This week I talked with Dan Grafton, an undergrad in the Taubman School of Architecture. He had a lot to say about overworking, expectations, and allowing things to take time. Open House Chicago, which he referenced, is an annual architecture event that you can learn more about here.
I’m back again, to discuss this week’s topic: methods to become a better designer.
Honestly, I was a bit hesitant on how to title this week’s discussion topic… mainly because I wasn’t sure if there was an actual, formal title for it, other than just “practice” in preparation for architecture as a professional discipline in the real world.
Precisely, unlike medical students, who have cadavers to poke and cut into, or computer science students who have actual coding websites to get some very realistic, representative practice, we architecture students don’t have such a staple medium to “practice” being designers with.
In a way, yes, assignments and projects can be considered “practice” since we are expected to use our designing minds to create our own unique creations out of each given prompt, but they’re more of the education aspect of design school. We design things, get critiqued, and keep coming back to produce our own hypothetical solutions to design problems. However, I oftentimes this is more educational, because this process seems to be more about meshing our minds in a certain way as designers. Design school is meant to shape our thinking process (which I find leads to more aesthetics than technicality in problem solving in design, rather than shaping how we should be critically thinking as designers. However, this seems to be the case in most design schools now, as there seems to be a sort of identity crisis within architecture; almost like an argument about what power we do or should have as architects, and our place in the world.
Aesthetics is the way to the eyes of the consumers of buildings, which I often find is the way to build initial intrigue about the building; it’s essentially the same with people. Take Tinder for instance, you swipe left on either seemingly boring people, or unattractive people, and you swipe right for those you find as a match for your values, or physically attractive- it is our eyes that decide the initial interest. I find that this is the same reason why designers seem more concerned about the aesthetics in design. In design, aesthetics of your proposal representation not only softens critics’ hearts, but also serves quite effectively in capturing the interests of those outside of design who say, “I don’t know what that is or what it means, but it looks cool!” Our representation not only serves as the communication mechanism between us and our critics, or clients, it also serves as our method of marketing ourselves as a brand in the real world (in terms of applications to jobs, internships, and graduate schools). Perhaps it seems this way because of my limited experience as an undergraduate. From the glimpses of graduate students’ work, it seems more technicality comes in graduate level education, but even then, I find it should still be necessary to have a cohesive educational experience in terms of always being thoughtful about our designs and staying true to what real-world consequences they would have in the real world. Perhaps our undergraduate experience is suppose to serve as just an introduction to the mechanics behind being a designer, and its purpose is just to market ourselves to get jobs in either firms, or appear as attractive candidates in graduate school applications.
I have always thought about this topic, but only gotten more critical in views after my current experience of “rodeo reviews” in class, where everyone in our third semester studio had to pin-up for presentations, and we we basically split into halves and rotated around so we could have the experience as the presenter, but also critics of each other’s work. Sounds kind of fun and casual, right? You get to show your friends your cool work, and even speak with other sections’ professors… which isn’t an incorrect description of what it was. I just spoke with classmates and gauged two types of mindsets about this whole presentation method: critical (not finding it that useful), versus positive (thought it was a nice new, different experience). Of course, there is the factor that it really depends on your luck and what students you had as your critics, or maybe even what region you were assigned to pin-up in. But, generally, it seemed that the issue was that we were just sprung onto this unfamiliar role of being forced to give specific people feedback- the selections were completely random, so most people found that they were reviewing the works of students they never really got to know, and just being put on the spot to say useful things to help others improve their work.
It was then that it struck me that being a designer is not just about being good at communicating your own ideas to the world, or making your own work look cool. It also includes the ability to understand unfamiliar work from just reading their drawings, or listening to their one presentation and asking them a few questions. What’s its relevance? Well, I’m sure at one point you’ll be forced to reflect on a colleague’s work, and it’s not too great if you just blankly stare at them or their work. Or, say you’re working with someone new and they’re not able to be there to tell you about their work and just left you to read their work temporarily. It’s good to be independent and have the ability to understand other’s work, and have a view that you can offer. I find that this ability often coincides with our own abilities to understand our own work and be able to concisely portray it in a compelling manner.
