University of British Columbia



Sep '04 - Apr '06

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    Architecture school getting you down too?

    David Zeibin
    Oct 17, '04 5:20 AM EST

    I just sent this to the Director of the School of Architecture. Sad, huh? I can't decide if the situation is quite as dire as I've painted it here. I do know that I'm royally screwed for this coming week. It's already 2:30am, and I'm not done even half of what I wanted/need to get done today. Am I lazy, weak, or just fighting against a giant unstoppable steamroller?

    ------ Forwarded Message
    From: David Zeibin
    Date: Sun, 17 Oct 2004 02:16:49 -0700
    Subject: Themes and workload

    Hi Chris,

    Just for the record, and since you told us to let you know, I think the Themes readings are often too much work. But... I don't think this is a symptom of Themes being too much work; nay, this entire program is too much work.

    To offer some background, let me explain where I'm coming from: I just finished a degree in Engineering Physics at the University of Alberta. The program graduates approximately 20 students each year (it has grown to this number only very recently, up from ~6/year), all of whom are basically among the top 15% of students at the U of A. Minimum cutoff average GPA to get into the program is routinely 7.8 on a 9-point scale, and the typical courseload per term is 6-7 classes, or 18-21 credits.

    Given these numbers, one might say that on paper, architecture school is comparable to this. But it's not. Not in my six years in engineering, nor in my three years during that time at the Gateway, (the student newspaper on campus where I consistently put in 50-60 hour work weeks), have I ever worked harder than I am working right now. Only just a few minutes ago I counted it up: 9am to midnight, mon-fri, plus ~8+ hours each of sat-sun = 90+ hours/week of nothing but architecture. Further, I like to think I'm a pretty clever guy, with a solid skill set tuned to doing well in architecture school: background in materials and engineering, solid writing/communication skills and good design intuitions from working at the paper, etc... But somehow I can't quite keep up with just getting all the work done?

    Does this not seem ludicrous? Of course, I know the UBC SoA is not an anomaly; all architecture schools are like this, yes?

    I guess all I want to say is, I love architecture and this is the first time in my education that I've actually truly enjoyed coming to school, being with great people, and being excited about learning. But I have a nagging cough as a remnant of that cold that's been passed around, I consistently have headaches because I'm not sleeping enough, and I only see my girlfriend for a total of maybe 10-15 hours per week (thankfully she is extremely understanding at present). I'm worried that I cannot take it mentally or emotionally, never mind physically, and the option of quitting is, now, never too far away.

    Perhaps I am not cut out to be an architect, or perhaps I am approaching architecture school from the wrong angle, or perhaps I am just trying too hard to do everything right. Or perhaps it actually is unrealistic to expect students to enjoy their education and have the time to feel they can learn and be creative. Whatever the case, it makes me unhappy. For now, I'll lumber on and make the best of it, I guess, hoping that when the thesis students say first year is the worst, they're telling the truth.

    Thanks for reading. See you on Wednesday in class. I may or may not have my Themes readings done for Monday... Sigh.

    Take care,


    ------ End of Forwarded Message


    • Metaphoracle

      You need to hit architecture school as hard as you can so that in hindsight, you will have no regrets. That's the test you should hold for yourself. Make sure that you do everything to insure that you are giving 100%. If you already are, then you should have a clear conscious (sp) and shouldn't be troubled by not having your Themes reading done. But, for what its worth, if you sent this on late Sat night and you don't have your class until Monday night, then how can anyone reasonably justify not having a reading done? It shouldn't matter how many pages it is or how many observations need to be typed up -- in the time it took you to write the passage above, you could have read several pages while sipping on some coffee.

      David, step up to the plate and take a swing. The path of architectural education is an unconventional one, and is difficult for anyone to understand until you are completely emersed in it.

      Furthermore, do you really think the director is going to care how many hours a week you spend with your girlfriend? Is that really a subject you want to breach with the Director of your program? It sounds whiny.

      Good luck, and let us know how things go over with your director.

