Architecture school, why must you be so mean?


I'm an architecture student who wonders if there is ever a way to ever feel confident enough about ones work. Critisim in my case seems to be destructive rather than constructive. How did you take critic as a student and did you ever become immune to it?

Jun 27, 13 9:52 pm

i thought the stupid academia posts were supposed to be filtered!

Jun 27, 13 10:36 pm


 You're not helping one bit. 

Though I'm not in arch school yet (this fall), coming from a Fine Arts background, I speak from some experience come crit time, and the fire that comes with it.

  It does sting when professors or fellow students pin you down pretty hard, even if they are warranted. And that's because so much of your own ego is attached to your work, so it "hurts", often times feeling like it's a personal attack. And maybe it is, but either way, you just have to deal with it. In fact, you're expected to deal with it.

 You should always feel confident about your work, because if that doesn't come through, you'll get trampled on without a doubt (especially if the presentation is not good). 

 So in your case: Why don't you stand your ground and come ready anticipating a little fire in return? What might they say against your work? How could you defend your work intellectually? 

  I had a professor who thought my one project was weak, but I defended it with confidence. Aftewards, though there was still some disagreement, he came to respect me for my willingness to voice my thought with poise.

At the end of the day, I don't think you can ever get immune to it. In fact, those that are "immune" are students that have not put nearly enough of their time/energy into the projects. They are also the ones that really don't care to be there in the first place. It always shows.

  But be wary though, that this is a degree program, and the crits are just that -- crits. The students and professors are not your mothers, so you should never expect a circle of congratulatory discussions. I personally think it's part of the fun.

Jun 27, 13 10:53 pm

I'm assuming the OP is an undergrad, and in a large program, more so than a grad student in a small program.  I was the latter and held out a few years before going back, so I was more mature, able to defend my position, willing to incorporate some, though not all, suggestions from faculty and students alike.  I also did not go into architecture expecting star status, but more to learn and practice this craft and do work which didn't put me to sleep.  I was competent in design, but not pushing the envelope and reinventing the wheel, and there were always several to numerous design solutions in my studio I liked better than mine.

Potential reasons for this occurring:

-  architecture faculties often contain several, or numerous, douche bags who are pompous, self regarding, and not constructive - they pass on the legacy of abuse, either because they were abused or because they feel it is part of the pedagogical process of design education

- architectural faculties sometimes don't want students' heads to swell with unrealistic assessments about their abilities and unrealistic expectations about what to expect upon embarking on a career in architecture

- architectural education is very different (an understatement) in that it includes a subjective component (design studios) and an objective component (all the other courses) - this means that one can't rely on a GPA as a measure of assessing one's true talent like they sort of can in other fields like the sciences, engineering, and law.  In law, high grades, along with publishing on law review and belonging to other intellectual think tank clubs, often correlates positively with how good of an attorney one might be.  (There was once a post here that discussed deflection of academically talented students from architecture because the grades, and rewards, were not commensurate with their intelligence.  Sometimes, it does shake out that way. )

Just some thoughts.

Jun 27, 13 11:21 pm

You think architecture school is bad? LOL

Just wait until you've got a degree and you find out that you have no job skills, no understanding of building practices and no real idea about architecture.

Jun 27, 13 11:28 pm

If your critics are in any way evaluating your work at a conceptual level, consider yourself very lucky to have the opportunity to develop intellectually while you are in school. Some schools don't teach that way, and it's much rarer in practice. School is your opportunity to explore architecture as an art and an intellectual discipline rather than just the dumb passive service which it becomes 99 percent of the time in real-life practice. Also be glad that your critics are (at least so far) being harsh to your face rather than behind your back.

Regarding doing well at crits: the main component in my experience has been to have a clear idea behind your work, like the thesis behind an academic paper. Being clear and taking a legible position is more important than taking the right position.

Jun 28, 13 6:57 am

Because the actual profession is far, far meaner.

Jun 28, 13 6:58 am

juror once made a comparison to my project and presentation to John Cage's 4'33".... ouch. that still hurts to this day. 

