Columbia University GSAPP (Jill)



Oct '06 - Feb '08

  • anchor


    By inhabitat
    Sep 6, '07 8:26 PM EST
    Architorture, Archtecture School Torture(yes, this is an image from a film - but i thought the pic was very appropriate)

    "Sustainability" is increasingly a concern for designers, and as architecture students, many of us spend a lot of time thinking about how to make our designs more energy efficient, more healthy and more environmentally sustainable. But amidst all this talk about sustainable design – one thing that doesn't often get mentioned is the sustainability of life in architecture school.

    Do any of you out there recognize this picture: students routinely spending 10-15 hours per day sitting in one place, glued to flickering computer screens in painfully cramped desks while toxic chemicals are handled all around them? I’ve often found myself in this exact position: eyes straining, back sore, trying to finish a project at 4am, under flickering fluorescent lights, while someone next to me melts acrylic with a cancer-causing solvent, the person on the other side of me hacking up toxic blue foam with a saw, and the person behind me snoring in a sleeping bag underneath their desk. If you recognize yourself in this picture – wake up: THIS IS NOT HEALTHY!

    Architorture, Archtecture School Torture, Design studio torture

    I frequently managed to pull multiple all-nighters in this type of environment, slowly watching more and more lines appear underneath my eyes and grey hairs pop up on my head. Why do we pay tens of thousands of dollars to subject ourselves to this kind of life, when most other professional schools (including law and medicine) seem to have evolved out to a more reasonable understanding of live/work balance? Even medical schools, which used to be famous for torturing their students with grueling hours and unreasonable deadlines, have wised-up to the fact that red-eyed, sleep-deprived, pill-popping students can’t learn effectively or make smart decisions. We do it because it’s the culture of design school – this is what is expected of us, and what everyone around us seems to accept as ‘the way things are”.


    Is this just an issue at Columbia, or do other architecture students have similar experiences?

    Am I the only one who thinks this is ridiculous and should change?

    Why do you think the culture of architecture school is like this?

    Is it possible to change it? What can we do?

    Sleepy studio at Colubmia GSAPP


    • oshit

      is this your first dabbling into architecture? did you not research columbia?

      smile :)

      Sep 6, 07 11:14 pm

      Hey - I've been through two years of this now! i knew what I was getting into, and my impression was that it really isn't any worse at Columbia than any other architecture school. So, I knew what I was getting into, but that doesn't mean I can't criticize it, does it? It is possible to love a subject matter and want to study it, and still not like the ethos and environment in studio. I would like to see the whole environment improve. I don't get why most students seem so content with things the way they are...


      Sep 6, 07 11:53 pm

      i think its all about personal initiative rather than attempting to change and entire culture. if you are professional, get things done in reasonable time, there is no reason to have balance, and others will follow.

      Sep 7, 07 2:12 am

      I personally think that it's the individual who makes themselves do it - the only all nighter i have ever pulled was because i chose not to work over christmas last year, my housemate on the other hand CANNOT go to bed the night before a hand up. I think it's the fact that there is no right answer in design that means that you can never get to a perfect reply, which you can get pretty damn close to in any other topic.

      There is an argument that design schools pushing students to do all nighters is a really poor preparation for the professional life of an architect - it's preparing us to work in sub par conditions, for ridiculous hours and for little reward (not that my office is like that!)

      I know that here there is some unease amongst medical students that they don't get to see enough practice now that their working week has been reduced (still ridiculous hours mind).

      Who knows? I dont think you're alone but I don't think we'll ever change

      Sep 7, 07 4:33 am
      Arnaud M.

      That's up to you to decide for a lifestyle change. I got tired of pulling all nighters so I decided to get more organized and work ahead of time. I haven't pulled an all-nighter ever since...

      Sep 7, 07 8:22 am
      vado retro

      is that guy in the red shirt contemplating that pile of blue foam scrap like it is something to be contemplated rather than just swept up?

