Hey guys, it’s me again. I’m back to offer my utterly unsolicited advice about some key areas in which our architecture education often seems to be found lacking. I introduced myself last time, so read my previous article if you want to learn about me. I also spoke about arguably the most immediately important things we need to learn but aren’t necessarily taught, and how to deal with that. The topics were drawing and using computers, if you still haven’t read it yet (go read it).
This time around I am going to jump straight into the next two skills which both rely on and aid the previous two: how to present, and how to manage your time.
How to present your work
Presenting anything is tough. You have to stand up in front of a bunch of people, sometimes people you’ve only just met, and convince them that your ideas are good. It is also an incredibly useful skill, not just in architecture but in life. If you can convincingly, calmly, and concisely get across your ideas many things will be easier for you. Public speaking of any kind will feel more natural, pitching potential ideas to your boss or clients will be less intimidating, and if you have a more entrepreneurial spirit like Sana and many other recent graduates it can even help you on the road to setting up your own business. Unfortunately, it is also terrifying and a lot of schools seem to have no interest in mitigating this aspect of our education.
The architectural crit/review/presentation/insert-school-specific-jargon-here is seen by many as a somewhat antiquated system of assessing work, while others defend it as setting us up for the real world when we have to deal with difficult clients. Personally, I think this normalises the idea that it is ok for a client to be abusive and dismissive to their architect, which is hardly helpful to a profession that already has something of an image problem.
The crit developed in early architecture schools as a natural expression of the master/apprentice teaching system and has continued through to the present day. Traditionally seen as somewhat adversarial, everybody at least knows a story of a student’s work being ripped up by a passionate tutor or critic. Despite this, we tend to be thrown to the wolves and expected to figure out how to present by ourselves. While everyone ultimately discovers their preferred method of presenting, here are a few tips I found useful or know were beneficial to my peers:
As much as possible, let your work speak for itself.
Despite the multitude of writing around architecture, it is ultimately a visual profession and we love a good picture. If your work is well thought out and well presented (from a visual standpoint) you have already won half the battle. While I can’t help with what exactly constitutes this as architecture is very subjective and every project is different, I can say with certainty that the more impressive and solid your idea is, the easier your presentation will be.
During my Part 2 course, one of my peers actually did not present at all, literally leaving his work to speak for him while he headed home. Admittedly he was a particularly strong student, but according to his friends, he managed to do the same thing during his Part 1. From what I could see, the trick was a strong, innovative visual set up (he almost never stuck with straightforward A1 boards) and confidence in his work, which leads me neatly onto…
Be confident in your work
This is particularly important: in an early interim crit in my final year, a tutor from another unit felt I was being particularly negative about the existing situation of the site I had chosen. Despite my best efforts in later crits, this viewpoint remained with the tutor and was brought up again in my final presentation. A momentary weakness resulted in a lasting flaw in my project. Being confident shows that you believe in your design and that others should too – confidence is infectious, but so is negativity.
Prepare as much as you can before the actual presentation.
This will vary from person to person – some people write a speech and practice it to make sure they fit exactly into the time allotted, some make lists of key points they want to hit, others just try to memorise as much as they can about their project and any queries brought up previously. What matters is that you take the time after finishing your work to go over it with fresh eyes and make sure that when you speak you are covering everything important in as concise a way as possible.
In order to prepare properly, you need time to do so, which leads to my final point: don’t leave everything to the last minute. I have noticed over the last 8 years that as a species architects are absolutely awful at keeping track of their time, whether they be a student or a practice director. The majority of students still have work to finish on the morning of/evening before their pin-up, which leaves precious little time to sleep and approach the presentation with plenty of energy and a sunny disposition. While it can be tempting to work up to the wire, and we love an all-nighter, resting before your crit will definitely make you feel less stressed before and during your presentation.
How to manage your time
If there is one thing architects are notorious for, it’s poor time management. More specifically, architects are famous for working crazy hours to get a project finished by the deadline, but this is ultimately a product of poor time management. This is something that tends to start at university and can often carry through into practice. While many universities try to limit this attitude by closing studios and advocating rest, and lots of practices now are beginning to take a zero overtime approach, it is still a persistent mindset.