Jun 28, 13 9:09 am

How did you take critic as a student and did you ever become immune to it?.

i was gifted with a fairly high amount of conceit and arrogance, so i always assumed if there was a problem, it was because the professors and jurors screwed up, not me.  i'm not going to feel bad because they're too dumb to try to understand what i'm telling them.

i hadn't heard 4'33" so i looked it up.  still better than anything philip glass has done.

Jun 28, 13 9:25 am

i was gifted with a fairly high amount of conceit and arrogance, so i always assumed if there was a problem, it was because the professors and jurors screwed up, not me.

I'm wondering if this is one of those situations where there is a lot of truth in jest.  Wow.

Jun 28, 13 10:45 am

"i was gifted with a fairly high amount of conceit and arrogance, so i always assumed if there was a problem, it was because the professors and jurors screwed up, not me.  i'm not going to feel bad because they're too dumb to try to understand what i'm telling them."


Jun 28, 13 11:18 am

Because the actual profession is far, far meaner.

I don't know.  I thought about this.  School is meaner in a catty, pissy sort of way.  Work might be mean in a "git 'er done" kind of way.  In terms of internal competition, I haven't seen much, especially in a studio pod environment, where everybody is nursing their own projects through design and construction.  What I have seen is some ridiculous unfounded championing of certain people who weren't qualified because, for reasons such as chemistry, alumni ties, or even attraction, they got moved to the front of the line.  I can give numerous examples, but I won't.  I'll give one.  It was an alumni club firm and the principal was of the "toss the scarf over the shoulder in a huff" variety.  There was a girl who was hired to be an intern-architect.  This principal took to her like flies on dog doo.  She was unremarkable in every way.  She was basically a freckled, broad shouldered farm girl, and NOT from the alumni club.  If he was taken by her for being an attractive woman, she was far from a young Catherine Deneuve.  If he was taken by her for her talent, she was very middle of the pile and from an average school.  She was a drafting jockey.  When she moved out of state, still not licensed and after some 3 years, she was given a going-away party at a restaurant, something that wasn't even done for seasoned professionals who were moving on.  Many were pissed off.  Of all the incorrect mentoring, this was the most idiotic I've seen.

Jun 28, 13 11:26 am

I think you're lucky - when I was in school I received nothing but praise in my reviews (while my peers got raked across the coals) - and ended up graduating with a huge head.  Once I started working I was all sorts of frustrated with my coworkers - who I thought were doing lazy half-assed design.  unfortunately, my attitude prevented me from actually learning the nuts and bolts of the business for a long time - and I had a lot of trouble working well with others.


IMHO - it's better to start out with a more humble view of your own abilities rather than be continually led to believe you're going to become one of the greatest architects of your generation (seriously - I have a letter of referral from a well-known prof that actually says this).  It's better that people aren't actively feeding into your delusions so you won't fall as hard when you get out of academia.

Jun 28, 13 1:59 pm

We sort of need to separate design and production in this discussion.  For architecture students who plan to go into offices to do production and project management tasks, the swelling of the head is less of an issue.  It also depends on the school.  Some schools want to turn out 100% of the class that is amply skilled in design to maintain a reputation, and if they don't pursue a career as a designer, that's ok.  But, as far as possessing the skill, they want you to leave with design skills.  For other schools, which are not as chased after, not as published and/or more comprehensive, turning out a bumper crop of designers is not a front burner concern.  If anything, they want pluralism in the class.  Some of these people either get glossed over in the design studio (and given Bs, or Cs, or P instead of F) while some professors, even in said environment, will go on to be borderline abusive to them, when that's not the culture of the school, and these people will get As in all other topics, and make competent technical architects.

The thing with architecture school is that I think more people drop out of their own volition than they do from being chased out.  Some aren't even badgered by professors, yet some who have a thinner skin are minimally challenged at some point toward the beginning and leave.  The latter group, who can't take the criticism in a constructive manner, should probably leave.  Also, there's a difference between being firm and constructive (tough love), and being outright catty and not constructive.  Most of the professors in the latter group similarly shouldn't be teaching.

Jun 28, 13 2:36 pm

Great words from one of my professors: The critique is not an evaluation of you as a human being, it is purely a criticism on your work presented. 

