Disillusioned Bartlett Student needs advise on other schools/options. Help!


Hi all.

I'm currently studying for BSc in Architecture at the Bartlett, UCL. I'm approximately half way through, but have found it an extremely trying time.

The school has many admirable aspects to it, but is also riddled with a host of problems.

I have been marginalised, patronised, over-pressured, over-worked and seen any life outside of school disappear - girl friends vanished because of neglect. My ability to talk to "outsiders" diminished because of tiredness and sense of guilt that I should working instead of talking to them. My (outside) friends told me I lost weight and resembled a ghost.

However, there is still something pulling be back and keeping me going. I think buildings are the only thing I've ever been truly interested in. Perhaps a different environment/approach is needed?

I recognise the school's prestige is immense (as is UCL's in itself) and some excellent work is produced by its (admirably resilient) students, but I have been throughly put off subjecting myself to life changing/destroying experience that it is.

I also realise that RIBA medal winners (for what they're worth) have been drawn from a wide ranging selection of schools, and that the Bartlett and AA don't monopolize.

I need advise. I want to know what my options are. Are there more balanced schools out there? Ones which will afford a quality education but perhaps with less emphasis on flashiness and more on substance i.e. more technical, more recognition of and co-operation with other construction industry professions.

A more balanced world view please, giving me more "me time"

I understand the question of balance is largely down to oneself, but a department which sees perhaps less than 50% of 1st year intake graduate (who had themselves been hand picked from thousands of hopefuls), and only 25% of those graduates return for postgrad can't be a healthy environment.

I have done various things before i began studying, so I know that the Bartlett world view is warped. I have had occasion when I've had tutorials at 11.30 pm on a friday night. I have had to constantly turn down invitations to do normal things from friends who are corporate layers in top international firms, but somehow have more freedom (and earn exponentially more cash) then I can hope for in the foreseeable future.

I feel sorry for a lot of the undergrads who are straight out of school, and accept the bullshit and preaching about how an architect must live and behave - sacrifice everything for your work - nothing else outside of school matters. The idea that unless you're run ragged, you can't be working hard enough is rather perverse.

A classic quote from someone quite important in the school was "5 hours sleep a night is more than enough". Same person stepped over a girl who collapsed in a crit, saying "next". Callous.

I'm tired of seeing unhappy people. "Does it get better?" I asked a postgrad girl, who had been at the Bartlett forever - "well, you learn to accept it. It's worse for postgrads who come from other schools. I see them crying all the time. They don't get it".

What kind of world is this?

Yes, I recognise some brilliant stuff that comes out of the school. The end of year shows are impressive to say the least. BUT, let me tell you as an insider, the level of editing and reworking (not necessarily by the students who made the work in the first place) is massive.

And even if some of the stuff is highly impressive, there is definitely a conformity to the work. Everyone is emulating each other and pushed in similar directions (at least at undergrad).

There is a culture of flash rendering, odd-ball build schemes (hotel for cyborgs anyone?), dystopian landscapes, fragmented, cascading structures which veer into nonsense. To stand in a crit is at times to witness a live show defining pretentiousness, overindulgence, self importance and ivory tower syndrome. (Teachers and pupils).

Please gain a sense of reality - I don't give a shit about "Stelarc" fusing an ear to his face. I want people who build to tell me about real projects. I want to know about the rational of the project, the shortcoming and obstacles and how they were overcome. How does the building function and serve its intended purpose? Yes, tell me about "Falling water", but not just about the play of light on its revolutionary forms - tell me about its structural failings, leaking roof, etc. The other references can be great, but must feed directly back into our subject - buildings.

I'm tired of the gossip (pathetic tutors included), hero worship and sadomasochism. Also, the lack of bravery, individual thought and spirit. There are few I genuinely respect within the school - inevitably they are the ones who actually have burgeoning practices, and so haven't completely shrunk from reality.

Prime example of "Bartshite": I got slammed (mercilessly) in a crit, with some awful lady in a day-glow jacket laughing at me and my work, telling me I was wasting my time (to whose humiliating laugh the panel rallied, turned against me and left me thoroughly bashed). When I went to the Bartfest (end of year show) I walked in only to find the very same piece, pride of place on the wall (without my permission and slightly reworked - by someone else). Apparently it was innovative.


Are there viable alternatives which I could switch into? Are other experiences different, or are these endemic problems within architectural education?

The names of different schools, their philosophies and how they actually operate would be great. Any views on the Mackintosh School of Architecture? Sheffield, Nottingham, Manchester?