      Oct 17, 04 4:48 pm  · 

      I would love to be able to leave studio at midnight during the week!! For a majority of the semester I've been maintaining a solid 10:00 am - 3:00 am schedule mon - thursday a few classes during the day of course....take friday nights off and hit it hard again on the weekend. Come monday morning, repeat.

      However, I do share your sentiments on:

      "...perhaps it actually is unrealistic to expect students to enjoy their education and have the time to feel they can learn and be creative..."

      To many times we are focused on mere production, without actually considering what it is we are producing.

      I recently spent four months abroad in Italy, needless to say studio/school was not the priority during that time, however, I felt I produced some of my most creative work during those months, and learned so much about myself as a designer...and I spent nearly 1/10th of the time working on it.

      Sometimes you have to know when to put down your project and go to the bars.

      Good luck

      Oct 17, 04 5:54 pm  · 

      Get everything you can out of school. Sounds like you need to rethink why your there. I've busted my butt the last 5 years in school because that's what I'm paying for. My education is the number one priority at this point in my life. Freshman year sucks. I remember having several girlfriends that actually slept under my desk. (Anyone else?) At the same time you'll want to enjoy your college experience too. Make time for Friday night beer etc. Just remember you're not the only one pushing 90 hour weeks. Also read as much as you can! When I look back, I wish I'd read more assignments for the content rather than just to get by. Stop worrying about your grades and your girlfriend and focus on your education. With any luck they'll both be there when you graduate. keep it up mate, you'll make it.

      Oct 17, 04 7:10 pm  · 
      David Zeibin

      I only sent the note to him because he actually said in class to let him know when/if the workload for the course he's teaching was too much. In other words, it's not like I'm lazy to not be able to get a few readings done for Monday. I mean, I was up until 4:30am last night. I might do the same tonight; I haven't decided yet.

      I'm not trying to make a pissing match out of who can work longer or harder than anyone else. (I mean, I'm really proud of those of you working hard than I am. Good for you.) I'm trying to make the point that this would generally be accepted as "completely ridiculous" by any normal people in the real world, and perhaps question whether it needs to be this way.

      Here's an article you might enjoy, notably the part about it basically taking more time and money to become an architect than it does to become a medical doctor (written from a Canadian perspective, however):

      And please don't belittle my relationship with my girlfriend. Just because you don't value her as I do doesn't make it easy to "stop worrying" about her. I mean, are you for real?

      Oct 17, 04 7:40 pm  · 

      Yes, most of the uninitiated will shake their head and hear how you are putting in your hours and how it's completely unnatural to be doing so. Even if they agree with you that it is completely ridiculous, will they be providing you with the verification that you are seeking? I agree it is ridiculous, but it is also necessary.

      What they don't know, and what you will come to understand, is that architectural education is a creative endeavor. It's not like studying political science or biology. Your friends and peers in other programs will not understand, nor will your parents, nor will most girlfriends. I suppose a genius mathematician could work alone in the library, do the prescribed work in isolation within a faster-than-average timespan and gets the straight As. But even a genius architect would still be burning the candle at both ends, always expecting more of him/herself relative to their individual ability level.

      Ultimately in the end, we all work at different rates of speed. I doubt you are lazy, otherwise you wouldn't have gotten into your program. So when you say you were in studio from 10am to 3am, it leads me to believe that you need to work smarter, not longer. I recognize you are in first year, and this will come in time -- I promise -- this happened to all of us.

      The girlfriend issue is a sticky one. If she's not patient in the short term or long term, you may lose her to a non-architecture major anyway. (Those political science majors seem to have all the free time.) Also, for a myriad of reasons, architects seem especially prone to divorce -- it really takes someone special to understand and deal with being with an architect, regardless of your gender.

