Prep For Masters in Architecture



I have numbered my questions because I do have quite a few. Thank you in advance to those who have taken the time to reply.

I have just completed a bachelors in culutral anthropology and would like to apply for an M.ARCH program.

To give you a brief history, I have always been interested in design. As I got further into my studies and took years off, I just decided to commit to Anthropology and complete my degree. Now being done, as a mature student with Visual Merchandising and Marketing experience (from years off of school), I would like to study architecture.

What I would like to know is how I need to prep myself for this.

What I have done so far:

Applied to the Career Discover program at both Harvard and Columbia. 

1) Who should I ask to be my reference? Some profs know me, but not all that well. Am I better off asking someone who could better explain my character? I sing, and my voice teacher went to harvard...but totally unrelated to Architecture. My varsity hockey coach? I also teach yoga, my yoga teacher? Should I be seeking out an architect to give me a reference?

I've also started to sketch.

2) Should I be sketching buildings or am I better off sketching other things? I was thinking of putting together a project of some of the infastructure I have come across through my travels...Or should I try and be more out of the box with this?

My goal is to apply by December 2013. My GPA isn't amazing so I'm currently trying to boost that.

3)But what should I spend my time doing until then? Any special tips?

4)Any books I should get to build a good base of knowledge?

Any resources and tips would be greatly appreciated. 



Jan 5, 13 12:52 am

if you just started to sketch recently and with the assumption that your drawing skills aren't very good, I'd advice you not to include sketches that merely copy buildings or life as your main pieces.  It would do you more good to include something more creative, perhaps an artwork, design piece or speculative drawing that displays something of your own creation or experimentation.

Jan 6, 13 5:57 am

I feel just the opposite of accesskb - drawing from life is an essential skill for architecture school, and attempting to draw something without having art experience may make it just look amateur. If you haven't done drawing from life before, I would suggest that you find an art class, even if it's for a week or two - as long as it's rigorous enough that you can draw from life and then get constructive feedback. And drawing from life always looks good in your portfolio and adds more variety to your work - I think it's pretty much a staple item for non-architecture applicants. You can improve your drawing skills a lot in a year, so start practicing. Both buildings and other subjects are okay - I think that in your portfolio the quality/accuracy of the drawing will matter more than the subject matter. And more figurative/speculative drawings would be okay to include for variety once you can make them rigorous enough that they look more like real art than amateur doodles.

As for recommendations, I think that if you're applying from a non-arch background there will have to be an assumption that you haven't had as many architecture instructors as someone who majored in architecture. I think it would be better to include sincere recommendations from people who have worked with you than a vague recommendation from an architect who you barely know. With that said, you should seek a recommendation from your TAs or instructors of your summer architecture program, if they know you well enough by the end of the program. And in any event I think that you will need some academic recommendation/s from a professor of some sort.

As for other things to prepare - visiting different buildings can be good, and that's also an opportunity to draw those buildings. And, of course, you can read. You should look at a general history of architecture like Kenneth Frampton's Modern Architecture, which can then help guide you to other buildings/architects which you are interested in, and which you can then explore further on your own. Two other books which I remember being memorable early in my architecture journey were Strange Details and The Death and Life of Great American Cities, but I am sure that there are others which I am forgetting.

Jan 6, 13 12:38 pm

So far, your best capital is your degree in cultural anthropology. These days it is extremely relevant  to architecture. If I was making the decision, I would definitely accept you to the school. Good drawings and students who make them are dime a dozen and quickly it will be a second nature to you to make drawings as well. Students who can talk about anthropology are harder to come by. Think about ways you can bring that to the table in architecture school. 

Read some essential arch history material and keep visiting Archinect and other websites for all kinds of current information. For now, just go after the things you enjoy and think they are related to architecture. Write it down, document and ask. Good luck.

Jan 6, 13 1:01 pm

I disagree with the person above, who summarily would accept you because you studied cultural anthropology.  I have seen people in the extended M.Arch. programs with degrees in art and urban planning who did not do as well as students with degrees in civil engineering and economics, for that matter.  Let's not rush to say that a liberal arts and science education is the biggest contributor to such a program.

The importance is to be able to design, blending art and science in the process.  Usually, people with a different education seem to have an edge in one area of the curriculum.  For the civil engineers, it would be the courses in structures.  For an anthropologist, I presume they would have an edge in architectural history, urban studies, and theory.  However, that is not a guarantee.  Someone who studied biology could just as easily learn to discuss history and theory. Generally, MOST applicants to M.Archs. are broadminded enough to make that leap.

Your most important asset will be your portfolio.  You need to work on that, convey 3-dimensional thinking skills, and that you are trainable in the design of buildings.  Your GPA and GRE scores are important, but many schools clearly indicate that the portfolio takes precedence.  That's how they "tie break" among applicants from different backgrounds.

Lastly, you may have done summer exploratory programs at good Ivy League schools, but admission is competitive.  There, your portfolio will be evaluated with a much more critical eye, as will other parts of your application package.  That said, there are other schools out there where gaining admission to a 3+ year NAAB accredited M.Arch. program is less rigorous.  You may have to pick from the best of those that admit you.  In this game, you cannot apply to 1 to 3 schools.  You need to apply to more.

Work on your portfolio and I wish you the best in gaining admission to a school you like, as well as enjoying your career in the field.

Jan 6, 13 3:16 pm

the person above, people who think like you about the architectural education are dime a dozen since the 19th century. no offense however. I am talking about something different.

my thinking is more radical. i would first ease out from this portfolio centric acceptance process and include other methods of checking applicants awareness and strata. a personal face to face interview when possible could be one of them. because i believe the days of architecture as spatial production is numbered.

everybody is talking about the need to change architecture. well, that is not going to happen only by changing the form/shape making every ten years. in my belief, architecture schools should be open to all and should not limited to people who can understand and translate 3d whatever.

in a nut shell..