Can I indeed integrate into another school, or will my way of thinking and expectations already have been coloured so that anything else might (perversely) come as a let down?

I want the ability to explore my own voice, informed by my own values as well as others. Not just to be conditioned and force-fed dogma. I want to develop my practical skills in a more honed and relevant fashion.

What about the ability to work and study? Do apprenticeship schemes exist in any form in any country?

(Someone I know once heard a story of apprenticeship in spain, many moons ago).

I believe largely that you will inevitably learn more in a work place and through real life experience than in any school. I don't need to write "interesting" essays on spatial theory to design a building. Tadao Ando, Le corbussier, and Adolf Loos didn't have to put up with this shit. *(see footnote)

No wonder architects take 20 years to establish themselves and to earn anything resembling a decent wage - it probably takes 10 years after graduation to learn anything about the reality of the construction industry and how to deal with the people in it. Architecture a business after all - the business of convincing someone to put their trust in you to build THEM something and PAY YOU to do it. That is not just achieved with a flashy microstation rendering.

Although this has seemed like a tirade/rant against the Bartlett, I do have genuine respect for some of the people there and for SOME brilliant work which gets produced within its walls. Hats off as well for anyone who comes out of the full 5 years unscathed (and not wearing super skin-tight black jeans with gold trainers in a bid to mask a deep social inadequacy and inability to integrate into normal society born of a stolen youth)

Advice and opinions would be greatly appreciated

Many thanks, especially if you got to the end of this (extended) plea for help.

* i gave my Dad (Ex philosophy and history Don at Cambridge who also lectured at St Martins and Camberwell in 1960's) a book written by someone (notable) at the Bartlett on architectural theory and history. His response - "lots of words, not saying much. Pretentious. Largely meaningless"

Dec 8, 09 10:39 pm

I have been marginalised, patronised, over-pressured, over-worked and seen any life outside of school disappear - girl friends vanished because of neglect. My ability to talk to "outsiders" diminished because of tiredness and sense of guilt that I should working instead of talking to them. My (outside) friends told me I lost weight and resembled a ghost.

I went to a state school in the United States. I felt exactly the same way. In fact, i'm two years out, was relatively happy I guess, now I'm applying to grad schools and this is happening to me all over again. I think that for some people it might be impossible to be happy and be in architecture school.
THAT SAID i've worked in firms, even in london, and even working 60, 80 hour weeks you still have more free time than in school and life is way better. You're not strapped to work all the time. So if you can struggle through schooling it may get better, unless you work for OMA.

Dec 8, 09 10:53 pm  · 

man I couldn't be more with you in any of your topics. seriously, this is exactly how i feel about most architecture. I know some bartlett grads and it just seems like an overworked computer sweatshop. and thats how the grads get treated after they graduate, because they are the best renderers. DONT LET THEM DO THAT TO YOU. the same with columbia grads, they never got to design because they were always needed to work on some damn render.

i think the professional world will work somehow, but i think i want to go into non profits because then at least i will build something meaningful. it seems mostly the stuff you build for firms is some rich person's fantasy, which isn't exactly why most people get into architecture.

i'm sick the the pretension and so now i guess i'm going to try to get into some granola schools and work it there..

there are also a lot of schools that offer internships while in school as part of the curriculum (you have to apply for them yourself but the schools have connections) i know they do this at university of cincinnati and university of british columbia in vancouver.

Dec 8, 09 11:00 pm  · 

some of that sounds amazing. can't comment on your school but the reality of our profession is that it doesn't matter what school you go to it will still take you 10 years to become competent as an architect in real world. its a complex business. interning and so on may shorten things up a bit, but not a huge difference in the end.

Dec 9, 09 7:15 am  · 

This sounds fairly typical, it could be written about any school. The profession itself is marginalizing, insular, patronizing, self referential and over-worked. Why should school be any different?

My advise to you is to be more positive. Stop focusing on the negative, there's shite about any school, in any profession, anywhere. If you're looking for the perfect situation, you're going to keep looking for a long time. For example, were you to go to a technical school your criticisms might be 'The work is pedantic, easy, and unrewarding. I'm bored off me arse.' Rather than asking 'what can I get out of school?' you should be asking 'what can I put into school?'

The Bartlett is a good school, and like any other good school, there's a shit ton that's bollocks about it. Harvard, MIT, Cornel, Columbia, et al have all the same problems. Stick with it and you'll be proud of your achievements in the end. Or just give up.