You must learn to remove yourself from critiques in the sense that you do not take it personally and learn to just take it for constructive uses (this is assuming your critic is competent and constructive)

Architecture is not for the faint of heart.  So start building your backbone now and learn to be both humble and confident about your education as you progress both as a student and a professional.

I believe in this profession, and believe in the students of this profession.  But only in the ones who truly will get through the extreme low and high points.  Just like any serious profession, you will constantly be challenged and you can not be afraid to fail.  If you can only see the negatives within your critiques, than you need to reevaluate the way you look at them and truthfully be more mature about it. I think we've all been through highs and lows as a student, and we understand how you feel.  It takes time to get over it, but in the end- you need to get over it.   Good luck to you!

Jun 28, 13 3:11 pm

Nothing like putting your heart in soul into a project and then getting chewed to pieces on pinup day. Been there done that. Grad school starts again in August. Looking foward to the fun.


not srs

Jun 28, 13 3:32 pm


Continuing at your alma mater, or elsewhere, if you want to answer that?  Regardless, good luck.

Your comment is interesting.  A jury review shouldn't be that much of a surprise.  All the revisions and rework amounting to a trash can full of paper is to take the project closer toward where it should be, per the student's wishes and professor's recommendations, and in adherence to the program.

I think there's nastiness simply because new people and new personalities get introduced into the equation for the first time.  The nastiness only occurred once to me, and my normally terse European professor stood up and cut this guy off, and tersely so.

Jun 28, 13 3:46 pm
I had a juror delibratly break my model in FINAL reviews just to make a point about the "potential of the design". I was too sleep deprived to slap him in the face. It would have probably felt more like I was caressing him with furry.

Who can top this nastiness?
Jun 28, 13 4:26 pm

That's not nasty.  That's disgusting and unprofessional.  It's the worst I've ever heard.  The worst that occurred at my school was a prof shrieking at someone and calling their project "mental masturbation."  Did anyone step in?  Has the administration done anything?  A project is something a student may need to photograph and is his or her property.  Without specifics, are you an undergrad at a large public school? (Maybe that's what they do to whittle down the student pool). And, without causing you academic hardship, is it something the administration will handle for you, though I don't know how? The problems in the profession start right with what you described.

Jun 28, 13 4:35 pm
I didn't have the time then to take pictures of the model, it lays under my desk as a reminder of my "shortcomings" now, since it was just last course. We are told that this is how architects are made, and everyone kind of accepts this kind if behavior from the jurors/professors. Im not sure anyone recoginzes that there is a limit to how far they can go--it seems somewhat hazey to me to be honest. I have nothing against critisim, but it has come to the point where I feel like I produce to get rediculed.

I am an undergrad student and it's actually a fairly small school. The juror was a respected firm owner whome I don't think anyone was willing to stand up against. I had to suck it up; it was a very depressing day.
Jun 28, 13 5:23 pm

@ No.Ugh.Blah

What school do you go to if you don't mind sharing?

Jun 28, 13 5:44 pm


I don't think he should answer the last question since it involves a specific unpleasant experience.

Ok, so it was an outsider who works.  Generally, they tended to be somewhat ok since they were guests, in a way.  This guy doesn't help the profession.  What I meant is that the project was your property and which was meant to be photographed at a later time, at your convenience, irrespective of how it was received.

Jun 28, 13 5:58 pm

It's like SEAL training - you think this is tough - wait until you get in the real world practice - most 75% get washed out by their 5th year in the profession - you need to change your attitude or get out. This is the way it is - you don't want to find out the hard way.

Jun 28, 13 6:02 pm
@Jono Lee

Kuwait University College of Architecture.
Jun 28, 13 6:05 pm

Why so mean? Everyone else is doing it. Peer pressure. Desire to fit in. 

Jun 28, 13 6:07 pm


I disagree.  And those statistics aren't totally accurate.  What I've read is that it's about 50% that are no longer in architectural work after 20 years of being granted a professional degree, and I don't know if it means licensed, though I don't think that matters.

I've not seen the SEAL issue you describe.  There are many somewhat reserved worker bee types in architecture who do it for their working lifetimes. Clearly, they are back office personalities.  What I see are some decisions about personnel or courses of action which indicate stupidity, sleaziness, or a little of both.  In short, the subjectivity found in school manifests itself in the workplace in another way.