      Sep 7, 07 8:40 am

      Architecture school culture is perpetuated by the students and the faculty. I came to Columbia having an architecture school background, which made me used to and tired of all-nighters. There are countless things that I think are destructive about architecture school culture. And I don't know why, but students buy into them.

      Sep 7, 07 9:12 am

      We all what the big red badge of courage: "I've done two all-nighters." "Well, I've done THREE all-nighters." etc. Like that makes us better, more committed designers. All-nighters are unavoidable sometimes, but are not something to be proud of. Like others have said, and I think Jill more than intimated, it is up to us to strike the balance, learn time management, and keep minimize our working hours. Time spent outside the studio trying to live, recharging batteries, breathing clean air can't help but impact the quality of our work.

      Sep 7, 07 10:15 am
      le bossman

      honestly i think this is just a columbia thing. i spent my entire education smoking a lot of thai stick, occupying various administration buildings, and bowling. to tell you the truth i don't remember that much of it. not to mention the fact that i also had a 3.9 gpa most of the way through grad and undergrad. at arizona state, i would regularly skip class to work on my tans. i never pulled one single all through ugrad and grad. i don't know, maybe i'm just uber efficient, or perhaps i'm some genius. time will tell...

      Sep 7, 07 11:28 am

      you always have a choice. I've known students that never pulled all nighters, and i know offices that also dont pull all nighters. You can choose whatever course of action you want in and out of school. Just have confidence in your choice and dont let others persuade you to stay all night in studio when it's obviously pointless (either you arent getting any work done, or your doing tasks that have really no impact on the design and are just meticulous).

      Sep 7, 07 11:53 am

      it's on the individual. i did my share of late nights and all nighters in undergrad, but it was a short-term lifestyle choice. many of my peers did the same, and some did not. there were successful students in both's on you to change your reality.

      Studio Culture

      Sep 7, 07 2:56 pm

      stick with some point you will be able to rationalize the pain/stress/unhealthyness away....and the more i think back on it, the most painful, sleep deprived stressful moments are the ones i look back on most fondly b/c of the work that came out of those moments...

      and trust me...i'm sure all of those unsavory health hazards of arch school only add to the unsavory habits that some students already have....drinking, smoking, drugs, fried foods, trans fats, etc...

      hugs and kisses!

      ps. this isn't a communications it or leave it's just the way the business works....but i do like the sign!

      pps. you can't stop me!

      Sep 7, 07 3:56 pm
      Sir Arthur Braagadocio

      i commuted to UPENN, not something they were to happy with and when I mean commuted I mean northern NJ, i was closer to Colubmia than UPENN and worked Fridays and weekends in NY. I only pulled all-nighters, well because I like them and i don't waste time building and re-building models, i build once - the night before the jury (that's whats your brain is for)

      but even then it wasn't enough, so at somepoint i kept meeting minutes with my professors who were slighlty trying to politically fail me, so if you want to sleep you can, just figure out a way to tell your prof to go fuck themselves when they think you aren't trying hard enough.

      some people could take that blue foam and finish in 15 minutes or worry about what they're professors think... who you are technically paying, and even at columbia most the profs haven't done enough real architecture to really even pay attention to their opinions on architecture. school is there for you to do what you can't do in reality.

      as far a architorture - its no different than playing a sport, its about winning, so if no sleep makes you better then do it, of course a lot of bleeding heart archi-liberals think all nighters are some weird consciouss effort at becomeing buddha me its not, its about rubbing it in the next day at jury by having a project, and even better when you had nothing until the night before and had been spending nights getting hammered or smoking the thai stick, to show up with boards and renderings and be like 'booyaa', your prof's in shock, and the other students hate you...its a Iceman moment from Top Gun...adrenaline baby adrenaline, the only ones torutured are ....