Dec 9, 09 10:40 am  · 

I'd be contemplating giving up if I went to the Bartlett too.

I'll go out and say that the school consistently puts out the most visually stunning work of any school out there, but fuck, it's not at all what I'd want to be studying!

Far too big of an emphasis surreal, distopic imagery, and a few too many poor Beuys and Duchamp immitators. Not to mention the weird techno-gadgetry, steam-punk fetish, or intricate laser-cut thingys that ultimately mean nothing.

I guess what I'm really trying to say is: all architecture schools demand a ton of patience, way more work than you'd like, petty tutors, and obnoxious students... At least try to find one where you're most interested in the work being done. If you're not generally inspired by the students around you, supported by the staff, and encouraged to do whatetver it is you want to focus on in your studies....Maybe it IS time to move on (which is not akin to giving up as the previous poster suggests).

Dec 9, 09 11:31 am  · 

It's truly honest opinion.
Realizing something's going really wrong in architecture, you are already one step ahead of your colleagues.

Dec 9, 09 1:00 pm  · 

It's a truly honest opinion.
Realizing something's going really wrong in architecture, you are already one step ahead of your colleagues.

Dec 9, 09 1:00 pm  · 

It's a truly honest opinion.
Realizing something's going really wrong in architecture, you are already one step ahead of your colleagues.

Dec 9, 09 1:00 pm  · 

Oops, sorry.

Dec 9, 09 1:01 pm  · 

Do you really want acceptance from a group of people you obviously don’t respect?

If (in your opinion) people at the Bartlett are pretentious and unoriginal, then you shouldn’t beat yourself up for not fitting in.

Don’t leave the school. You are halfway done, it would be a waste of money and time.

What I would do would be to think of yourself as a rogue element within this circle. Don’t hold yourself to their standards, create your own, and stick to them.

Dec 9, 09 1:23 pm  · 

Check Notre Dame out. I wish I had gone there.

Dec 9, 09 3:40 pm  · 

Notre Dame's curriculum is totally different than the other 121 or whatever NAAB accredited schools...based on much healthier theories.

Dec 9, 09 3:42 pm  · 

and you will be able to improve your watercolour skills!

Dec 9, 09 4:46 pm  · 

"i think the professional world will work somehow, but i think i want to go into non profits because then at least i will build something meaningful."

Be careful what you wish for. I've been in the non-profit world for two years now and, just like the design world, there are good situations and bad situations. I blame these bad situations for crushing my youthful idealism:

intra-network bickering over absolutely everything (procedures, funding sources, events, etc etc)
rigidly hierarchical
overly political
nothing ever gets done (reasons: see preceding two complaints) minimal benefits
low pay
questionable impact
zero creativity
zero room for creativity...

Now I'm looking forward to starting a glamorous new life in the design world, just like you are looking forward to starting a meaningful new life in the non-profit world.

Dec 9, 09 5:36 pm  · 

Wow. The time it took you to write that you could have been working, you slacker!


I come from a background of art school, years of construction jobs and then into architecture (for the past 16 years).

Yeah- you're burnt out, for one; for two, sounds like you are in a program that is very different than who YOU are. Let's face it, you're never going to get a program that makes you feel great and where everything feels very appropriate and well-aligned with your core values and goals. BUT- you shouldn't be paying good money to be in some architects version of Guantanamo Bay either.

And it's not first semester of year one for you either- you've invested significantly so far. You realize I am sure that most BArch or MArch programs will accept almost zero credits from any other school-no matter how well-respected. They want you on THEIR design philosophy wavelength for the entire duration and so you'd need to do ALL years of design again. So, it seems like unless you have unlimited funds and a few more years to devote, you'd better suck it up and "get 'er done". The money you are laying out will have to be repaid so you better make it count.

I went back to school as an older student 18 years ago now. And my mistake at that time (versus my earlier undergrad work) was that I took it WAY too seriously. Well, not that I took it too seriously but that I just worked harder than my soul wanted me too. I was miserable and bordering on suicidal. Not good.

The reality is that many life situations will demand more and more and more of you and you have to be able to pilot your own boat, and decide when you want to sail hard in a gale or when you need to put into port and relax at a cafe for a night.

If you need connections with friends and the outside world, you MUST find some way to honor that in some measure. You need to sustain yourself at some level for the next couple of years or you will really burn out- perhaps destructively. I kid you not. It sounds like you are close. I feel for you- I was close to that point myself even though I only went to a two-year technical college, the pace was furious.

