How to tell when/if to call it quits?


I'm nearing the end of my 1st yr at an M.arch program. I had absolutely no background experience in architecture, and this is a pretty selective school so I figured maybe there was something in my portfolio that indicated to them that I could learn and adapt quickly. It has been an eye opening experience and I'm realizing now that while I may be artistically inclined, I'm not so spatially inclined. In pinups and crits my buildings have been called everything from frivolous, awkward, creaturely, etc. While classmates pat each other on the back for their "sweet renderings" and cool facades, I'm met with blank stares and a noticeable overall avoidance of discussing my project. Maybe I just suck at this? Could one trust a studio critic to let a student know they aren't hacking it and should explore other options? I know I should defend and stand by my work but when the overwhelming response to everything I do is confused or weirded out, I have to wonder if I'm doing something wrong.

Apr 12, 14 7:30 pm

  don't be too hard on yourself.  Ofcourse you can't expect to have similar work than someone who spend 4 years of undergrad learning how to make kickass renderings etc.  Are you willing to pursue this career and put in time to get to that level?  It doesn't mean you suck.  It could possibly be you have better ideas and proposals than most of them but they just aren't finished for presentation yet. 

Apr 12, 14 7:37 pm

I am certainly willing to (and already am) working on improving my skills but beyond that, I worry that my "design sensibility" just isn't working in my favor. A fellow student casually mentioned to me the other day, "you don't design buildings, you design things that want to be buildings." My critic called my building an "awkward creature". Someone else mentioned that I have no logic applied to my designs. It's very difficult not to internalize comments like this :( I know we should separate criticisms of our designs from ourselves but when you pour your heart and soul into it, your design BECOMES you.

Apr 12, 14 8:05 pm

Quality in architecture can be so subjective, depending on what you're aiming to accomplish. Although it IS hard, I wouldn't take anything that is said to you personally. Is there a professor or someone else you've connected with, who is familiar with your work and process, with whom you can talk?

Also, self-doubt is perfectly normal.

Apr 12, 14 8:35 pm

Totally feel your sentiments.  I have an undergrad degree but even I would get uneasy with such comments.  With years, I've learnt to take them all as constructive critiques and opportunities to improve myself.  No one becomes amazing in architecture without having prior learning experiences or without taking many a wrong turn.  It can be especially difficult for someone in first year or just starting out to face crits.   I don't think most of us had an easy time during our first year in architecture school.  Some struggle even in their third or fourth years.   I don't know what books you've read but I would suggest picking up books like Francis Ching's "Form, Space and Order" if you haven't already.   Its an easy read and should get you very familiar with architectural grammar (primary elements, form, space, circulation, organization, proportion/scale etc).  With that knownedge, its easier to work on your theories while finding a balance between being too technical/architectural or too experimental. 

Remember, many grad school don't accept students who don't have an undergrad in architecture.  While many require you to have an architecture undergrad from another school and also require you take an undergrad semester or two at their school before you can proceed on to their masters.  It is likely to be much harder for someone with no architectural background at all.

Apr 12, 14 8:52 pm

if you are having doubts about architecture in general and don't want to proceed in the education/field, then you should go, but if you are still passionate about your ideas, the direction you are going, and the future you hope to create, then stay.

In my opinion, the weirdos that come up with the most interesting designs in school and hopefully, eventually those ideas become drivers to an interesting practice.  Your classmates are probably just looking at what is fashionable and making some varied replication of that work and everybody just pats them on the back and says how great it is, even though it is just some zaha knockoff.  That is also a way to learn, but is very disconnected from reaching a true, personal thesis.  

Trust your creative instincts.   If you still think architecture is the path to where you want to go, keep going.  It might just be a path that eventually leads you to something else, but the skills and ideas you will learn in school will carry you into any creative field you are interested in.  One thing you learn in architecture school is how to teach yourself.

The hard part of any creative practice is that when you are truly exploring new territory, you have to have a huge tolerance for ambiguity, and others may not understand what you are doing or why, and that is a difficult thing to process for most. 

Apr 12, 14 9:20 pm

Thank you all for the thoughtful comments, I really do appreciate it.


