Harsh school critiques: indicative of actual practice?


For the most part I enjoyed architecture school(pre-professional) but I disliked how almost every student gets reamed out in their critiques/presentations. Some take it better than others - some can just shrug it off. I took it(I think) fairly well, but I am not totally thick-skinned. So, sometimes I would feel pretty hurt and discouraged after our bi-weekly lambastings. 

Anyways, are these harsh critiques in school at all indicative of architecture as a profession? As in, do you have to be able to take that kind of "objective"(in fact, borderline sadistic) criticism to be a successful and/or happy architect? If it bothers me am I too sensitive to be an architect? Or, is that kind of thing something that is more confined to archi-school only?

Mar 20, 16 3:48 pm

no. the small firms that appear famous but have low pay and lots of screaming just indicate how clueless the boss is. in larger firms you may get this treatment from someone who has been at mid management forever (most likely many short comings as an architect or person)......when you first start there is a lot you do not know and you may get some strict criticism but ultimately the successful firms and firm owners i know, are laid back and very capable of managing and teaching you without yelling or degrading you.

Mar 20, 16 4:25 pm  · 

What school are you at? I thought the days of recreational lambasting of students were over. It's pointless and unhelpful.

Mar 20, 16 7:17 pm  · 

It's like they say in the Marines "it comes with the game" Adapt. Improvise and Overcome

Seems to be a tactic of a certain generation of architects - its the way it is - true, the more successful the firm. the less of this "hazing" you will experience - then again, one firm I was at over a year ago " you guys are idiots - what the F**k have you been doing all day?" The P.A.s there were pretty hard core. - 

You just got to be tough

Mar 20, 16 7:57 pm  · 

^  It's just part of the architecture school culture.  Some of it is a well-intentioned but needlessly painful attempt to get you to tighten up your thought processes and make sure you have considered all the aspects of design.  And some of it is just assholes being assholes.  Don't worry about it.  Every profession has little hazing rituals.  Probably goes back to tribal life in caves.  Hang it there.  Don't take it personally.

Mar 20, 16 8:11 pm  · 

Olaf described my experiences well.

Work for a one-man show, expect to experience a non-stop roller coaster ride of nonsense. Managers at mid-to-larger sized firms tend to see the forest for the trees a little better, and thus don't get yelly at the first sign of trouble.

When it comes to critiquing actual design, there's a range of skills, experience, and taste out there. Don't take it personally and remember that until it's your name on the door, you don't run the show. Your bosses will probably have terrible taste, gained after a couple of decades of being ground to a pulp by budgets, codes, shitty contractors, and other priorities like making sure everybody stays employed. 

Mar 20, 16 10:07 pm  · 

Thanks for the replies everyone, they are very helpul. It's nice to know that it is mostly a school thing. And, I will definitely try to not take it as personally.

Donna: I went to a school up here in Canada. Our studio professors themselves were usually helpful in the critiques - they tended to play the good cop. It was usually profs from other parts of the school and guest critics who would be very harsh. Not sure why for the most part(besides the one bitter city planner who had recently been fired.)

Mar 21, 16 12:11 am  · 

Gesicht: Would this be the city planner of a certain west coast city?

I know what you're talking about. Usually the guest critics were harsh, while your own prof might either sit on the sidelines while their young are ripped apart by the vultures, or in a few occasions come to your rescue. The better professors were more engaged with their student's work, and more likely to defend or find positive elements in your work.

I didn't spend much time after school in the architecture field, but it definitely was a lot more easy going.

Mar 21, 16 1:44 am  · 

Donna, its far from over. I was at school about 4 years ago and we had top architect tutors insult, rip and draw all over our hardwork. It was frustrating unless you were thickskinned and knew how to counter it.


Design school was tough...

Mar 21, 16 6:23 am  · 

In my mind, these rude critiques are more indicative of the harsh realities of work in general, not just architecture. People can be terrible to each other at times. They don't always understand your work and (people who are overly stressed) tend to assume the worst in others. 

I've gotten ripped by contractors, clients, plan examiners, building inspectors and neighbours. Rarely by architects. I think it's less of a profession thing and more just that people can be jerks (if they are in a bad mood).

I've found that it's not your ability to "take" this type of criticism that determines your happiness. It's more important to be able to put it in perspective and not let it ruin your day.  

Mar 21, 16 9:14 am  · 

I mean, if a student is copping a know-it-all attitude and not listening to sincerely offered critique, then sure, rip'em to shreds. But the point of critiques is to teach, not to create a spectacle like the lions consuming a gladiator.  Intentionally approaching critiques with a "The beatings will continue until morale improves" attitude is bullshit. This is why we need more women in academia AND in practice (braces self for blowback....).