In the end, you need to graduate in the top half of your class. Very, very few people are going to give a shit what your GPA was or how well-liked you were by your profs or peers- or even what you were doing when you were there. They want to know what you are going to do for THEM on THEIR jobs with THEIR clients. Perhaps a bit overstated- but essentially true. You need to prove competence at a minimum and have some areas where you shine but essentially, after all your sweat and wailing, school is the past and you are on to a totally new mindset and phase of life.

When you hit the "real" world, no one will care about all your fantasies and elaborate and complex theories. For the most part, out "here", we need to get some good design done and make some money. It is extremely important to be able to get some good design done AND make money- so time on the project is limited and there are an overwhelmingly large number of agencies, codes, agendas, politics and limitations to deal with and overcome. Budget and schedule are paramount and usually supersede anything else in the client's mind!!! (repeat that ten times for emphasis) You need to have a good design but one which can be effectively build given the limitations. There is very little room for masturbatory fantasies and excursions to theoretical stratospheres.

That being said, this profession can eat you alive and spit you out.
You'll need to figure out your inner core and your own limitations because you can very easily find yourself in a similar dilemma when you are on the job too. Imagine working 60-70 hours per week, for a boss that you hate, doing crap work, on a project that seems repulsive to you, for very little money and no recognition. It happens...easily. So learn to listen to that screaming inner voice about what is good for YOU.

Bottom line, learn what YOU like, F**K everyone else'' static, get out of there and figure out what kind of architecture you want to do when you graduate. In the meantime: do some of the following:

1 Take yourself for walks in nature somewhere
2 Invite a friend over for dinner
3 Write letters to friends (I made myself write one per week)
4 Get a good workout (run, bike, whatever)
5 Blow off at least one class per month
6 Go sit in a hot tub with a bottle of wine
7 Go talk with practicing architects and see what they are doing

You get the point
Good luck to you.

Dec 9, 09 9:19 pm  · 

absolutely Blackdog! To the above points, I can only add-
seek stimulation in unrelated fields.

nurture that feeling that the ivory tower is full of it; they are. continue to question their credentials for indoctrination and channel that frustration into looking for more interesting/relevant perspectives.

Dec 9, 09 11:11 pm  · 

Good positive attitude msudon.
The other perspective here is to go frigging wild and join the fray in terms of reveling in fantasy and unmitigated BS! You'll never really get that "opportunity" once you hit the streets. It will be WAY practical all of a sudden. Just know that it's a game. AND- you're still going to have to pay dues when you get into the job market. It's a tough field no doubt, and not many of us getting rich.

Thinking back on my experiences and list of advice above, I'd add:

8 Make a file folder or box labeled "Stuff that Seems Real Cool But that I Don't Have Time to Pursue Now". Then open the box once you get a job.
9 Don't be afraid to see a counselor to get some objective feedback and one-on-one help. No shame in that.

Dec 9, 09 11:47 pm  · 

My two cents...

Any other school is going to the same. Just walk down Gordon St. to the AA or visit any other school in London... same BS.

First I would finish my BArch (3 years, I guess you are in your 2nd year). In 1 year and a half you are finished.

After that you will have a nice BArch from the Bartlett and plus the UCL which is one of the best names in the UK.

Then I'd think about moving to another school or give up architecture and do a Masters in another field (and a bachelor in UCL will certainly help you).

Dec 10, 09 3:35 am  · 


i remember once, a professor really patronized me in my 2nd year. he completely twisted my design statements and my entire year was laughing at me. He really was just being an ass. I felt like giving up. But like i tell my daughter, its better not to. A few years later that same professor went on a trip with a few of us students, I developed a good ability to imitate him, from being around him so much. One night we were all out for drinks, and the students and TA kept asking me to do the impression, in front of him. I hesitated, because his wife was there, but I did it anyway. Everyone laughed so loud after. The impersonation came out great. Beer came out of his wife's nose, and the professor stood there with his jaw dropped. I think it really bothered him. Too many over-inflated people in architecture. We are now friends. Life works in funny ways. dont give up friend. someday your studies will be over. And believe me, people in the construction industry are not any nicer then in architecture school. Believe it or not, this experience is good for you. If you feel strange, I'd encourage you to talk to stick with and talk to the professors and people you share a connection with.

Dec 10, 09 5:51 pm  · 

i was saying that sarcastically, I;m not friends with that professor, and I avoided taking any of his studios or seminars. I had only met him once prior to that study abroad trip. he was a lecturer there.