      Oct 17, 04 11:40 pm  · 
      david basulto

      im suffering from a heavy gastrical problem due to coffee, coca cola and aspirins... i havent slept more than 5 hours this weekend. yet, i love stuying architecture :)
      and girlfriends are SURE a big issue...
      so hard to meet ppl from other schools with the arch. schedule...
      it has its ups and downs: you really focus your mind around arch ppl...but once you are in the real world you will deal with engineers, administrators, etc... and without the free time to meet all those ppl in the college years, makes you kinda unsocial in the future i presume?
      well, my redaction sucks at this time, hope you understand this...
      and i so agree with all you guys. that's the thing i love about school blog. ppl around have the same issues with arch studying :)

      Oct 18, 04 12:19 am  · 
      Andy from Syracuse

      I think we all sympathize, but that's not really an unusual workload - above average but not extreme. At Syracuse or in my undergrad program 90 hours would be a week when you have a project due for midterm or finals. If you're leaving at midnight consistently, not doing all-nighters, you're not doing so bad. It's usually true that first year is a bit of a test to see if you're determined enough to stick with it.

      That said, stress usually isn't productive, and you're better off if you can find a way to keep it under control. From your note it sounds like you're in a 3.5 year program, and you don't make it that long if you don't manage stress. Reprioritize a bit - save the real stress for studio, skim the readings, have a beer, spend some time with the girlfriend and get some sleep.

      Oct 18, 04 7:48 am  · 
      David Zeibin

      Thanks for the notes, people. I started feeling a lot better yesterday. See you in the Winner's Circle...

      (However, I've made it a point to analyze this education critically once I'm finished. I hypothesize that the magnitude of it is both unnecessary and detrimental, as opposed to necessary and beneficial. We'll see, I suppose.)

      Oct 18, 04 11:57 am  · 

      I had a pretty intensive architecture history and theory class that was an awful strain combined with architecture studio. It was approximately 70 - 110 pages of reading for each class. A majority of the students just didn't read the stuff or skimmed it at most, BSed their way through opinion responses we had to turn in, and then stayed up all night reading the stuff when we had papers due the next day. I couldn't do this because I am a slow, methodical writer, I don't enjoy staying up all night, I feel like I am not getting all the information for my education, etc.

      What I did to get my readings done may help you. I basically woke up at 8:00am on Saturday and Sunday, and made some coffee and breakfast and read until noon. This basically knocked out my reading for both days, and I would look at my notes to refresh before classes. It might suck waking up early on a weekend, since I would usually spend the weekend catching up on my sleep and coming into studio in the afternoon or evening. By doing this you get it out of the way, and off your mind, and you still have 12 hrs to sleep, run errands, do other work, etc. It is super productive, and rather nice to spend some time reading (in your bed, cafe, library, etc) and not locked in studio. Hopefully this won't get you down. Good Luck.

      Oct 18, 04 12:14 pm  · 

      Year1, Fall—
      24yrs old, working full time, part-time student, pretty much jacked doing yoga and lifting daily, making good $ in publishing, doing well w/ the females in my class, new girlfriend, 4.0GPA

      Year1, Spring—
      24yrs old, working part-time, part-time student, muscles have atrophied considerably, i'm freaking out, no$, still doin well w/ the ladies but they think i'm crazy, broke up w/ my girlfriend, 4.0GPA, won the Year1 scholarship

      Year1, Summer—
      Working full-time, not having any fun, trying to make as much $ as possible for the coming year

      Year2, Fall—
      25yrs old, not working at all, full-time student, started a lifting program but that ended in 2 weeks, first competition lost, friend is lending me $, not doing too well w/ the ladies, new girlfriend, 3.5GPA

      Year2, Spring—
      25yrs old, still not working, full-time student, started another lifting program that ended in about 2 hours, second competition lost, friend still lending me $, still got the girlfriend, 3.75GPA

      Year2, Summer—
      1st internship w/ studio professor who first inspired me


      Year3, Fall—
      26yrs old, still not working, full-time student, started a lifting program that now involves 3-5 guys, lifting once/twice a day, parents lending me $, doing well w/ the ladies again and still got the girlfriend, sleeping when i need to, avoiding the abuse of caffeine (except for those last couple of days before a studio project is due), establishing myself as the go-to guy in my school to discuss design problems, happier than i've ever been in my life... overall ~3.8GPA

      I think every architecture student who makes it through the program has his or her share of stories about the extreme this or extreme that, but none of it really matters. All that matters is, do you love it? If you can put it ahead of everything else, but not REPLACE everything else, then your chances of being successful will be decent.