Mar 21, 16 9:21 am  · 

why are you getting ripped by contractors, clients, plans examiners, building inspectors, and neighbors lee?  just throwing it out there, but it kind of sounds like you're the common thread there.

it's typical for students, as well as real life architects, to think that design is all about pushing what they believe on other people.  it's not.  in architecture, our job is to listen to our clients and respond to their needs.  sometimes they need creative design input, so our studio skills are put to use.  sometimes that might not be what they need.  we also have to listen to contractors, who are often a valuable source to help us learn how buildings actually get built and can help us better understand how to respond to real-life field situations that may not be reflected in our CAD drawings.

the studio culture we have is focused on helping students bring out their creative potential, which is great, but it's not very good at teaching students how to respond to other people's needs.  that can make constructive criticism feel harsh or personal when it might not be intended to come across that way.  on the other hand, some studio crits may remember being on the receiving end of harsh criticism, so they just want to respond in kind.

Mar 21, 16 9:53 am  · 

Henry Kissinger said that faculty politics at Harvard were especially vicious because there was so little at stake.  The same can be said for life in this profession.

Mar 21, 16 10:36 am  · 

It still happens. I've observed unproductive and unprofessional behavior in reviews almost exclusively at the tier of schools that are well regarded but sub-elite (SCI-Arc, Ohio State, Michigan...). Gender seems to have little do do with it - LA's most spectacularly disgusting practitioner of this type of "critique" is a woman.

Most disappointing is that in every case, I've been left feeling that it was a performance devised for effect.  It goes without saying that I have little regard for critics that work in this way, but its important that the chairs and program leads that allow this to happen get their share of the blame - this wouldn't happen if the offenders lost their jobs instead of returning semester after semester.

Mar 21, 16 11:28 am  · 

 this wouldn't happen if the offenders lost their jobs instead of returning semester after semester.

Won't happen if they have tenure

Mar 21, 16 11:34 am  · 

Geezertect - that might be true to some degree*, but from my experience the folks that are doing this are adjuncts or tenure track, which might be part of their motivation for appearing more challenging than their peers.

*Tenured faculty can still be disciplined.

Mar 21, 16 11:54 am  · 

Yes, it is indicative of the field. You will get rammed by big headed architects when you start in a firm and then you will get rammed by General Contractors and Developers later on. 

In my mind, they are just preparing you so you don't cry in front of the client, or the firm. 

We work in a high stress industry. As much as you want for people to keep their cool, they won't. You can't control it. All I can say is, learn how to calm people down. When the project becomes massively over budget, there are a million design changes, there are change orders that are caused because the consultants were missing things on the drawings and there is no contingency left in the developers pocket, you will get yelled at. When your drawings aren't complete and you are throwing the team off schedule, you will get yelled at. 

Why do clients and bosses do it? Simple answer: because of the stress and money involved.... Or, maybe because they suck as humans... In any case, practice not taking it personally and don't be a human doormat either!

No joke!

Mar 22, 16 7:49 am  · 
Non Sequitur
I'll admit I've caused a few tears in my time as a critic but when back in grad school, I always left my office door open for all that wanted follow up advice. I'd provide coffee and beer sometimes but with that aside, the only real harsh reviews I've seen were on incomplete, lazy or arrogant students.
Mar 22, 16 8:06 am  · 

Janosh:  Fair point.

The only time I got real close to losing it with people was when they didn't care.  Mistakes are forgivable, within reason, as is lack of knowledge.  But when a team member doesn't know something and just slaps something on the drawing to kill time until the shift whistle blows, I lose it.  Not giving a shit should never be forgiven.

Mar 22, 16 8:49 am  · 

Architects/firms do that stuff to developers all the time. They lag on working on the project because they take too much on at once and show up to the design meetings with crap drawings or half baked ideas and the developer/gc's will get frustrated because they will have to pick apart the mistakes. The frustrated crit panel will continue throughout your career.

Sometimes it might be your fault, sometime it might not. In any case, you have to learn to deal with criticism.

Mar 22, 16 1:45 pm  · 

The one thing we always struggle with as an office is communicating with each other and with builders and clients. I think we are getting better at it, but in the end its the core of our profession. We need to be excellent at it to really thrive and we are working on that as a goal, equal to being good at design.

If  the crits are helping you to be more clear then i suppose there is a method to the mean-ness, but otherwise quite seriously its just bullshit without meaning or merit, and can be ignored.

Mar 22, 16 9:36 pm  · 

The profs (either resident or visiting), that shout at students and give them  hard time are mostly old farts who have been completely unsuccessful in their own professional lives. They think that the younger generation owes them a lot for their existence. Bullshit.

Mar 22, 16 10:08 pm  · 

How many studios have you taken? I have seen my fair share of harsh criticisms from young to older architects. Not everyone is like that. You just need to learn how to filter through the nonconstructive critiques. 

Just like any other job, there will be co-workers who doesn't handle stress very well and take it out on their teams. 

Mar 24, 16 1:51 pm  · 

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