Dec 10, 09 5:57 pm  · 

Still, that's a good story with a very important point.

I need to try hard at this myself- but, just chill under pressure and realize that life continues...and also turns many interesting and unexpected corners.
I am frequently amazed (in this field in particular) at how the simplest relationships, friendships or associations turn into something much, much more important for the smallest of reasons.

I'll give you an example that happened to me this past week or two.
I have been a successful project manager for the past sixteen years and was laid off in June. Life has been much more challenging with a young family lately. Still, I maintain relationships. I knew a craftsman who did work on projects at my former firm. Call him Sven. A nice guy but not someone I'd intentionally choose to be friends with. But still, I always chatted with him- and generally try to be friendly whenever I can.

Two weeks ago, he ran into a former partner at one of the other prominent arch firms in town. The older gentleman mentioned that his (former) firm was hiring and looking for good talent. Sven ran into the president of my former firm and relayed the news he had heard. My ex-boss, who I'd always liked, then calls me up and tells me that he hears the competition is hiring. I call the firm and get a callback request for interview three hours later. A week later, today, and we're about to finish negotiations on the arch job of my dreams at a salary I feel very fortunate to have in this economy.

You never know how it will all work out. Imagine hooking up with some ex-prof or student who appeared to be an a-hole back then, and over a few beers, you find out a whole other side of them and form a great relationship. Maybe a bit over-the-top, but it get my drift. Stay focused, stay positive!!!

Again, good luck.

Dec 10, 09 9:02 pm  · 
zen maker

At the end, its all about the connections you make, thats how you get a job in real world, your skill comes in second...

Dec 10, 09 9:13 pm  · 

It's hard to say your skill is second, but it certainly is true that connections and relationships you forge ARE paramount. Many instances where bridges that were not burned become very handy later on...

Dec 10, 09 9:25 pm  · 

Should you or shouldn't you suffer for your art is the question...

Dec 10, 09 11:19 pm  · 

Not in my mind...that's a very simplistic and absolute line of thinking. Your "art" is really the wrong way to look at this, I believe. Big setup for everyone. this is all about a synthesis of thousands of smaller goals and agendas. to look at an architectural endeavor as anything else in the twenty-first century is inappropriate.

Dec 11, 09 1:01 pm  · 

Nah I as just kidding when I said "art". :) Not about the suffering part though...

Dec 11, 09 4:00 pm  · 

as i am teaching in the uk, 2nd year is the hardest especially at bartlett as they want to get all the part i criteria out of the way so its design at year 3 -

schools do allow direct entry to level 3 - and most students switch schools between part i / part ii so dont use metrics to dis the school - but then again i think i know what book you mean and your father is correct!

Dec 12, 09 2:29 pm  · 

also, this is why arch only date arch - sad as it is -

Dec 12, 09 2:30 pm  · 

also - i am undertaking some studies there so i know exactly what you mean -

Dec 12, 09 2:31 pm  · 

I haven't read the whole thread.

Even when you reach the top of your profession, you will get criticism from your clients, unrealistic demands from your engineers, and endless abuse from members of community and government that will keep you from sleeping and upset your family. The point of the shit at school, even if the shit-givers don't know it, is to toughen your skin, and give you a chance to learn control and finesse of your appropriate and inappropriate responses to these unpleasant stimuli: know thyself.

Your good ideas will be stolen, and your mistakes will be paraded. Give no quarter and know no shame. But, if Architecture is the game that you want to play, these first few rounds are practically inevitable, and in the end, practical.

Dec 13, 09 3:57 pm  · 

yeah...especially over in the UK, have you seen the infamous Monty Python "Architect Sketch" with John Clese? One of my favorites. See You Tube. I have it on my mp3 player. Classic.

Dec 13, 09 8:45 pm  · 

A bit too late, but:

Does anyone have some feedback about the Part II at UCL Bartlett?

Apr 4, 13 11:12 am  · 

I've just got an offer for Bartlett year 1 and am considering whether or not to accept the offer. 

I am not that artsy, i.e. not that good at creating surreal works I saw at the summer school and the ones people talked about in this forum. I like the humanities side of architecture, perhaps more into research and theories, and I don't think my illustration skill is that good. My parents think Bartlett is a good career option as most graduates find jobs, but I also heard the dropout rates are high (someone mentioned 50%??).

Should I go to Bartlett?

P.S. I also got an offer from Cornell university for a more research oriented design major. 

Mar 12, 20 10:34 am  · 

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