Ok, so he's overseas.  I don't think that would happen in the U.S.  I had a prof destroy a project after the term, which he did by throwing it out, such that a friend of mine I sent over to his office couldn't retrieve it for me once school was over.  And it was because he and I had an altercation during the term about something unrelated to the project, but about administrative academic matters.

OP, do you want to continue in architecture?  What have other profs told you about your school work in terms of feedback and grading?

Jun 28, 13 6:10 pm

Maybe the juror was into Decon. (j/k)

Same thing happened when I was in school (not my crit). Everyone was surprised a little, but eh, it was such a bad model, even the student kinda shrugged it off. It's really hard to know the whole OP's context (studio focus, design goal, quality, etc)... but yeah, you have to fight for it, challenge the jurors to convince you why your design solution doesn't work. 

Jun 28, 13 6:29 pm

I got this one really stupid comment.  The building was a civic type complex to kick off a revitalization of a smaller town / far flung suburb.  The building was mostly solid, with commonplace punched windows, but had a curved window wall taking up a few stories in the front and wrapping around a corner.  And when doesn't a new civic building have such a vocabulary and a glazed component?  The crit was a prof I knew fairly well and liked (still do), and he said "It would be kind of expensive to build and too upscale for the area."  The budget was not in the program and buildings which are intended to stimulate an area are seldom boxes with a few square windows.

Jun 28, 13 6:43 pm

What did he want, Walmart?

Jun 28, 13 6:50 pm

I have no clue.  He just needed to say something.  The project was tasteful, and safe, with the only undulation limited to the front elevation.  It sat on a corner.

Another student turned out a piece of sculpture that completely disregarded the program and fitting the functions onto the constrained site.  He had a pony tail, and I remember him intensely running his hands through his long hair from front to back and intensely saying "My concept of my building is that ... it's like a snake."  The volumes were curved and overlapped, a la Eisenman.  One time, I came into studio and found that my A.R. magazine was gone.  A few neighbors hinted that this guy was most likely the culprit, referring to him as "sticky fingers."  Nice ... and real professional. That intensity was at an intermediate jury, so I doubt I could stomach his final one.

Jun 28, 13 7:03 pm

Here's my understanding of architectural crits from what I gather (prior to this thread):

  Generally, they serve as an opportunity for professors to discuss architecture amongst themselves. And often times, they look for ways to "out-do" one another in slashing the student. In fact (surprisingly), the more they pronounce a problem in your work, or go extensively in how poor a particular idea was not communicated or executed, the better it is.  Or even for the fact that a discussion was sparked around a particular idea, is really all a student should be grateful for. Also, that it is no indication of the final grade. 

   I believe this is what I heard some time ago.

Jun 28, 13 7:08 pm
@Jono Lee

On point.
Jun 28, 13 7:25 pm

A good crit always starts with something positive, even if it's on the verge of being made up. That sets a positive tone for whatever follows, however critical it may be. And let's not forget that crits are by definition critical.

If there is nothing positive to say - even "thanks for showing up" - then either the student is so lame that they need to find another career path or the instructor is an ass. Which is not to say that both cannot be true simultaneously.

The "worst" crit I ever had was a rolling crit with the class moving with the prof from one work station to the next (back when work stations consisted of drawing boards). When they got to mine, with drawings pinned to the wall, the prof looked briefly then moved on to the next station without a word.

I took it as inability on his part. I had exceeded his capacity in every way possible.

There was a sculpture studio at RISD that was taught by Joe Goto, a monumental sculptor who worked in rail yards with massive sheets of steel plate. At one crit Goto picked up a student's piece and walked out of the building. The class followed him down to a bridge where he proceeded to throw the work off the bridge into the Providence River. Another time Goto was found sledgehammering the masonry wall of the foundry to make room to remove a student's piece that he liked that was too big to fit through the door.