      My formula is: exercise + brain food + writing + work

      I don't see how one can repeatedly do significant things in this field and enjoy it w/out these basic components. Forget about designing what's in front of you, design your life and the rest of it will take care of itself.

      Oct 22, 04 8:32 pm  · 

      "doing well w/ the ladies"???

      C'mon, you're really 60+, aren't you?

      Oct 22, 04 10:37 pm  · 

      First year is a test. I dunno if this helps, but I think something that is important that can be lost in all the first year initiation is the FUN... If you lose sight of the enthusiasm that you had coming in, you probably won't last, or at the very least will be burnt out on architecture by the end and just want to get out...

      The other thing to remember is: architecture, and your work, is not really that important in the grand scheme of things... What I mean is, don't stress out, just have fun, and kick ass in what you do (try to give it 100%), but there is no point in stressing because this is like just one opportunity to be creative, etc... It's not your life's work... In a couple years, you will look back at your first years work and laugh. Most important is simply to treat it as an opportunity to learn, and to grow as a designer and person.

      Remember to have fun, both at work and at play... Take time to take a break, bring some things (like the Themes readings) home at night and read them lounging at the beach or while taking a bath... And make sure to spend time with your girlfriend too.

      Keep in mind that things get easier after first year, not so much becaue the load gets lighter, but because you become wise in the ways of how to do things efficiently and effectively... Always enjoy the work, and just "do it"... It's a challenge, and a test, but not worth stressing over...

      Good luck, have fun, and work wrok hard too!

      Oct 25, 04 12:49 pm  · 

      well, as someone who has actually finished a few years in your program, i can say that it does get better. i remember having many conversations with people (in the program) who talked about how hard architecture school is compared to anything else they've done, and i agree to a certain extent. i think that it's always important to understand the big picture and take a step back (both emotionally and mentally) to see the big picture. we're all entering a field that's is massive in scope and breadth. it is full of big big ups and bigger downs, and i think that school really sets you up for that.

      remember to breathe and have lots of fun and investigate your own interests and beliefs. question what you are learning, and honestly, don't believe everything you hear.

      and like you, i remember engineering school, and this is infinitely harder but like you wrote, infinitely more rewarding and fun. don't give up. honest. the same professors that beat you down now are going to be the same people you have insightful personal conversations with in the upcoming years...and you will love them for it. sick huh?

      don't give up!

      Oct 26, 04 4:42 am  · 

      Well, I guess all of architecture student also has the same problem like you. Me too, sometimes. I try to make those unpleasant "things" as part of my journey, so I enjoying them right now. They part of me, so if I dindn't do it it means I get stucked. and I can't go enywhere. Don't woory, I guess the answer of your problem is already inside of you, all you need is to write down, one by one full with your heart, mind and soul. You'll get te answer, OK?

      Oct 27, 04 9:16 am  · 

      O how I remember those days! And you may not believe this right now, but I remember them fondly. Dont feel alone as every class I have encountered (as a student or t.a.) has questioned the intensity of the early years of architecture school. I dont think the work load is going to get lighter, I think you will get better about managing your time...right now you are confused but soon you will be a pro at how to run your own projects and how to manage your time. That's the thing with architecture (in school and in practice) struggle through it and hate it while its going on , but then you dont really know what you would do without it.

      Oct 27, 04 10:48 am  · 

      A very interesting letter and commentary from everyone. This is my second pass through an architectural program as I'm working on my Masters Degree at the University of Hartford. All of the comments that I've read are common to just about every experience that I've been through and discussed with other architects and all of my instructors.

