As originally seen on The Designated Sketcher
I recently came across a viral article, written by Linda Bennett of Archi-Ninja.com, and it inspired me to follow up with my own piece about all those pesky things that they don’t teach you in architecture school. Her voice and audience appears to be advice for current students and how to succeed specifically in an academic setting, but I would like to add my own dash about how to apply it to your career going forward. I will refer to the same titles as the original article, so please see HERE for what I am responding to.
1. Forget About Winning + Losing
I translate this to mean that your final grade or criticism received doesn’t always accurately reflect your personal achievement on a particular project. Architecture is indeed very subjective and you will never be able to please everyone with a “right” answer. Critiques are used as a learning tool for students to hone their ability to form an argument. So, even if you don’t win over the jury this time, if you know your process, it will take you far.
My advice: Don’t just tell your critics what they want to hear. If you have clarity for you own vision, you will eventually find the right audience to tell your story.
2. Your Tutor is your Client
I interpret “Tutor” here to mean your professor (US lingo?) and I am in total agreement with “getting to know your tutor”. As a professional, knowing your clients better than they know themselves will keep you in sync with their needs and is the most efficient way of getting repeat work. I strongly agree that you should get to know your professor like a client, however, there is something lost in translation in the academic setting. Since a professor is there to push you to new levels of thinking, simply meeting their needs won’t be good enough to get high marks. And in many cases, pandering to their desires might actually result in a lower grade because the original idea gets lost.
My advice: Getting to know your client’s needs will serve you will throughout your professional career, but be careful not to forget the value you bring as the architect.
3. Play the Momentum
I agree that waiting until the last minute will almost never result in a well-communicated idea. As such, ideas should continue to be tested and prodded on a consistent basis. As a professional, you can’t relay on looming deadlines to inspire creativity. You must consistently flex your creative muscles and ramp up/down depending on the urgency of a deadline. All-nighters and last minute decisions usually result in disjointed, incomplete ideas.
My advice: Carve out time every week to simply create. Continuously nurture your ideas, as they may inspire a solution for your next project.
4. Break the Rules
As the original article points out, this is a key component to learning and pushing boundaries. Architecture isn’t meant to always fit the minimum program and an architect is brought in to think outside the box (or into other boxes as David Zach points out). We are problem solvers and we want to come up with the best solution possible for the task at hand. In using Linda’s example, if a brief calls for a 2-story house, we should question why that’s the standard. Is it 2 stories because of zoning regulations, structural capacity, an antiquated square footage/volume metric? If we understand why that’s the case, it opens up the door to suggest a more effective strategy and provide options. If you can present a solution that breaks the rules (while maintaining the functional goals of the program), you have a good chance of standing out from other proposals while possibly discovering an efficient design. I’m in total agreement again.
My advice: If you break the rules, understand them and make sure you offer a better solution.
5. Have Broad Influences + Mentors
Our life experiences shape our minds and influence our designs, so don’t ignore them. I like that Linda has touched upon different majors/topics of study because that often gives way to interesting mashups such as bio-mimicry. Another popular combination, particularly at institutions like MIT right now, is the blend of robotics, parametric modeling, engineering and architecture. As science/tech collides with design, the sky is the limit on how formerly separate fields can come together and make beautiful, functional forms + objects. I would also advise students to pay attention to how non-design fields function. There are many un/under designed buildings or spaces in the world that can benefit from a thoughtful layout. The doctor’s office, for example, might be a place where design is traditionally an afterthought. If a designer gets to know how that space works, he/she will be able to suggest a solution that would make it more efficient, comfortable, and welcoming.
My advice: Take in as much as you can. Find inspiration in disparate topics and understand how spaces work. Those experiences because will inform better decisions.
6. Have cause and conviction
Nobody likes loser stink. If you are simply going through the motions of a project, you’ll scare away those who you need to convince. In order to avoid this, you need to have passion and conviction to win people over. You may not have to reevaluate your career every time you are in the doldrums, but you may have to enter a period of repose in order to find your drive.
My advice: If you are in a design rut, find an inspiration that will get you excited and convicted about your design. The more fight you show when presenting, the better chance you will win over your audience.
I believe this loosely refers to the soft skills one needs to succeed in school and beyond, such and verbal, written, and graphic communication. Verbal communication skills are critical for credibility. The ability to clearly present ideas can give your potential clients confidence, elevate you into leadership roles, and generally lead to more opportunities in your career. Written and graphic skills are also vital in the design community; you must perfect these as well if you want to but if you want to make the right impression.
My advice: Work on the skills you don’t currently have to make yourself as attractive as possible to colleagues, professors, and potential employers
8. Building meaningful relationships
This is something much easier said than done, but is one of the ways to work on those soft skills. If you attend a networking event, you will have a valuable opportunity to convey your ideas. Remember, every new person you meet could be a potential collaborator, employer or future client. Maintaining those relationships will give you more options as you progress, because you never know where you’ll find your next opportunity.
My advice: Go to as many events as you can and make as many connections as possible. No one has ever been looked over for having too many connections.
9. Learn project management
As I touched on in #3, architects must master time management. If you set goals and milestones for a project to get to completion, it will help you stay on task. We have a tendency to design until the last possible minute, but setting a “pencils down” date will force you to make decisions. Sometimes that’s all it takes to feel good about a direction. I don’t know enough about Parkinson’s Law to get into it, but I agree that if you give yourself 4 weeks to do a task, it will take 4 weeks.
My advice: Learn to predict how long things take to complete and layout a schedule to help break down how you will get there.
10. Don’t expect the outcome
Don’t get married to one idea early on and don’t do predictable things. Simple enough. The creative process, like most things, will never be a straight line towards the end result. There must be deviations, setbacks, and even failures in order to feel like the right direction has finally be chosen.
My advice: Allow yourself to fail or take a chance. It’s necessary to discover something you didn’t think of.
This is by no means a comprehensive list and as I am writing, I am coming up with additional topics I would like to tackle. My initial goal was to respond to Linda’s original article and hope that enough discussion emerges to continue the conversation. Before I end though, I would like to rank my top three topics as listed in order of importance (according to me, of course). I think if you can do these three things (and do them well) they will take you far in your academic and professional career. They are as follows:
Build Meaningful Relationships
Develop your Soft/Communicative Skills
Have Conviction in your argument
Visiting Critic is a continuing series of thought provoking observations from architectural insider Jeffrey Pastva - Editor in Chief at YAF Connection, Communications Director for the AIA National Young Architects Forum and a Project Architect at JDavis in Philadelphia. His critical eye will cover everything from the state of architectural education to the future fate of the profession. Expect ideas in your inbox bi-weekly.