@jw468: I feel comfortable with my studio critic, I actually love him and his teaching style.  He's very blunt, though, for better or worse.  I've tried to express these same thoughts to him and his response was basically, "If you like your designs, I love your designs, I just want you to dig deeper with them".  Which I understand, but... deeper how?  Everything in this educational is so precise yet so vague and it can be infuriating at times!


accesskb:  agree with everything you said.  (And by the way, I do have Francis Ching's book, I got that recommendation a year ago on here, perhaps from you?).  There are many times where I wish I would've gotten an undergrad in architecture, or AT LEAST taken a summer discovery course.  I go to GSAPP and I don't think they emphasized enough how important some background knowledge prior to enrolling.  Even just independent study - but let the non-arch students know EXACTLY what they're getting into!  Many of us in the school have expressed this same frustration. We're expected to have a basic to intermediate knowledge of a wide range of software, design methodology, etc, right off the bat.  Even a simple "hey, heads up, you need to read up about this stuff" email would've helped us.  There is a huge gap between the backgrounds and non (haves and have nots).  HUGE.  It will become a major issue for the school if not addressed immediately.


chigurh:  You are right on about many of the students just copying straight out of Zaha's, or DSR, or whoever's book, tweaking a few things about the building, and calling it their own.  In fact, one of the students in my studio who gets the most praise has pretty much modeled a popular Morphosis building (dont want to be too specific if people I know are reading this) - and everyone immediately looks at his building and says, "oh, Morphosis".  But he gets kudos for this building that is..... not really his.  I understand the value in precedent studies, but I do see a lot of people blatantly ripping off other works.  The inspirational process these days (in my studio, at least) seems to be : go on pinterest, like some photos, throw the "cool stuff" into your building, read about the design methodology and regurgitate during crit.  Not everyone does this, obviously, but many of the stand-out students do, and it's disappointing. Design is supposed to be about discovery and if there was ever a time to take risks and do weird, incomprehensible shit, it's school. 


Even if I end up sucking at this whole building thing, I value the education process and the wide range of skills we're being taught. I will graduate with the knowledge to create, not just buildings, but whatever I want to.  It's that alone that keeps me in the program.  But man, is it hard to not let outside opinions affect your own. 

Apr 13, 14 1:12 am

I am about to enter an M.Arch program with very little background in architecture--I did a summer program, I've taken a few classes at community college, and have done a lot of reading and attending lectures. I am taking a digital skills workshop in the summer, but besides that, what do you recommend I learn before my program starts, since I'm in the same boat as you were, a year ago?

Apr 13, 14 3:01 am

If you enjoy architecture and care about these projects you're in the right place, and you may very well bring something unique to it based on your past education. You're getting ahead of yourself, though, when you criticize your fellow students as you do above. Just as many artists improve their skills by copying great paintings (in order to master their painters' technique), working with elements of successful buildings is a totally valid way to improve your architectural abilities. You're doing something else and that's good and fine. You're not better than your classmates.

Apr 13, 14 8:23 am

Remember, architecture school also teaches you to toughen up, so stand up for your design but do not take it personally. 

post up some images for us to take a look...

Apr 13, 14 8:25 am

And try not to care so much of other people's criticism. Perception is different for everyone. Your work is your own. Expressing your ideas architecturally and graphically is the tough part.  But most importantly, Architecture is a process of self discovery. now go find yourself little grass hopper.

Apr 13, 14 8:40 am

cococo - I don't mean to come off as "above it all", I'm just frustrated that these same people are the ones who are smirking at my work.  If taking straight out of another architect's book and tweaking a few windows and walls is  valid and accepted way of working, so be it. Maybe it is something I will try to see what it teaches me. Knowing next to nothing about all of this, I always thought it was a form a plagiarism, those of us with traditional backgrounds have always had it beaten into our heads that copying another's work is the worst thing you can do next to committing murder (only half kidding here).  But, I'll accept it as a valid way to learn while in school.


Siesta - I would speak to first year students at your schools of interest. Find out what software is used most, get a Lynda account and get brushed up on the basics.  Know Illustrator and Photoshop.  Get some museum board and play around with modelmaking.  It really depends on the school you're attending, though.  And read.  Read, read, read and absorb everything.  