Oftentimes, I’ve found difficulties in reading others’ work from their drawings, or maybe even an uncompleted model that they have. And, it’s still something I need to work on, even though I recognized my own (ever-improving) growth in my own project’s proposal representation. But this rodeo review really opened up my eyes to that observation, and the way that I was really glad that my improvements in my own representation seems to have opened my mind to this newfound ability to understand others’ work and what they have drawn or modeled, and draw upon my own experiences to give them helpful feedback to improve the way they can further portray their ideas more effectively and clearly. I used to find reviewing other people’s work a bit boring, and super irrelevant to my own work, but now I am grateful to say I can finally understand why our education is designed in such a way to allow for this sort of learning to occur.
It also occurs to me that this isn’t the only way to become a better designer. I can continue learning and applying these skills to real firm’s proposals, and perhaps offering memorable and helpful insight to firms during interviews or the actual internship. And it would circle back to helping me step back from my own work, and be able to see flaws in my representation rather than having always been so dependent upon my professors’ feedback to help me decide on what views to produce for my proposals.
Well, that’s all for this week!
So excited to write again next week!
I’m back again this week to write about this week’s topic: Odd Habits (acquired from Architecture School?).
So, “odd habits,” what does she mean? you must be thinking.
Well, I say “odd habits” in reference to habits that you may call bad or just downright strange, or maybe they’re just neutrally necessary habits. They’re really just small, amusing things that I realize I notice on a daily basis, or I “step back” to see the big picture and realize they’re things I pretty much only see within my studio setting, or even just the art and architecture building (aka AAB) in general.
Honestly, the list could go on, but I must get back to grappling with my current project now.
Anyhow, I hope ya’ll found these as amusing as I did! Or maybe you might even learned a thing or two about the harsh reality of design students and their (likely) odd lifestyles. Let me know what you think 🙂
Ciao for now 🙂
Hi everyone!I’m back again this week to discuss the topic: Projects and their Realities!
No matter what your major is, or whatever your specific task is at your workplace, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself why you’ve been assigned to do such a task, and how it benefits your future in terms of employment or its effects on the world.
As an architecture student, I often find myself doing the same.
Actually, I often find it TOO difficult to detach myself from what’s assigned in my classes. This may sound normal, but for me, it’s been a bit of an issue sometimes because I’m human and tend to take things a little too seriously and personally sometimes. It’s mostly an issue during presentations and critiques. Projects are often given in prompts detailing certain parameters we can work in, and are often situated within real sites. Oftentimes, we visit these sites and document them, looking deep into the details of their location and questioning why certain buildings or clusters of buildings, are situated as they are, and interpreting why we think they look the way that they do. Projects must have some sort of root within their site, which makes them feel more real, as though my design in the end will be an actual constructed building. In other words, I suppose it is the nature of our work that inevitably makes it feel ultra-personal. I put a lot of thought and sometimes even pull from memories to detail design proposals, and that’s what makes it feel almost embarrassing (probably not the right term) to present my ideas in front of these award-accredited professors and critics, and when they critique my work in even a bit of a harsher tone, I find myself feeling the blow to my ego.
But, really, the issue was how I framed my mindset about the projects. The presentations are simply supposed to be discussions with guests so we can be provided with fresh, outside perspectives rather than just our own professors’ suggestions. The presentations often become tense experiences because of intimidation about our preconceptions about people and their status and our imagined view of their judgements on us, which then influences us to dress as best as we can (which isn’t always the most comfortable attire) and pull all-nighters so that the images we print out for the pin-up display will be our best representation of our ideas and, in turn, ourselves. The point is, whatever feedback the critics give, they’re all about improving the ideas we’ve presented to them- the feedback is not meant to be a personal attack on ourselves (usually), But yes, the feedback they give also makes the projects feel more real, because it is a discussion on hypothetical scenarios of our design, which is meant to prepare us for future projects that may actually be constructed live!
For the projects themselves, on the other hand, I think it’s safe and completely reasonable to think about them as a real-life setting so we can completely immerse ourselves in the design process and best discover what interests us most, and the logical design features behind those interests.
Unfortunately I gotta launch back into my assignments again, but I’m so excited to hear your comments and thoughts on this blog!
Hi Everyone! I know it’s kind of late, but bear with me! I’m suffering too :'(
I’m back again this week, with this week’s topic: Classwork Load!
A little off topic, but I caught myself reminiscing about my days back in grade school and high school, when I was practically praying I’d end up going to college here! It was a sort of bittersweet, unexpected flashback, and I can’t really remember what brought me back into those memories, but I think it was just me feeling really overwhelmed and pessimistic about all of the assignments and projects being thrown at me every single week! I had these flashbacks of me studying as hard as I could for my AP exams, and the awful ACT, and feeling like it would be the end of the world if I didn’t end up going to school for architecture here at Michigan. And now, here I am, begging the workload for mercy, and cursing myself for having chosen such an expensive, draining discipline. It’s just the awful truth, for me at least (honestly, it really depends on who you ask in the program). Architecture for me here has always had its ups and downs. I call it my love-hate relationship with architecture.
