a week. This is especially helpful if you often find yourself stuck and don’t know how to proceed. It also lets procrastination sneak in which you will end up regretting later on.

🟢 Work in small chunks

The pomodoro technique is possibly the best and easiest way to get started with time management. Think about what kinds of tasks you want to accomplish and be very specific. By writing down ‘make a model’ you’re not thinking about the logistics involved. What if you need to go buy materials first? Or you need to wait for your 3D printed elements to finish printing. Being specific means that you’re also being realistic and can fit those tasks into small chunks.

If the 25 minutes seems a bit too short for you, try 50 minutes and a 10 minute break afterwards. As you progress, you will start understanding how much you can do in under an hour. This blog article has taken me 26 minutes up till now and I know that I can finish it within in hour because over time, I have gotten used to the workflow of writing an article and once I am in the correct mindset, the words flow a lot easier. But having a rough outline helps too.

Basically, if you incorporate this into your daily schedule it can work out great and push away the pressure of having to work for long hours on end or think about staying up all night to finish something.

🟢 Finish your current task before starting a new one

This is something that people often don’t consider. Obviously, procrastination can be detrimental in the long-run, but if you tend to skip on to the next task or switch in-between different things without finishing something, it might confuse you or you might not even finish at all! Usually this happens if we don’t enjoy the task that we are doing. So it’s not a matter of not doing what you don’t enjoy but instead, making those tasks enjoyable in some way. For example, if you’re going to be doing a mundane task like annotation, pop open a second screen and put on an episode of something you’ve already watched but enjoy.

You will end up linking these two tasks together and will actually start to do these things naturally. If you’re struggling with being productive, have a look at Ali Abdaal’s class on Skillshare. Here you can get an idea of what productivity is and how it links to workflow.

🟢 Keep goals in front of you

Goals can give you motivation. We often say that as designers, we tend to think visually. So if it means keeping a photoshopped image of yourself at graduation, do it! It isn’t uncommon for students to think about dropping out if things aren’t going as well as planned. But by having your goals either written down or in front of you, it will give you that motivation to keep on going. Over time, this motivation for short term goals can also turn into a drive for longer term achievements. If you can positively visualise them happening and if you have the determination to see it through till the end, there should be nothing stopping you.

Although this is an article on workflow tips, we shouldn’t get bogged down with what tools will make us work better. We have to also think about what we want out of having a better workflow and what are the end goals.

🟢 Switch up your workspace

If you have a quiet study room with an adequate amount of space, then you might not even want to switch up your environment. But through lockdown, we know that it can be difficult to stay on task if there are others around you. Sometimes, you might need to take your laptop and sit on the couch, take your model and work in the garden in order to get a fresh perspective. We work long hours anyway and nobody wants to be sitting in front of a screen for the entire day.

Make sure you take breaks in between. These can be your social media breaks, a coffee break or something quick, but make sure you stick to your time and get back to work when you need to.

🟢 Plan in detail

Similar to being specific when you plan tasks, you need to remember that the same can apply to other aspects of your workflow. Take the time to invest in the proper tools for your desk, plan out exactly what you need and want and get rid of any distracting clutter. Plan out the next couple of months and what you want to be achieving each month. This way, you will avoid being stuck or clueless as to how to proceed. If you’re applying for jobs, plan out the kind of firms you want to apply to (but apply to them all), plan out a cover letter template in advance – you get the gist.

Having a good workflow can prepare you for a lot of things, not just in architecture. Hopefully, you can being to implement these things yourself and become a bit more proactive. If you didn’t know already, we often share advice like this on our Discord server as well as our Instagram. If you’re struggling with something specific, don’t hesitate to contact us and make sure to leave a comment below!

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Setting Up a WFH Space

First of all, well done to everyone who managed to complete their studies online this year. It was an interesting experience, wouldn’t you say?  Due to the pandemic, cities went into lockdown, compelling educational institutes and public workspaces to be closed. This didn’t mean the world stopped functioning; we just had to adapt our lifestyle and carry on. For some people, it was easy, but for others, it was a little bit more than just typing on the computer. 

The architecture facilities at university are an essential part of education, it is not only the large studio space, but the computer labs, workshops and many other amenities other amenities that students need to access to. There are students who are already comfortable working from home. However, for a lot of students this was a new experience, which took some time getting used to. Let me assure you that none of us have experienced working from home quite like this.  