      Sep 7, 07 11:55 pm

      i don't think i know anyone who became succesful by smoking grass and not working hard.

      an all nighter is not necessarily part of the working hard thing.

      having said that i did do my share of them, and still do ocasionally (but only once in an office setting where i was not the principal), when my schedule won't work any other way. this is my own choice, not a systemic issue. it was also my own choice in grad school. the profs couldn't care less how or when i produced my work as long as it was my own and completed on time. i don't think that is any different at columbia.

      not respecting your profs is strange since you ARE paying them to teach you. whether they have built a lot or not you should listen. they may have something intelligent to say.

      Sep 8, 07 10:49 am

      I disagree that it's always a choice, and I disagree that it's just Columbia. Many schools are like this. And when you get a class year of ~70 students, and only 1 or 2 are able to go without pulling all-nighters, then you've got a pretty good inkling that it's not just the fault of "poor time-management" on the part of the students, but there's something else at work too.

      There is definitely, at many schools, a culture that propagates and encourages the attitude that "if you don't spend every waking moment in studio, then you must be a bad designer." This is reinforced by teachers who knowingly, and admittedly, give you more than 24 hours of work to do for a 24 hour period; by comments they, and the older students, and the administration make such as "architecture is your life, you should be in studio all the time, if you're not then you're not truly committed", teachers making joking comments about your lack of sleep, etc; and by the absence of anyone, ever, teaching you how much is truly enough, and when you can stop.

      Sep 8, 07 12:21 pm

      I believe that the faculty should not only teach you how to get started on a project, but should teach you to be aware that there is a state of close-to-finality that can be acheived; there IS a good enough; there IS a stopping point. Instead, it's the exact opposite. Faculty--in the mistaken idea that every student needs to be driven until they drop, because students somehow lack their own initiative--keep telling you to do more, more, MORE! Right up until the night before your own crit. Your project can always be improved, is never even close to good enough, etc. etc. In undergrad especially, students don't have the understanding yet to be able to judge for themselves when to stop. And even though in some ways it is true that projects can always be improved, it is more important to teach students that there is a point you must reach at which you HAVE to decide that you're done, and to leave it alone, and to leave further explorations for another project. The lack of this concept of an acceptible stopping point, or goal, that can actually be REACHED, creates a) students who just work and work and work until their crit, driving themselves to overcome all manner of all-nighters; b) students who can't plan out a project's work trajectory effectively because they don't know what will be the end goal; and c) students who become POOR EMPLOYEES because they spend way too much time on something and don't seem to understand when to stop with it and just send the damn thing out to the client.

      Something interesting I learned recently: many med schools are turning to a grades-free education. The premise is that once you are accepted into med school, you're accepted, respected, and considered minimally competent to learn what you need to learn. As there are incredibly difficult exams you must still pass at the end of med school to become a doctor, the grades themselves begin to matter less, and to become more of a detriment or hindrance to learning than an encouragement. By the time you're in med school, the assumption is that obviously you must already be a driven individual, and you're either going to work hard and pass your exams or your going to realize you're not cut out for it and drop out. I believe that architecture school can learn some lessons from this attitude. Respect your students. They will still work hard if you cut them a little slack.

      Sep 8, 07 12:21 pm
      Sir Arthur Braagadocio

      myriam's explanation is more subtle version of what i was trying to say, so i second it.

      i can choose who i want to respect at an instituion i respect. i have no respect for professors who think if you're not loosing sleep you're not trying hard enough...


      matter of fact, i have no respect for someone who can not finish something, especially a design - which in the end is an aggregation of opinions based on various formal systems and always has cons at the expense of pros. - point is there is no reason why we have to loose sleep other than jumps being prinicipal point, i completely understand that since as your own boss you spend a lot of time doing non-design so you can design.

