Changing to Architecture Major, Columbia University Undergraduate


Hello Everyone,

I am 19 and next year I will have to major to choose in Columbia University in NYC. Originally, I was intending to major in Economics. However, after a few discussions and moments of self-reflections - I realized that perhaps the allure of the financial world were rather dull and immoral, in certain aspects. 

Lately, I have looked into the sphere of design, and I am much interested by architecture, industrial design, and product design. I used to sketch often up till the age when I was 14 and stopped once I entered high school, so I have a creative and artistic side to me. 

In 2 days, I will be taking up a one-month internship in Beirut, Lebanon in an architecture firm in order get a taste and an idea if I should consider taking this path onwards. The internship was offered under an exceptional condition given I was friends with the principal's daughter. Hence, I would like to ask for advice from the archinect community on the following:

Where should I begin in terms resources I can use to understand basic concepts of architecture?

What are some key introductory architecture books that you would recommend?

What are the names of architecture blogs you would recommend? (Currently subscribed to Dezeen, FastCoDesign, and DesignBoom)

Thank you in advance. 


Jul 18, 13 10:05 am

Practice and academia are two completely different things. If you like art and philosophy, you will have a great time at columbia's program. If yo are more into the technical aspect of architecture, something you most likely will get involved with at an architectural firm, then perhaps you will get a totally different impression of the field.

Columbia has an excellent design program, but when you graduate, keep in mind that you probably will not be making a lot of big design decisions right off the bat. Architecture school teaches you how to think critically about a lot of different aspects of design, while practice is more about translating a concept into a built reality. 

I think it's great that you will be interning at a firm in Lebanon, but do not think that your experience is by any means a representation of the entire field of architecture. 

Jul 18, 13 11:26 am

Thank you for your comment. Would you say then that I should continue on in studying in Columbia despite the fact that I would prefer to be in a more technical environment? Or should I take advantage of the more theoretical side and gather internship experiences in between summers to make up for my lack of technical training. 

Jul 21, 13 6:56 am
boy in a well

wow. just wow. sorry to be vague, but

Jul 21, 13 8:47 am

You won't really understand many fundamental aspects of architecture, even with an internship completed, until you actually take some design studio classes where you have to struggle through ideas on your own. Enroll in a design studio in the fall. At this point you have so much to learn that it doesn't matter whether you are starting with the technical or with something more conceptual/design-driven, although in my opinion the conceptual is the only appropriate way to start. But framing those two aspects as an either/or decision is like trying to choose between food and water. If you decide to pursue architecture it will take a long time and you will learn about both eventually. If you are serious about it you will do plenty of internships no matter what, either during the summer or after you graduate.

With that said, if you decide to not major in architecture at Columbia because it's "not technical enough" or something, then you are seriously shooting yourself in the foot.  The lack of technical emphasis is a common criticism of that program, but now that I think back about when I was there that issue seemed almost irrelevant because I was so grateful to be learning the valuable and unique approaches which Columbia does offer. You can take some of the most conceptual studios anywhere which will expand your mind, you can take graduate architecture classes at GSAPP, there's an advanced studio that travels overseas, and you have the opportunity to combine architecture with a real liberal arts education. Take advantage of where you are!

Jul 23, 13 3:15 am

I think I know what fku2 is coming from. To back him up, simple remake and a few questions.

Remake: everyone wants to be an architect for the social image and title. But it not all fun and glory w/ big $'s waiting. Architecture is very much like every other profession, you have to work hard at it and its not easy, but the one thing is you must enjoy it and if you do stick with it, it can be rewarding. Just remember, if you think we architects get pay much, look elsewhere. Another thing is that you have to be passionate about architecture.  Drawing and liking to sketch at the age of 14 doesn't justify majoring in the field.  Put in, being creative,critical thinking, presenting your ideas, liking to build/ construct with your hands, playing countless hours of video games in virtual world or with legos as a child even.

Question: Have you travel much? Have you try sketching buildings, landscape? or been inside an architecture school? taken an art or art history class? be breath taken while under the oculus of the Pantheon?

Switching from economic to architecture is a drastic jump.  I know your still young and looking for your field to major. I recommend trying a few of the things mentioned above (especially taking an art class)  before jumping into major decisions. Even search youtube or the web more.  Heres a video and a link I came across that will help.

Good luck on your education path. Remember, architecture school / career is only fun if you enjoy it. and that if you do decide to take that path and want to be decent at it, say goodbye to your social life =). My AAS is in architecture drafting, BA in sculpture and graphic design and M in Arch. I recently graduated and still looking for a full-time job, dont think that the economy doesn't effect us either. Low economy low $ for building projects. All in all, I enjoy my education path and do not regret going into architecture school. Just need to get back on the payroll and the social life scale =)

Cheers to America and yes we can!

P.s. my thesis project is posted on my archinect page.

Jul 23, 13 7:18 am

I appreciate the replies that snail and Quan Nyen Tran have provided.

I should provide more contexts; I agree that sketching at the age of 14 is not entirely convincing nor does it legitimize my understanding about architecture.

This is not as drastic of a jump as imagined given that I have been sketching/doodling in my sketchbook roughly an hour before I go to sleep, reading design/architecture related books (latest being Architecture of Happiness), and learning about architects during my spare time, i.e. Le Corbusier. Although I am at the very start of my discovery regarding architecture, the question is rather whether or not I would like to take it more seriously onwards, i.e. leading onto a major. 

I like architecture in itself rather than the materialistic gains that one may possibly achieve from it; otherwise, why wouldn’t I have just stuck to studying economics and then enter the financial sector? I like architecture because it provides a combination of intellectual thinking and creativity. Also, I love that architecture can have a positive social impact in the world we live in.

During this past year, I have traveled to 11 countries, such as Russia, Denmark, and Vietnam. It was amazing to see for myself some of Bjarke Ingels’ architectural works in Copenhagen (Copenhagen being beautiful just in general) and by contrast, to visit certain forms of Stalinist architecture in Saint Petersburg (Saint Petersburg being beautiful as well). In terms of art classes, I have taken two art history courses and they were enjoyable at times. We covered a range of topics, from Romanticism to French art. I took an advanced French course this summer in South of France and during my free time, I visited art galleries and museums. 

Right now, I am learning to use AutoCad with the help of the other interns at the architectural firm. 

Jul 23, 13 11:32 am

Right on. If you enjoy what you are doing in the architecture field, why not move forward. Plus your young, you can change major many times.  And also the aspect of an M.Arch with a different field for an undergraduate is also a possible route. 

The world is your oyster, good luck in your endeavors.

Jul 23, 13 12:01 pm

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