Jun 28, 13 8:39 pm

not sure it is necessary to give a nice comment just because.  doesn't work that way in real world.

i teach at fairly good school where every professor is a practising architect. they/we tend to see the world through a more reality based world view, but the students still get knocked a bit.  there is no way around it.  its not ever personal, but aimed at teaching students to be more clear and to do better work.

sometimes its hard to hear, but profs will at least give a reason for why something is not good.  in the real world clients almost never explain so you will have to work out a way to get to a good design without clear feedback, which is a lot harder.

its not personal in either context but the sooner you can distance yourself from your work the better. it will make you a better designer too because at some point you have to design without the aid of professors to set you straight.  that means being very self-aware.

btw, if it is personal then ignore it.

Jun 28, 13 10:02 pm

^ In the real world everything functions as a result of how people are treated.

Be constructive, not destructive. You want to encourage, not discourage, a person's development and commitment - especially when they are working for you. Nothing worse than a boss (or prof) who shits on you.

Which does not preclude the opportunity to use drama and theater for effect.

Jun 29, 13 12:27 pm


Negativity is a virtual guarantee that I "check out."  In architecture, more so than other fields, in my perception, it's amazing that some bosses think that this is a motivator; that is, that they can be abusive and that you will also be maintaining your level of interest in their firm.  The cost of turnover is quite high and, if it happens in the middle of a major project, the profitability of that project could turn on a dime.  On the other hand, there are firms where the core group is chosen, and they want everyone else to turn over.

Jun 29, 13 1:21 pm
vado retro

please read...

Jun 29, 13 5:47 pm

^ ++ "shamanistic"

Jun 29, 13 6:13 pm


The concept of potentially erroneously allowing one to be his or her own starchitect while in school, even if the projects are indeed good, is real.

However, the person who thinks that the studios in which you did a signature museum and a signature civic center translate into doing a signature museum and a signature civic center upon entering the work force are those most likely to be dissatisfied and become bitter.

If you're in school learning to design to solve constrained programming issues and put an aesthetically pleasant yet financially feasible wrapper around the solution, and then sort of expect to go to a firm that does small office buildings, strip malls, and multi-family projects, for example, the disappointment might not be there, or won't be as pronounced.

Jun 29, 13 8:12 pm
timothy sadler®

When I was getting my M.Arch there was a professor who took special delight in just crazily, maniacally slaughtering the students with purpose and glee.  Anyone from the jury who dared step in received equal if not double the measure of vitriolic bile - F-word, personal attacks, the works.  People started coming to his crits just for the spectacle of it.  He would take students under his wing in class, bring them along gently over the semester, then turn on them in public at the final review for the sheer fun of making them cry.  Wotta moron. 

All the above comments about ego, etc. ring true.  Again my rational side asks:  Why aren't architecture students smart enough, or pissed off enough, to do something about universities wasting their time and tuition dollars on a process that clearly adds so little value to the ultimate goal of educating students?  There are other, much more constructive ways to inform students on the challenges of the profession - like, say, preparing them in a positive way for presentation development, project development, business practice, etc. - than spending time tearing them down emotionally.  I became light on my feet and very good at presentation and defense when I was in school, but I thought the process was stupid and wasteful then, and I think so now. 

Jun 29, 13 9:50 pm

Stories like the above add to the ONLY smart thing that came out of a fellow architect's mouth, a woman who can't, or doesn't want to, discuss design because she is incapable of that, despite being graduated from a design oriented program - "architecture is the least professional of the professions."

The final juries that turn into circuses are despicable, are a bad springboard for teaching professional deportment, and perpetrate the low self-esteem the profession has, within its own ranks and hawkishly perceived by the consumers of its services.  Those on the outside who say "wow," "you must be rich," "can you do my kitchen," and "working on a skyscraper must be so exciting" are exempted.  They just don't know.

I don't know how to whittle down the number of architecture students in a big public school program, when attrition is not doing it to the desired extent.  The thing that gets to me, long before the theatrics in studios and reviews, is the lack of uniformity in curricula, and how NAAB and employers view this as "no big deal."  In law and business, getting accredited means some boilerplate similarities among curricula.  In architecture, the gamut runs from being design oriented at the expense of comprehensive skills or being comprehensive at the expense of design and theory / history skills. 

The profession, be it in the educational process or the licensing process, need some reform.  However, being smugly self regarding, I don't see that happening either any time soon and/or with major strides.