I am hardly qualified to analyse why all-nighters are still so common, but it is clear that it leads to poor health (mental and physical) and can often not even result in a higher mark. Many studies now claim that we can only work for a set amount of hours before our productivity begins to decline rapidly. It is also clear that all-nighters are not mandatory to succeed – I have never worked through the night and I managed to qualify just fine.
As a result, I tended to keep an eye on what my peers were doing which seemed to result in them working all hours and rushing to finish their submissions in the final hours before the crit. Once again this is an area we are expected to figure out for ourselves with little guidance from tutors, and the key is to find what works for you. However, I feel I can offer a few words of advice in this area:
Plan your time up to the deadline.
Plan your time up to the deadline. The way you do this is largely up to you, whether you prefer a meticulous gant-chart, an itemised list, or copious post-its strewn around your room. What matters is that as early in a project as possible you find out when you need to finish and what you need to produce, and work backwards from there.
If your brief stipulates what sort of outputs you need to provide, figure out how long each thing will take. For example, I am god-awful at creating models and honestly hate it, but during my Part II my tutor loved them and convinced me to create relatively large models of my final projects. As I knew I did not like making models and definitely did not like having to change them, I made sure to get my design as finalised as possible before leaving myself a healthy chunk of time to complete the models themselves.
A sub-set of planning your time to the deadline is to set your own mini-deadlines. These can break up the mammoth task of “design a building” into more manageable chunks, and will also mean that you can check off completed segments as you go along. Instead of aiming to finish all your work at the end of the project, aim to get the broad strokes of the design finished and then work your way through each element, for example completing a set of design development diagrams and then moving onto site analysis.
A great way to do this (which I admittedly was actually taught by my tutor) is to set up your final portfolio at the very beginning of the project. You can then slowly add to it and develop the layout and content as you go so that by the end of the project everything is neatly finished, rather than working in a huge chunk on “the design” and then figuring out how you are going to represent everything you have done. (edit: Sana here. I cannot agree more, if I could I’d shout this advice to every single architecture student cos this is gold folks)
Use the right method for the job.
As I discussed previously, computers are great but not every piece of software is suited for every task. In the early stage of your project it can be tempting to jump straight into your favourite modelling software (I was definitely guilty of this once I started to enjoy using Revit), but this can really restrain your idea development and eat into valuable time, especially if you have an idea for how you want your project to look but don’t know how to achieve it in the software you are using. This also applies to later stages in your project when you start looking at outputs.
Many of my peers produced amazingly detailed models in Rhino for their final projects, but to get their final renders they had to use up every available PC in the studio overnight and hope that it turned out as they wanted. In contrast, by that stage, I was able to leverage Autodesk’s cloud rendering provision with my student license of Revit and churn out potential renders while still being able to work. This gave me far greater freedom in establishing my views, at the sacrifice of the granularity of a strong render plugin like V-Ray. However, it meant I was not reliant on spare computers to render on, and my ability to keep working was never compromised.
Reassess your plan regularly.
Once you have set out your plan and begun working on your project, things will constantly come up to throw things off-course. Your dissertation may take longer than you expected, you may get ill, your tutor may get exasperated and tell you to start from scratch. All these (and many more) events will throw a spanner in the works and mess up your timeline. It is therefore vital that you regularly check where you stand and compare it with where you expected to be by this point. If you do this it is much less likely that you will wake up to find you have one week before your submission in which you have to produce a complete set of plans, elevations, sections, and renders.
Finally and possibly most importantly, establish some boundaries and priorities with yourself. It is entirely possible to accurately plan out your entire work schedule and still end up working through the night because you haven’t kept track of the time, or you enjoy it, or you haven’t accurately followed your plan. If you really love working for 48 hours straight and never see any negative side effects, great. You might be superman, but great.
However, given the rise in (or at least perceived rise in) reports of poor mental health among architecture students, and the continuation of new graduates being expected to work 60-80 hour weeks with no extra pay, the only way to change things is to decide if working in this manner is actually worth it. Personally, I would far rather get a decent night’s sleep and tackle things fresh and revitalised nice and early than work solidly for 50 hours and then pass into a coma for a day or two.
Catch you all next week for some more lessons in architecture!