Jan 6, 13 4:25 pm
ka em

I concur with the person above.

Let's just say OP (potentially) will triumph in the many class discussions. Sufficient drawing skills can be learned (I teach drawing from time to time) and so are other technical skills to get you through school, but really it is your background in cultural anthropology that would be of most interest to the professors. I think for good graduate schools, what they look for would be evidence of critical+creative thinking and what you can contribute to the discourse.

In the mean time you can of course continue to polish your drawing skills!

Jan 6, 13 6:51 pm

To the two above posts, it is exactly this kind of thinking that makes architecture as "bohemian" as it is and why people neither earn nor command the commissions from their clients that befits the occupation.

First, I did not criticize the OP's major.  All are capable of embarking on this journey.  The gentleman with the Turkish background said he would accept the applicant based on their previous major.  That is ridiculous.  How about looking at what this applicant can do?  That is, if their hand can make things happen in three dimensions.  And, additionally, look at the inherent discipline shown by their grades.  A very selective program, particularly those in the East, is not lacking for applicants who can produce 3 dimensional work and draw, in addition to having good grades.

In a M.Arch. program, a former BFA in Painting was one of the worst performers in design.  This person has left the occupation.  The problem was the inability to make the transition from how expression is conveyed in an art curriculum to the three dimensional problem solving required in architecture.  On the other hand, a commerce grad who had begun as a freshman in architecture came back to do a M.Arch.  He is licensed and has worked in a major city in America's interior since graduation. 

How do you figure the days of spatial production are limited?  What will replace that?  How much more "ivory tower" need we be?  Architects are responsible for the spatial and enclosure dimensions of a building.  The other systems belong to allied disciplines and the architect integrates their work to arrive at a design solution.

Some people want to push architecture to something they can't even define.  That's just grand.  That's a problem in and of itself!  If you are a visionary, you should be able to define what you want architecture to become.  Architecture clearly needs to adapt - in how the process is delivered, in the relevance of concerns, such as sustainability and socially responsible design, and even in the way buildings are configured.

To the OP, your cultural anthropology background makes you just as qualified and worthy of being admitted as any other major.  No more.  No less.  That someone would, in a reactionary manner, view this as a "plus" over a science, economics, philosophy, language, or engineering degree reflects poorly on the person that is so titillated, and who hopefully is NOT sitting on an admissions committee.  You can teach someone graphics.  However, you may not be as successful in teaching someone spatial creativity and fluidity in generating design solutions, which is what is required in a work setting.

Again, work on your graphic skills to assemble a good portfolio and let your essay paint a picture as to why you want to be an architect.  An interview is usually not practicable. But, most of all, be prepared to accept the curriculum as a compendium of both the intangible and subjective, as well as that which is very tangible and measurable, unless you attend a school where the emphasis is skewed and unfortunately NOT comprehensive.  In that way, it is an educational and professional path that is very unique.

It's a profession, habitually spoken of in the same sentence as doctor, engineer, and attorney, albeit incorrectly, given some of the flakiness that is sometimes encountered.  In those professions, the filtering to be admitted to professional school is very rigorous, and people aren't admitted because someone on an admission committee think an applicant's previous major is "neat."  Please. 

Jan 6, 13 9:55 pm
ka em

Lol... I think you're reading too much into what I wrote.

All I am saying is that he's got an interesting background that could sit well within the architectural discourse at graduate level, and that he should spruik it and use it to his advantage because he will stand out from other non-architecture graduate whose background was mainly, say, visual study such as painting. Of course, he's gotta polish the graphic side of the portfolio as well in the meantime, this goes without saying.

Anthropologist, one book I would recommend just to get a gist of the basic stuff you will learn is 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School.

Jan 7, 13 7:29 am

Kamil, my comment was actually more directed at the gentleman whose comment preceded yours ... the one who got all excited about the cultural anthropology degree.  Reflecting on the very balanced curriculum I experienced, I really don't see what kind of a pronounced advantage that would have, except in courses in history, theory and urban studies.  Not only that, a knee jerk reaction to think that a particular previous education is "cool," almost as if to throw that applicant's file into the "sure admit" category may not always be accurate, and can be a disservice to someone who studied the sciences or commerce, and is just as capable.  Again, having gone through this educational track, the best designers were either those on the 4+2 track, because of their lengthier indoctrination in design, and, in the 3+ year track, oftentimes those from backgrounds which might surprise someone.

Jan 7, 13 11:18 am

To the OP:

Please do apply to a graduate program in architecture, the M.Arch.  Be aware that a cluster of schools is coveted, and others are more available for admission.  Balancing who to admit with divergent backgrounds must be challenging.  As for your degree and grades, that is already in your past, so concentrate on marketing them to the school as pluses, via your essays, and then work on what is still an "open book:"  your portfolio, showing the conveyance of spatial thinking,  your recommendations, and your GRE.

While discovery programs at Harvard and Columbia are pluses, I don't know how it will translate into admission to those schools, but some schools will  view it as a favorable achievement.  Again, I encourage you to apply to several schools.  A final comment is to note how these programs are configured.  Some take 3 years, some take 3 years and a summer session, and some take 3.5 years.  I can now think of two schools who require 4 years, but with less of a load each term, particularly in the last 2 years.  The only comment I can make is that architecture is NOT medicine, so try to stick to programs that require between 3 and 3.5 years.

You will find a school that will accept you and that works for you.  Sometimes the process may seem unfair but, in the end, it unfolds the way it was meant to be.  Good luck.

Jan 11, 13 1:56 am

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