      Sep 8, 07 12:33 pm
      Sir Arthur Braagadocio

      myriam's explanation is more subtle version of what i was trying to say, so i second it.

      i can choose who i want to respect at an instituion i respect. i have no respect for professors who think if you're not loosing sleep you're not trying hard enough...


      matter of fact, i have no respect for someone who can not finish something, especially a design - which in the end is an aggregation of opinions based on various formal systems and always has cons at the expense of pros. - point is there is no reason why we have to loose sleep other than jumps being prinicipal point, i completely understand that since as your own boss you spend a lot of time doing non-design so you can design.

      Sep 8, 07 12:33 pm

      we've all been brainwashed

      Sep 8, 07 2:27 pm
      o d b

      can you tell me where the second pic (the b/w one) is from? those are some sweet models on the table!

      Sep 9, 07 8:12 am
      vado retro

      it takes a great deal of time to put a project together by yourself. if you have to do every goddamned thing. ideas, research, drawings, models, etc. by yourself. also, the one thing that architecture school doesnt seem to teach is the concept of "close enough for rock n roll" ie finding the right solution quickly. this is accomplished by experience. you eventually learn to dismiss ideas and don't go up the blind alleys quite as much. anyway the last all nighter i pulled had to do with a woman and a bottle and the subject of architecture didn't come up.

      Sep 9, 07 10:45 am

      beautiful beautiful post. And yes its pretty much the same in any architecture school. I'm not sure what causes it but it has been that way since the history of the professional training. Viva la architorture

      Sep 9, 07 12:25 pm
      Sir Arthur Braagadocio

      vado retro is wise wise wise.


      rock 'n' roll from 9-6
      and pull all nighters at the bar, the club, and the chick/dude.

      Sep 9, 07 2:22 pm

      i must admit, i enjoyed very much that student life of all nighters. there was often a real vibe of togetherness in our studios. we all worked hard, but we had a laugh also. we drank, smoked, did crazy things in the small hours...i actually miss those days (a bit).

      but as others have said - i knew some ppl that didnt buy into that culture and they also did fine. i believe that there may be an element of doing it because you do want to be part of it. you want to be seen as being 'a real architecture student'. i guess in reflection - i did.

      mostly however i worked like that because i loved what i was doing, and i wanted to make the models look better, or the panels more refined. i guess it becomes addictive and obsessive - that is also how it is in the offices i have worked in.

      Sep 9, 07 2:26 pm

      You dont't stop when you're done, you're done when you stop.

      (PS - metamechanic, you so karazy!)

      Sep 9, 07 7:00 pm
      vado retro

      i don't know why more students don't just get more advice from us. it could save them lotsa time on these sorts a things

      Sep 9, 07 7:31 pm
      Sir Arthur Braagadocio

      fa-shizzle me nizzle eye vado!
      765 you know you're done when you see the damn thing in your head, and then its just representation and communication.

      karazy architectecting archinecting mutha fucka! 'tis i says the drunkin' german/american.

      Sep 9, 07 8:35 pm

      exactly, 765. oh how i wish that had been mentioned during my undergrad daze... or that i had been capable of figuring it out in my own useless, sleep-deprived brain.

      Sep 9, 07 9:10 pm

      the thing about pulling all-nighters is that:

      -its about who can pull more all-nighters as it starts to become a
      competitve thing as well as a pride issue

      -its about trying to use up every last second you have as you
      psychologically start to believe that you are being a very
      dedicated student (even if you produce nothing significant or
      even fail to produce)

      -its about feeling as if you can't stop working because your peers
      aren't stopping either

      -you start to feel that deprivation of sleep and food actually
      energize your thought sensation and that your best ideas will
      come to you as an "awakening" in the wee hours of dawn

      -you've pushed off even thinking about your project until the
      night, so your only option is to work your ass off all night, or look
      like a jackass in the morning

      -you feel your obsession for architecture heighten during the
      night, hence, being an ideal time to work

      -its about living up to the expectations of studio culture, as well as
      showing off how much time you spend in studio

      Sep 10, 07 2:15 am

      in undergrad: lots of all-nighters.
      in grad: 0

      of course i was much older and was a 1hr commuter in grad, so my primary concerns were a little different.


      i don't think that really added anything, but i wanted to respond to this:
      you know you're done when you see the damn thing in your head, and then its just representation and communication.

      this may get you to good enough at zero hour, but it leaves no real time for critically appraising what you've proposed based on actually seeing it. bad practice, imo.