Quan - I will try and post my project later, the one that everyone seems to be avoiding me with!

Apr 13, 14 12:37 pm

"Precise yet vague." Yep, you nailed architecture education in those few words.

Stick with it IF you are getting something valuable out of it.  If you're not enjoying it AND not learning anything that you think will be valuable in the future, then maybe pursue something else.  But as long as you're exploring new things, keep at it.

Apr 13, 14 8:20 pm

i don't know, maybe architecture just isn't your thing. i have many classmates who have come to naturally realize that even though they are passionate about architecture, they're just not very good at designing buildings, and they never will be. while design sensibility is something that definitely improves and grows over time, you're probably not going to go from designing "frivolous" and "awkward" projects to being a great architect. these classmates of mine stuck out their undergrad degrees and are considering masters in related fields such as industrial, landscape or graphic design... maybe one of those would be more appropriate for you. 

also: architecture can be more of a science than an art. if you still think there is true originality in architecture, you're flat out wrong. everything's been done before in some sort of way, and being inspired by or referencing the work of others is commonplace - it's called a PRECEDENT. i highly doubt that the way your classmates design even comes close to plagiarism. 

Apr 14, 14 10:02 am


I would encourage you to look into another field where your mode of thinking fits better in solving the problem at hand. I went in to the MArch program having majored in the Liberal Arts and a Foreign Language, so my attitude going into the first studio was a bit more cautious compared to my more experienced classmates.  I just focused simply understanding the program and come up with a reasonable structure and envelope that would work. It was nothing fancy but over time I became more comfortable with doing more daring schemes that incorporated a few architectural trends of the time.  To start out with critiques in which people are scratching their heads to figure out what you have done is not as common as you would like to think.  There were a bunch of non-architects in my program and for the most part, they stuck to it and became very well-rounded designers.  Sometimes there is "that guy" who never seemed to come up with anything worth reviewing seriously, that clearly showed that they were out of their depth and made the others wonder how they got in the program in the first place. The longer this person would persist in the program with no visible improvement, the more it made me question the seriousness and integrity of program that was very difficult for everyone to get into.

Apr 14, 14 11:17 am

Ha I think every program has those people who put crap on the wall at first . It's pretty normal the first year of an M. Arch program to suck and not put much in the portfolio . However I think one should progress towards the end of the first year , if not then reevaluate your situation , because that's alot of money being spent at Gsapp. But I totally remember asking how these people even get accepted in the first place haha . 

Apr 14, 14 12:29 pm

Is it hard especially for people with no background in architecture to maintain GPA at graduate schools? I think students have to keep 3.00 GPA, and if they cannot do so, they have to withdraw from the schools. I am concerned that if I can really do good work in all classes(studio,theory, construction, electives etc) for all the semesters. Do you have any suggestions about maintaining GPA?

Apr 14, 14 1:32 pm

^ maybe suck up to your professors? xD jk

 Paintitblack:  You are at the GSAAP, one of the best schools out there.  Some of my undergrad classmates go there.  Personally, even with an undergrad degree and 4 years of experience, I tend to get blown away by the work they produce and I consider myself fairly competent in design/architecture.  I can't imagine what someone with little prior undergrad experience would think of their work.   If you enjoy the challenges and think you've got what it takes to improve, stick with it.

Apr 14, 14 5:14 pm

Will you be working at firms during summers? That will be a better test of whether or not this is for you.

Unless you intend to do something other than practice, in which case you should try that out on an intern basis. Don't worry about fitting into your particular school's culture but rather about what you want to be doing for many many hours a week until you retire.

Apr 14, 14 6:21 pm

We called it Architorture School....

I came from a very technical background and had similar issues in the beginning.  Not much of what the others produced made much sense to me,  until I stopped kicking and screaming and started to relearn how to think.  Architectural design is about thinking outside the box in ways that are not typical,  and then taking that abstract pallet and developing it into an aggregate of spaces that comprise the comprehensive design.