      Architectural Education is unlike anything other program imaginable, with the exception of perhaps a medical degree. Just to give a a little background, I'm 31 years old and have been working in the design/construction industry for almost 10 years now. The information I learned in my undergraduate program, and what I'm now learning in my graduate program, is invaluable but, the information you learn by working is even more valuable. Think about it this way, this is one of the few professions that you are able to really produce something tangible, something that everyone will see and can experience. It requires a lot of knowledge to do it properly and part of that knowledge is knowing how to juggle a number of issues at once. That is one of the main goals of the experience in school. No one ever said this would be easy and no one has said that you make a lot of money. (There is the possibility of money but that requires A LOT of work.) The reason many of us go into this profession is to produce that tangible evidence of existence and the hope the work we do is able to have a positive impact on the world.

      School is a chore. Try full-time work, marriage, mortgage, etc. with a full-time school program and we'll talk about juggling commitments. These are the things that I, and we, have to deal with for the choices we make. I'm speaking as someone who has already been through an undergraduate program. Freshman year is difficult but you do get used to the workload, lack of sleep (it really is overrated), lack of going to the bars every night, etc. The great thing is that your classmates/studio mates/whatever you want to call them become some of your closest friends and are friends you have for the rest of your life.

      The best advice I can give it keep your nose to the grindstone and don't look at the entire program at once. Focus just on the semester you're in and the work you need to get done.

      Good luck!

      Oct 27, 04 11:42 am  · 

      Hey hang in there, make it fun for yourself somehow somewhere. I just started the M Arch program at Columbia GSAP and I'll tell you it sounds like ALL architecture students are in the same boat. But I'll tell you I am happy to be doing what I'm doing, but it is the HARDEST thing I have ever done.

      But I wish I did it sooner. Some background, I'm 37, got an undergraduate degree in Industrial Design but was always interested in Architecture. I've been out of school and working for 15 yrs before finally getting back to my original interest.

      Another thing to consider is that arch education does not involve a "finite" set of information that you simply have to absorb. Any endeavor that involves creativity also involves unpredictability, no one I know has ever finished a studio with a "finished" project (not in Industrial Design or Architecture), you could ALWAYS work on it more no? It can't be compared to other educational experiences.

      If you love it stick it out. If your girlfriend loves you, she will stick it out too, and would WANT you to be doing what you love to do. (I am lucky to have a girl, er...perhaps I should say woman... like that).

      Like I said, I wish I could have been doing this when I was 24 (this workload is hard on my old bones...), so remember, when you look back at this time 15 years from now, which might you regret more, quitting the program? or completing the program?

      Cheers and best of luck to you and all arch students out there.


      Oct 27, 04 12:07 pm  · 

      I havent read all of the above posts as I find the light grey text an eyestrain, but I did read a few. Seems to me theres support for doing extreme amounts of work in the pursuit of an architecture degree. Ill be graduating as an architect next year (hopefully with honours), and as time has passed in the degree, including high distinction grades and near-fails, Ive increasingly learned to shake my head at the masochism of some of my fellows.

      working 18 hour days for a long period of time is NOT PRODUCTIVE. especially if you need to stay objective and clear-headed (ie. do good design.) I do not stay up all night for a week to do my folio. I manage my time efficiently and calmly, set clear goals and outcomes, and focus on producing elegant work. My advice to people just starting out? sure, go for it, kick yourself in the guts till it hurts, you probably need to do this for awhile to get a feel for the course, and its also some kind of strange bonding ritual for some people. but please, once you realize you dont like it, wise up and work intelligently.

      sleep deprivation, substance use, poor health, bad diets, relationship strain, last minute fatal errors, breakdowns, binge working, all the elements that make up the workaholic 'cult' of architecture school might make you feel cool and tough to survive, but if youre going to be a masochist, dont whinge about it.

      Nov 2, 04 8:07 am  · 

      oh yeah, that last remark isnt directed at David, I think he's doing the right thing questioning the workload and the studio culture. like someone else above said, you do get better at managing your time. in fact, to be an architect you have to.