      Sep 10, 07 7:09 am
      vado retro

      if i went back to school now and did the same projects i did in grad school i would finish the project in a month rather than a semester.

      Sep 10, 07 8:09 am
      Sir Arthur Braagadocio

      vado, that's what i though i was going to do when i went back, i had assumed was going to do architecture, and after 4 years of working, sounded easy...but instead i learned scripting, new softwares, and raw material experiments.

      steven - i'll clarify, it's not like you see it once in your head, you see it and then you re-work it and re-work it, and while you're re-working it in your head you ask someone about this and that concept. from experience, it's very risky practice (if you could call it practice at all), since more than once i couldn't finish the represenation of it and the half way there said nothing and at zero hour I was prenting it like "i wanted to this, but i ran out of time..."

      note: i've never ever completed a project i have envisioned. the idea dies after zero hour.

      Sep 10, 07 8:23 am

      if you do it in a month, vado, you may be getting it done, but you're not getting much learning out of it. is school for the pleasing of your faculty or for personal growth? that should be the primary consideration in the 'archi-torture' discussion, imo.

      Sep 10, 07 8:53 am

      i'd post what i think.
      but i'd get flamed.
      + a good bunch of my professors read what i write.

      still, ill put forth my two cents:
      thank god i didn't do undergrad in architecture.
      i had fun.
      and i pity those who spent 4 years in college being architortured. i was out being a waste, fratting around, sleeping through and in class, learning a whole semester of work the night before the test, and graduating in 3 years.

      u.mich grad school is much like that night before the final, but every day.

      Sep 10, 07 2:24 pm

      I think this malaise is found primarily at US schools and at some in UK. In the past as far I as I found out this was not the case (50’s 60’ etc.). Main problem are students who are usually poorly educated, lack critical skills, knowledge of humanistic sciences (history, geography, philosophy basic no-nonsense) and as such are easy targets for bullying professorial bafoons who themselves are frustrated practitioners embittered by the nature of the market that practice encompasses. The pseudo-science that is preached upon audiences at the architectural schools (eq. Cynthia Lavin etc) is esoterically misplaced from the essence that constitutes architecturual practise. Basically architecture is art but it has very specific role that is despised at academic institutions.

      Sep 10, 07 5:29 pm

      Intriguing rant, zivotinja, and I can't say I disagree with some of those opinions.

      Steven, this >> is school for the pleasing of your faculty or for personal growth? that should be the primary consideration in the 'archi-torture' discussion, imo.

      is what I was getting at with my suggestion of / comparison to med schools which are beginning to go the gradesless route. When you have a system of testing and internship in place to guarantee adequate competency in architecture, you are then free to explore yourself and your ideas much more in the classroom. Unfortunately no school that I know of has yet institued this practice.

      Sep 10, 07 7:51 pm
      Mark Bearak

      Jill, I applaud your post and I feel you are absolutely right.

      The way to change this situation is unfortunately quite difficult. We are in a profession that is brutally time consuming, and it is our individual duty to set our own schedule. I work myself into the ground because I know each semester is only a fixed amount of time and I would like to take each project as far as possible. I can stop whenever I would like, but at what point will me project suffer?

      I also agree that these extreme hours have taken their toll on my emotional psyche. This summer I asked our colleagues the following question, "What comes first, the asshole or Columbia?" I would have to say that I am simply not the same person that I was when I started here and for better or worse I'm not as much fun as I used to be. I think the extreme hours have definitely led to me becoming more of a "lame-o"

      So I will heed your advice and happily go out tonight. Perhaps we should all have a communal toast to taking the night off.