Yes,  we had days on end with no sleep,  crits that forced melt-downs in several students,  but all this is about conditioning you for what is to come.  Finding order and direction from nothingness (seemingly) is the initial task.  You need to learn to think differently;  recognize elements of the program,  site,  circulation paths,  a short list of materials and other things to develop a pallet and a parti.  Once you have learned to do this,  the design will drive itself and the outcome can and should be cathartic.

If you don't get it,  I suggest sitting in on some first year undergrad studios.  You will get there,  but it takes time,  torture, and yes--blood and tears. 

Apr 14, 14 7:43 pm


Thanks for the advice! Hope things work out for you, regardless of what you end up doing.

Apr 15, 14 11:39 am

Your classmates are just assholes.

Many schools have their fair share of cliques and circle-jerks of mediocrity.  Just do your best and realy focus on why YOU wanted to be an architect.  There are no right or wrong answers - after all this all about you.

I experienced similar things in grad school and got by just fine in the profession.

Apr 15, 14 12:00 pm

paint it black, I have sort of a tangential question.  By going directly for a M.arch, how do you plan to fill in for the technical background subjects that you would have been exposed to in a B.arch program? I'm curious about structures, building materials, architectural science/technology, programming, etc.  I understand that your approach isn't all that unusual, but I've always wondered about this process.  Is it left to self-directed study, or does the school get involved somehow?

Apr 15, 14 3:27 pm


I'm also curious - did you enter the program knowing that you specifically wanted to be an Architect? What made you decide to get into architecture school? I'm considering entering an M Arch I program with no experience in architecture so I'm interested in how other people like me find their way to being in an M Arch I program. 

Apr 15, 14 3:54 pm

Rob4- I've definitely progressed since last semester, especially considering that I basically "lost" my first semester, we had a studio critic who was too busy and saw us maybe once a week and all of us were extremely unhappy with the (lack of) direction.  So, looking back at the day where I couldnt even draw a line in Illustrator (yes, seriously lol), I've improved a LOT.  I'm just thinking that my buildings are "unfashionable" as someone else here put it, and unfortunately that matters to many.


Jeiffert - GSAPP takes structures and building tech very seriously.  An alumnus told me that this is the first year they're bringing the hammer down pretty hard about tech.  Pretty much all students, even those with B. Arch backgrounds must go through the same tech courses which is very intensive and covers everything you listed. The only way people are able to opt out of those tech classes and take tech electives is if they have a Bachelor of SCIENCE in Architecture, otherwise we all have to take the same required tech tier.  I only know of 4 people in the entire class who were able to waive out of the required tech classes this year.  

Oonaknuj - I decided to get into architecture because it has fascinated me since I was a 3rd grader. Almost went into it as an undergraduate student but was pressured into another field (stupid, stupid).  I ended up circling back to architecture because of the insane amount of things you're taught in school. It goes beyond buildings. You learn the tools to create whatever you want.  I have an entrepreneurial spirit and hope that if everyone hates my buildings, I can use my skillset for a multitude of other things that I already enjoy.  

Med - Thanks for understanding. I certainly feel that way some days.  I won't bash classmates in here but yea, sometimes the air is just thick with attitude. 

RhinoTrap - I'm applying to small firms for this summer. I know I'm not ready for the big named firms. Haven't heard anything back yet, but oddly, only a handful of people in our class have gotten summer internships so far. If I don't get anything, I plan on doing an intensive independent study over the summer to "catch up", so to speak.


Again, thanks everyone for the constructive comments and suggestions.

Apr 16, 14 11:47 pm

2014March - Cant speak for all schools, but GSAPP isn't so tightly structured when it comes to grades. Because we have such a massive amount of things due at all times, teachers tend to be understanding and flexible - as long as you get the work done in a decent timeframe and do it to the best of your ability.  Some say there's an unwritten rule that there are no real due dates, just DO it!  History (papers) and Tech (small assignments) seem to be more stringent but they are also easier to do.  Studio and ADR are basically a big smear of work from beginning to end and I've noticed people work at their own pace. As long as you're progressing and showing what the instructor asks for, should be no problems.  But the work needs to be well thought-out, that's key.

Apr 17, 14 2:33 am

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