It is safe to say that, architecture students went into a slight mode of ‘uncertain panic’? Confused about how we were going to make models, how we were going to scan work, how tutorials would work etc. etc.  Nonetheless, we have finished and made it through; again, well done.  

With no vaccine, and a confused government, there is still much uncertainty in educational institutes. Many universities are considering to have everything done online for the 2020/21 academic year and many are considering to start online and then transition back to irl (‘in real life’) teaching. Watch our space for a guest post coming up to discuss the upcoming changes in September!

For the moment, the best and only thing you can do is prepare for the worst or best outcome. During this period, I would say I have made myself quite at home. To help you prepare for university, here are some tips that I picked up from my experience of studying architecture at home.

Set Up Your Space

Since you will be working from home, you need to find a space that is comfortable and suitable for your work. You are free to move around and it can become chaotic if you don’t settle on a general area. Make sure you keep all your equipment and materials organised and clean. Avoid working on the bed, it just won’t work out.

Drawing Space

It goes without saying that drawing is a fundemental part of who you are. You need to make sure you have a place to produce your large drawings since you won’t have access to the studios.

Drawing Table – The large drawings we produce, require large tables, (preferably with straight edges to hook on your t-square). You don’t need to buy a new table. As an architecture student, you learn to adapt and modify what you already have. The best way I found working was by using an A1/A0 MDF board. Anywhere between 10-20mm is thick enough to tape down your paper and hook your t-square. You can buy a board from almost any home depot construction stores like Wickes or even on Ebay and Amazon.  

If you have a large table you can place your MDF board on that. If you don’t, you can buy blocks to place under the board or place the board on a few large text books on the floor. Nothing beats working on the floor on your favourite rug. Have a look at our post for recommended drafting and modelling equipment.

Digital Space

This is the space, for most students, once you develop your skills from first year. Most students from 2nd year will spend a lot more time on the computer using CAD software for drawing, rendering, portfolio set up etc. Using your laptop to check emails and casual work is totally different from spending 12 hours setting up drawings and rendering. It is really important you have a set up that you are comfortable to work with. 

Here are a few factors to consider: 

Posture

You will be sitting for a long time, try to take a break every 15 minutes, but you, as well as I know, that it can be very easy to be sucked into work. Especially during deadlines. 

This can cause serious damage to your body, and you don’t want to be feeling like a grandparent before you have even started your life. I am no physio therapist, but this is an excellent post which will help you with posture. You don’t need to buy anything extra, everything is possible with what you have already. Certain devices can make a difference. I really suggest to buy an ‘Ergonomic’ mouse; a game changer. They are available at most tech stores and online.

Wrist support You can buy a support cushion for your ‘mouse wrist’ and a keyboard rest as well. Or as an architecture student why not make one yourself? There are plenty of tutorials out there.

Eyes

Take. Care. Of. Your. Eyes. It goes without saying that you need to take care of your eyes, but we all need that reminder now and again. I highly recommend either installing a blue light filter or buying a pair of anti blue light glasses, these are widely available anywhere and are not prescription glasses. Here is a post which summarises what is blue light and how it affects us. 

Dry eyes -Staring at screens can also dry your eyes, I found that my eyes would sting or itch after long hours of work. Two simple things that helped me were to use a cool eye gel under the eyes or leave two tea spoons in the fridge and just place that over your eyes. As alien as it sounds, it does work. Alternatively you can also look into hydrating eye sprays that are widely available from opticians and pharmacies. 

Laptop/Desktop

Without getting too technical, a good desktop or laptop is  essential if you are going to be working from home.  The software you will be need a lot of power and doing all your work on a computer that’s not built for it may put you at a disadvantage. The core factors to consider are: RAM, Graphics card, Processor, Hard Drive and Screen Size. 

You don’t need to buy a super expensive ultimate PC or laptop, there are plenty of laptops within a reasonable price range, which will get the job done.  This is quite important and I can’t cover everything here, we’ll go into the details of computers in a later post. But in the mean time there are a lot of other articles out there for suggestions, be sure to have a browse and reach out to us if you have any questions! 