      Nov 2, 04 8:16 am  · 

      If your situation is typical, then the course & the teachers are failing. If not you need some help & advice, which your teachers are ethically bound to give you, before you have wasted too much time & effort.
      I have encountered a situation where a student was finally advised just prior to graduation, that they weren't going to make it.
      In my own school overworking was common, when a professors child from another faculty took on the course & the truth was revealed, then complaints were made.
      There is incompetence & bad management in all areas of life & architectural teaching is no exception. Stand up for yourself & your education.

      Nov 3, 04 6:29 am  · 

      I have to agree with both ronin, and L1. Having completed the UBC program in 2000, I have had some time to reflect. And having started to teach myself, some things are more clear to me from a both student's point of view and a professor's...

      From a student's point of view, as ronin has stated, the "cult" of architecture school, with it's rituals of over-working, over-stressing, over-criticizing is unproductive for most. A few find it pleasurable and normal, but many don't. This must be recognized. You need to figure out how you work best, set your priorities (i.e. do you need to fret over that window mullion detail?) and be comfortable with not having everything perfectly worked out. Time spent away from a project HELPS your project; those "aha" moments that happen in a bar, on the bus, just before sleep should be cultivated. Admittedly, all this is difficult to understand when you are in the whirlwind of 1st year. So students in your year, students in upper years, as well the professors around you should serve as support to show you a better way to progress. I luckily had those individuals, and will never forget how they helped. I also had those that didn't help; and I won’t forget them either.

      (continued in next comment)

      Nov 18, 04 10:10 am  · 

      From a professor's point of view (albeit a neophyte), what should be questioned is what role a professor is playing in a student's education, and how you as a student consider them... are they "educators", in the sense of helping you to develop? L1 was right, especially in a trying 1st year curriculum, that the course & teachers should be there to help, and not hinder. Remember that they are there for you, not the other way around. They are there to help you find your voice, to answer your questions, and to respond to your criticisms of the way in which they teach. You have every right to question how they do things, and a dialogue, however heated, might be in order. Don't lie down.

      I strongly believe that an architectural education is valuable, exciting, and fruitful. Unfortunately, the culture that exists in many architectural schools, including some of the culture that existed at UBC and might still exist today, is problematic at best. And what is worse is that this state of affairs is rarely talked about in the open. If students stop conforming to a dysfunctional code of conduct that has been propagated through the years, they might not be leaving architecture in droves, which today is the case. And if architecture schools confront their problems, the architectural profession might not inherit some outcoming students who might help redefine a profession in difficulty. Be vocal, and question the school's principals.

      Finish the year as best you can, and evaluate during the summer. Things become more clear with distance, and you will slowly discover your modus operandi to progress. You will also see more clearly what to take from the school, and what to ignore.


      Nov 18, 04 10:11 am  · 

      I did read all the way until the last comment and found that this is really intriguing to read other comments from the 1st years, 2nd, graduates, and even post-graduates. Really, architecture is a demanding programme. I am currently a Year 1 student and had just finished my 1st semester. The quality of work, I would say, is proportional to the amount of sleep which I had. In my studio particularly, most of us rushed through deadlines without sleeping but that does not mean that the quality of work would increased. Worst still, the pen lines would tell if you had adequate sleeping hours.
      My grades hurt badly in the 1st semester, as I had been skipping other modules for the sake of studio. I guess what is true about work is that we should work efficiently. Perhaps that is the time management concept that I lack of.
      But let's get back to the point. ' Do we, as architectural students have to be trained in such way that we have to work for long hours(I bet it goes the same in any other SoA) ?' I always wonder if I am on the right track of juggling between studio and other modules. I wonder if we should have devoted so much time on studios, but why not other modules such as philosophy, fine arts, mass communications, or even material culture?? (obviously I am just wondering or else I would have no time for my studio).
      Well. I remember my year coordinator, Erwin had said that 'Good architects have high disciplines'. It is true, I believe. And to David, I would like to share my 'Reflections'(which my studio mates and I had been told to produce for the sake of it)...a couple of mumbles that jumbled in my head.

      p/s Relating to your girlfriend thingy, I really sympathize her. For my case, I don't even have the time for meeting guys. Oh well, hope you are doing really well now.

      Nov 24, 04 4:23 am  · 

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