Jun 29, 13 10:18 pm

Studying for my M.Arch I had a studio prof with whom I didn't get along that well. She was all about "the idea", "what does it mean"? "narrative". The "inter-spacial intellectualization of inherently symbiotic constructual vocabularies" sort of critic. I, while very heady in that way as well, was also very practical and would ask her questions about egress code requirements only to have her explode at me. It was pretty funny in retrospect, but I suffered greatly over it then.

I also ran the Friday afternoon impromptu happy hour. It mean getting out at about 3pm to get beer, chips and ice in time for the heard of students looking for 6pm festivities after a hard week of flogging by critics.

I had a pretty juvenile, but I think still conceptually solid design for a building in what was a semester devoted to a corner site and all that was implied by corners in general. Mid-semester critique, starting at 1pm with about 15 students, and I knew from previous experience that to get out by 3pm my only chance was to have my project set up in the middle. At either end I could be first, but could also be last and too late. Being a small room, the middle was (of course!) the corner. I thought nothing of it, placed what work I already had into the corner early that morning and let everyone's get pinned up either side later.

When she entered the room and the crit began, THE FIRST thing she asked was "Michael, I see your project is in the corner. Please. Explain." She was obviously a little surprised at the apparent intellectual high ground I had staked out. I politely told her "I'd rather not say." But she pressed me. Repeatedly.  I literally told her "Trust me; you don't want me to tell you." It got to the point of badgering, her implying I was so insecure in my intellectual reasoning that I was afraid to defend it.

So I told her.

She was shocked and insulted, suggesting I should go last for my lack intellectual interest in the subject. I laughed and explained:  "I told you you didn't want to know. These folks are going to want cold beers when we're done here and I'm the guy that has to go get it before we are done. You can punish them because my choice was not intellectual. Or you can recognize that my choice was wisely pragmatic and reward them all with cold beer by letting me go first. Up to you."

I went first, and our relationship was at least somewhat less contentious for the rest of the semester. The point is I felt SO confident in my position, I was not only no longer afraid to shrug it off but didn't need to take it personally.  The motivation may have been pedestrian, but the reasoning was rock solid.

Nasty critics are nasty for various reasons. But if you are at a school that is actually trying to teach you something, one thing a nasty critic can do for you is make you think hard about what you are designing, how you are presenting it and how strongly you feel about it all. It will teach you to have convictions, be intellectually confident in them, but most importantly to *listen* to critiques with *your own critical thinking* in gear. The critic may be right, and you want to hear it when they are. And when they are wrong, you can gain the confidence to say, respectfully, why you disagree. Either way it is a learning opportunity.

@BYK3: "The critique is not an evaluation of you as a human being, it is purely a criticism on your work presented."
Best advice ever given, thank you for sharing that!


Jun 30, 13 6:56 pm

In architecture there is this funny little game - it goes like this:

2 or more people are assigned to a project - the self appointed alpha person will make the beta or so he/she assumes to be the least of the two and make them their cad/bim monkey digital design coordinator - "here can you set up the plan sheets and sections" by burying the flunky in busy work, the alpha can move onto more important tasks - the rest of the office sees this and this dooms the individual who got stuck doing the DDC(Digital Design Coordinator) work - This way the so called alpha makes someone else their CAD Monkey so they can move ahead. I picked up on this right away at SOM, and quickly moved into project modeling and away from the career destroyer DDC trap. Whatever the team you are assigned to and if you have ambitions of being an architect or designer, watch out - don't be anyone's CAD Monkey.

Jun 30, 13 7:14 pm
Nice story, Michael. I too like very much BYK3's comment: the critique is of your project , not you as a human. One design project does not a human make. Even if it's rough, try to glean helpful advice from every comment. That said: you'll also need to learn to discern what critique is bring offered in the spirit of helpful advice, vs. what is being offered to make you a spectacle for the critic's own ego or pleasure.

What helps A LOT: draft a friend to take notes of the entire critique, and you do the same for him/her. It is nearly impossible to really hear the critique properly when you are on display and sleepless. Notes allow you to learn later and even ask further comments from the jurors if you missed their point during review.
Jun 30, 13 10:40 pm

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