      Sep 10, 07 7:59 pm
      Sep 10, 07 8:11 pm
      Sir Arthur Braagadocio
      Sep 10, 07 9:08 pm
      vado retro

      yes i think you are getting the most out of it. if you are given a problem and answer your questions quickly you can be done faster and have the same result. the journey doesn't have to go on forever. that's the problem with the problem.

      Sep 10, 07 10:13 pm
      Sir Arthur Braagadocio

      journey's overated, some '80's band with songs like 'don't stop believin'...stop believin already and start living like Hassellhoff the architect damnit!

      Sep 10, 07 10:42 pm

      I think myriam and AP made best points. Student body is usually consisted of wannbe-liberal-buddist-sort-of-extremist (all words no guts) who are naive enough to believe that staying late would produce a miracle (I never seen that and I have been at many schools). Or even worse that certain studio practices such as all-nighter is usually a recipe for success. Both directives are false. You need to ask yourself what you are doing, posses enough criticism to push it to presentable level and believe in it not because some good looking, weird-speaking adjunct faculty told you. If you believe in your work, you will have fun and then you can make your work safer, push yourself harder or get enough sleep to pounce at the tomorrow’s disgruntled curia (‘religious judges’). Trust me, being able to attack or respond the next day is probably just as important at the final crit as all your actual work that you have done for it.

      Sep 11, 07 10:33 am

      you are not alone we are the same too in Saudi Arabia University and pulling all night lake off sleep is a thing that I only learned to do it in architecture school
      Though that I am sure that there is no one who drinks smokes or use drags in our class

      Oct 9, 07 6:18 am

      jill, i completely agree with you, as with many of the posts offering that you alone are in control of how many all nighters you pull or are necessary. i completed an MFA in Design at SVA recently, also notorious for this way of thinking. i found that it was even more applauded if you were still there the next morning after working all night. as if sleeping were for wimps. i always concluded that people were not working efficiently. if this were happening in the real world, the designer/architect would have to rethink what sort of jobs and how many there were taking on, and try to find a way that maximized their work abilities.

      i also write to you because i am interested in your choice to return to architecture school after a success like inhabitat, as well as two previous degrees. i am in the process of making that decision myself, a little worrried about money and the aspect of time at this point in my life (i am 31). were you concerned about these issues?

      keep the faith...

      Oct 17, 07 10:40 am

      Jill made some great points about how sustainability is a part of design and a better change for humanity, but obviously this doesn’t count for architects and their working environment. How ironic?

      I’m not in grad school yet, so I don’t know the experience of having all-nighters and that stress, but I’ve been told that this and more “horrible” situations will happen. I’m very hyped about this, in positive and negative ways. I’m physically handicapped, having some body limitations. I’m pretty good in front of computers, pretty fast when it comes to using software using ACAD and the like, but when it comes to model building, I have a difficult time cutting, nailing, and gluing materials. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible, but it usually requires extra time, depending on my design structure–what and how it’s going to be built like–and the deadline for it.

      Anyway, I just wanted to share this, my architect classes were demanding, but everyone understood and didn’t treat me any differently. We were all like family, it was a small class of 9 or 10 students. I hope grad school will be like this, or tad close to it.

      Jan 12, 08 9:21 pm

      Architorture is not only limited to Columbia. I know NJIT has several professors such as stephen zdepski who applaud students who expose themselves to a life of chaining yourself to a desk for a semester to force out architecture.

      Students frequently skip meals, have bizarre sleep cycles, cut off social contacts outside of studio, and experience delusional thoughts.

      I'm surprised the professors are Ok with this treatment after having gone through this unhealthy lifestyle themselves.

      Hopefully the next generation of architecture professors will be more understanding of the joy of experiencing human life rather than the subjecting their students to the reality of sitting in a chair staring at a computer screen for countless hours.

      Mar 12, 11 11:18 pm

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