Many non-design people would ask me, “so what’s the workload like?” and after hearing me say something like “It’s quite heavy, I’m lucky if I get to work from home, but most of the time I practically live at my studio desk,” they’d say “wow, that sounds like so much fun, it’s arts and crafts in college!”
Yeah, yes but no to that statement.^
Do I enjoy architecture here at Michigan? Yes, BUT I also have moments when I’d say no. Usually, those moments are during the execution of my ideas (ideas, being the “yes” part of why I enjoy this discipline). I say yes for the brainstorming, imaginary fantasy moments of a project- where I’ve developed or am developing a proposal for the prompt’s concepts. Then no, for the execution parts- the actual virtual modeling of my sketches, making sure it’s physically possible and feasible to construct, or sometimes even I get designers’ block (like writer’s block) where I can’t think of any novel ideas!! But all of that was mostly about the studio work (which is a pretty big deal because these are the courses where you can grow as a creative designer getting feedback from amazing faculty, and the fact that these courses cost your GPA 5 credit hours). The rest of the workload comes from the technical classes that compliment studio work (such as design theory courses, experimental courses, historical courses, etc), which honestly, despite knowing it’s knowledge essential to being a great architect one day, feels more like busy work compared to studio work. Often, I find I focus mostly on studio work, and that gets most of my free hours, and then, (thank goodness for planners) when I finally remember something is due soon or the next day, I’d hurriedly do those other assignments. In other words, to summarize, studio work, no matter who you ask, will tell you it is a heavy workload, and everything gets second priority (much like how you’d probably find your vegetables being pushed to the side during your dinner: vegetables- necessary and healthy essential nutrients, BUT getting ourselves to eat it raw is like pulling teeth).
“So how do you deal with all of this?’ you’re probably asking. Or maybe you’re an Mgineer and think “pssssh this ain’t nothing compared to what I have to do for my classes.”
Well, as I imagine several other students (of all disciplines) do, I definitely invest a great deal of my sanity and faith in my planner- yes, a physical, paper planner.
I don’t know about you, but I greatly appreciate physical editions of books and planners for the like- it’s like I feel more assured knowing I’m clutching the exact item which holds every possible thing that I need to do in a day (or the week), and I love physically crossing things the items on my list off as I complete them- it’s this feeling of a satisfying sort of crisp validation to cross it off and to see the item(s) crossed off. And it operates that way too, since I often find that when I check back with my planner to make sure I got everything done, or a reminder for what’s to come, if I find something isn’t crossed out, I feel guilty and pressured to get it complete! So, for me, a planner serves as a highly necessary device that keeps my tasks in engraved in the grains of its pages, it motivates me to get things done or even prioritize tasks, and helps me to prepare my life for the near future (especially helpful when booking appointments because then I’d just open up my planner and my planner tells me when I am free!).
The second part to my coping mechanism for this workload is to breathe. Yes, as simple as that. I really find it helps me relax a bit, and literally take some weight off my shoulders from the virtual burdens of life that I’ve created for myself. I inhale, exhale, as many times as needed (you can think of it as a sort of meditative ritual) until I feel better again and ready to take on life and classes again. Or if all else fails, I take a nap, since I find it isn’t unusual for me to get a headache or heavy eye strain by the end of my day. A warm cup of tea can help too, I especially love chamomile, black, and green teas! They smell so good, just inhaling the scent, beside a candle really makes me feel relaxed as though everything’s going to be totally okay, even if I have a project due tomorrow and I’m just halfway done as I am right now.
So, what do you think? Did my insight shock you? Enlighten you? And what coping mechanisms do you employ to help you get through life? Drop me a comment, I love hearing from you all! And I’m always willing for you all to pick each week’s blog subject- I want to know what you wanna know!!
And, another shameless plug, if you’re interested in seeing the work I do, or what kinda life I live, give me a follow on instagram at themichiganarchitect !
I look forward to hearing from you all! I love writing for you guys 🙂
Alrighty, I’ll write again next week, goodnight everyone! And hope ya’ll stay healthy cuz GOSH the weather here is driving me insane!!