Screen Extension Having a screen extension is super useful but not everyone has the space or the funds for an additional screen. If you have a tablet, there are screen extension programs such as Spacedesk that connect your device to your computer. Since it is wireless, expect it to lag slightly but it works great if you need to have a reference image to the side while you draw or model work. 

Headset – you don’t need a super headset; just make sure you have a good pair of headphones and a mic that works so you can have productive online tutorials and meetings 

Photography

Don’t panic if you don’t have a high tech camera. You can always buy a standard DSLR or use your phone. If you don’t know anything about cameras, this post will help you get started.

Next, you might ask how do I use a camera? There are several important features to consider when taking photographs. Below we’ve linked a brilliant video which explains how to use your camera and what to consider. These principles can also be applied with phone photography and will significantly improve the quality of your photos if you understand them.

Lighting

Table lamps work fine, I tend to use two or even the phone torch in some cases.  But nothing beats natural sunlight. Note the time of day you take photographs – because natural lighting can often work best when photographing models. If you set up a reflector you can create soft shadows. You can use white card, foam board or even a bed sheet as a reflector. 

Backdrop

The backdrop is very important. If you have a clean background, it will minimise the post editing process and you will have more control over the shadows. Most models are photographed with either a white or black background; you might be tempted to use different colours or textures but that all depends on your concept.

In general the background should be plain so the focus on the image is your model. Setting up a backdrop depends on the size of your model and on the space around you. Your usual options are to photograph your model on the floor or on a table.

For the backdrop you could:

  1. Get a large sheet of paper or a bed sheet which can be taped/pinned to the wall- this should be long enough to provide a base and backdrop
  2.  Use A1 Card as a background and base

If you have small models you could also make yourself a photography booth.

Stability

Make sure you have some way of setting your camera in a stable position. It makes all the difference.  Tri-pods are made exactly for this reason. If you plan to only use your phone for photography, then you could purchse a phone tripod; however you will be constricted by height and position. It’s good for minituare models but you might struggle to capture larger models.

I suggest you have a regular tripod (you can buy an additional phone mount to attach) and a phone tripod, so you have the best of both. It doesnt have to be an industry level tripod- The Hama Star 700 tripod available on Amazon or Ebay is a standard tripod, easy to use and can be packed away easily. Alternatively, you can place your camera or phone on a pile of books. 

Model Making

Your MDF board will come to use yet again. You can use one side for drawing and one side for model making. Essentials you need for general model making include:

  • Scalpel with 10A blades
  • Heavy duty glue
  • Glue gun + glue sticks
  • Masking tape + double sided tape
  • Set square
  • Metal ruler
  • Cutting mat

Printing and scanning

Even though you are not required to have a printed portfolio, don’t feel that your hand drawing or sketches can’t be used or have to be done on a4/3. You don’t need an A1 plotter. To scan larger drawings at home, you can use a scanning app on your phone. I tend to use CamScanner, which has no watermarks on the free version and gives you a lot of editing options. 

Alternatively, print shops have opened up. Their services maybe limited due to COVID-19 regulations, so it is worth calling to check.  If you are around Central London, Panopus Prints provides an amazing service for students – I highly recommend them.

All Set

You are probably sick and tired of hearing this, but it is true. We are living through ‘unprecedented’ times and at this point our generation don’t even know what to expect next; we just have to adapt to whatever comes our way. On that note, this guide should help to prepare your home-work space for the academic year ahead. Good luck!

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Why Googling is the Answer to Learning Better

Learning a new software is never easy or quick. In fact, I’m still learning how to use Adobe programs even though I consider myself quite familiar with the array of tools and workflow. But Googling things has saved me a ton of time. 3D modelling programs can seem quite intimidating especially if you’re pressed for time and balancing other tasks. There’s a common question that comes with wanting to learn a new software, what tutorials did you follow? Or which course did you buy? I’ve found that tutorials and courses can be helpful in some cases but the best way to learn is to get hands-on with something and go through a trial and error stage to make yourself comfortable with the program. In this situation, being an expert Googler can be extremely useful.

You might be wondering; how could Google possibly help with learning a new software? If you know the correct questions and have the ability to skim read quick enough, chances are you will find the answer to the small problem you face and be able to repeat the process until you’ve gained a considerable amount of knowledge about particular commands or methods of completing an action.

