Starting your third and final year of BArch at university can seem really daunting. Especially if your experience at university in the past few years has been solely virtual. I felt that it was necessary to write a blog post on the jump between your 2nd and 3rd year because there are some significant changes and processes that require a bit of planning and preparation.
Since things are looking to get back to normal, let’s assume that you will be able to experience the full university experience. Regardless, I feel like it’s really important to use your summer to prepare for the year ahead – I mean, it’s the basis of our recently successful :scale studio which you can learn all about right here. Skills are life-long.
If I break down the general structure of third year, it will involve a dissertation, a design project and other smaller modules. In this blog post, I’m going to cover three aspects that I think you should be prepared for.
Now, over the past two years, you’ve had experience in writing academic essays and understand architectural history and theory in a bit more detail. But a dissertation is different, it’s a bigger project that you have to think carefully about. Another thing to note is that it creeps up on you faster than you expect. Usually, by January, you’re finished with your dissertation but by then, you need to immediately jump back on to your design project and other assignments so there is little to no time to process the journey.
To prepare for your dissertation, you can start at different points. Maybe practising writing for architecture blogs or entering competitions can be a great basis to start from. After all, you can only really practice by doing the work. If you’re stuck about finding a topic that works for you (trust me, we all go through this) then perhaps you need to take a look at your previous design projects for some inspiration.
Think about whether there are any overlapping drivers for your projects and how this can relate to the wider world. For example, over the summer in between my 2nd and 3rd years, I had watched plenty of sci-fi and futurist movies which got me thinking more about the relationship between architecture and digital devices. It did take me quite a while to finally grasp a topic and be quite specific about it, but once I had done this it was a lot easier.
Giving yourself a direction is probably the best way to gain clarity. This can also come from a predetermined brief that your dissertation tutor might set you but getting those gears moving is a great exercise. I also love to read more about other dissertations and you can usually read summaries in exhibition books from most universities. Most often, there are a few overlapping themes and ideas but anything can spark a topic.
Finding Your Style
This was my personal goal for 3rd year. I had seen so many amazing representation methods but my fear was stopping me from experimenting and finally deciding on a style for myself. So in my 3d year, I told myself I’ll keep it simple and set a very specific goal. My choice of representation was vector illustrations and a couple of hybrid drawings. In my 1st year, I practically didn’t have any kind of style as my final images were simply sketches and collages.
In my 2nd year, I ran out of time and tried doing too much in too little time. This meant that whilst the outcome was acceptable, it was cringe-worthy in my eyes. Now I know using Pinterest is probably your first instinct – it was for me – but don’t let it dictate your approach. I think the best advice I can give is to be realistic with yourself. If you have no clue about rendering then don’t attempt a detailed and realistic render unless you’re ready to commit to the steep learning curve.
Utilise your strengths and have a plan. I started thumbnailing my final few images about 2 months before I even began working on them. I kept thinking about the aspects of my project that could project this kind of atmosphere and exactly what I wanted to convey through the illustrations. Another great tip that not many students consider is to only work on parts of your building that you need.
Of course, have it developed to a stage where you can create plans and elevations and so on, but for those detailed illustrations or renderings, I’d suggest you create a new file and only work on part of your 3D model or base sketch. I think finding your style naturally happens in 3rd year and the beauty of this is that it’s not set in stone forever.
A piece of advice I was given at one of my crits:
Try and push yourself, you’re almost there but you need to be braver.
Staying One Step Ahead
I know firsthand how stressful and sometimes overwhelming your 3rd year can be. You’re almost at that finish line after so many ups and downs. But amidst all the hustle and bustle, we don’t stop to think about that finish line and what it looks like for each of us. I remember attending a careers lecture where we had to put together our CV and list out 3 or 4 firms we’d like to work for. This really got me thinking about the kind of architecture I want to practice.
I know that applying for jobs, putting together your CV and portfolio is probably the last thing on your mind because you’re too occupied by your other deadlines and projects but trust me when I say the earlier you start the better. I don’t think it takes longer than an evening to design your CV. A portfolio can take longer, but you don’t need to do any of this in one go.
If you spend that one evening creating the simplest CV, looking at a few templates or YouTube videos to guide you, you’re already ahead of many of your peers. To get you started, browse through job listings and really break down the job descriptions. Doing this can give you a broader idea of the skills you currently have and those which you can work on in the next few months.
So in conclusion, we’ve learnt that it is quite important to prepare for the year ahead in a variety of ways. Reading, researching, or personal development will help you move towards a position that is prepared and ready to face the challenges ahead. The third and final year of your undergraduate degree will be tough but it will also be enjoyable and hopeful towards the journey ahead.
If you’re planning to continue down the road towards the qualification, see this as the first chapter, where even if you make mistakes or have small failures, it’s totally fine because it counts towards a bigger learning experience. I know that you want to be relaxing and probably spending time away from architecture but these habits and skills don’t have to be viewed as a chore. If you start seeing this as an investment into your future self, it’ll benefit you much more.