My Experience

Over the past year, I’ve been wanting to learn all the software I was not previously familiar with. This included Rhino, Revit, Vectorworks and building on skills in AutoCAD. I had previously searched for Rhino tutorials myself, accessed some LinkedIn courses but none of them ‘stuck’ with me. Of course, if you’re provided with all the files, it would give you a hands-on experience, but you’d only be learning according to the teacher’s methods. Fortunately, I know 3DS Max quite well so already had an idea of the kinds of commands and tools I regularly use and had knowledge of what I can do with Rhino. However, those of you in first or second year might not have that same experience and whichever software you want to tackle first will surely be unknown to you.

Once I decided to update my portfolio (which meant re-creating the 3D model of my 2nd year project) I wanted to do it in Rhino so that I could properly learn the software and use it in a familiar setting. Usually you will be starting with various windows and taskbars of which some might be of use and some will not. Over time you can figure out which ones you need and don’t based on how often they get used. But the main point of this article is to explain that by Googling ‘how to close a polyline’ or ‘how to create a cylinder’ you can learn things quicker and retain them.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I am an expert in Rhino or that I didn’t look at any kind of tutorials at all. However, by re-creating a project that I am well acquainted with, I found it easy to search for the things I wanted to do.

Method and Logic

The term ‘Googling’ is just a fun way of saying ‘Researching’. But you need to be able to do this quickly and efficiently. If you don’t know what you’re looking for or which problem you want to solve, it’ll be quite difficult for you. You basically need to simplify the question you’re putting into the search engine. Then, you need to spend less than half a minute looking at the first few results and going back and forth on each page till you start recognizing a similar problem or an answer of sorts.

Doing research in a very smart way will let you work at your own pace without having to sit there and learn something for an hour. Once the problem is solved, you can carry on with what you’re doing and repeat the cycle if needed. This is why I always keep open a new tab on Chrome which I can switch to and search my question and get Googling. Let’s go through a few examples.

I’ve been modelling in Rhino for a couple of hours and can figure out how to create 3D shapes, but I want to punch a cylindrical hole through a cuboid. First, I’d look for tools on the relevant task bars since it might just be in front of me. If I can’t find anything, I’ll open up Google and type in ‘how to punch shapes rhino’. Your vocabulary is also important here because if ‘punch’ doesn’t work you can try alternatives like cut, ‘make holes’. Then obviously you want to add the corresponding software which is Rhino in this case.

If you look at the first 3 results, any could work for what I’m searching for. Let’s say I click on the third result which coincidentally is the McNeel forum – from the people who created Rhino. Now I find that someone has posted this question already.

Now, scrolling down, I can see that two of the answers include the command BooleanSplit. If you understand the Boolean commands which are present in other 3D modelling software too, then this might just be the aha! Moment.

If you’re not familiar with the command, you can either mess around on Rhino if you’re not on a deadline or you could go back and Google ‘Boolean Rhino’. It doesn’t need to be a long-winded question like ‘what is the Boolean command in Rhino 6’. This waste seconds of time which surprisingly adds up over the course of years. So, making it efficient and clear is key.

This method doesn’t need to just apply learning a new software. It can be a great way to expanding your knowledge on all sorts of things or just to clarify something. If you struggle with writing you could search up ‘good writing techniques’. The format you choose to consume this knowledge is up to you. It could be a short YouTube video or a simple article or you might stumble upon a website that is all about writing techniques. Skim reading and matching the keywords in the Google results page is also important so that you don’t end up clicking on things that don’t relate to your problem or issue.

Googling, and being good at it is definitely a good skill to have in my opinion. It can make you learn better, faster, and more efficiently and you don’t need to rely on paid sources just to learn something. The Internet is full of information, no doubt so you need to start taking advantage of this and use it to your advantage. There are multiple communities and resources online that are made to be used by people to learn new things. Forums like Quora can also be a good place to find people who have similar questions as you and it’s just a matter of hoping someone has already found the answer.

Recently, I realised that Googling / researching is essentially a way of active learning. We only take in about 15% of the content consumed through media such as videos, lectures and webinars and even less if you’re not taking notes. So by Googling, you’re actively searching for the answer to your problem and having a hands-on experience with a software. Give it a try, a new kind of approach or alternative to those courses you’ve been wanting to do instead.