Is architecture school really necessary?

Depends who you ask and when you ask them. If you would have asked me that question whilst I was in architecture school I would have said something like, “hell-to- the-no”. If you ask me now, I see it in an entirely different light.

I suppose architecture is one of those things much akin to acting…or maybe scientific research. How so you may ask is designing a building like either of these careers? With acting, you can give actors a skill set for which they could build upon, but whether or not they become the next Brando or Pacino lies within that person.  The same goes for a scientist looking to cure cancer: we can teach them about organic chemistry and biology until we’re blue in the face, but at the end of the day it is up to that person to innovate and create something new from the tools he/she was given. There is no handbook and curing diseases just as there is no handbook on designing a building (guidelines maybe but no certainly no handbook).

Looking back on my days in architecture school, I would now describe it as a weird/wild place. Most of the work that is done is design-oriented and dependant on which school you attend, said projects may or may not be based in reality. schoolWhen I say “not based in reality” I am specifically referring to how some schools teach design just for the sake of understanding planar design. In doing this they often tend to leave gravity out of the situation; thus nullifying the “reality” part. But even those projects that I worked on that were based in some sort of reality, they were only real to the point that it was a point of beginning…nothing more. It was a place where we were given a problem and we had to try and solve it in our own way to the best of our abilities. Once we did this we were subjected to opinions from our colleagues, teachers, and various outside judges.

In between the design projects we did have some objective classes such as structural classes and architectural history, but for the most part it was all about the design. While I was going through it all I could think about was getting through what I deemed as unnecessary brutality. It all just seemed like a bunch of people trying to boost their egos by trying to push their way of thinking on to me. It was almost like religion. When you go to a party we are all taught not to talk about politics or religion because these are the two topics that people get very passionate about very quickly…well same goes for architectural design. When students spend 3 days straight without sleep and eating noodles out of a microwaved Styrofoam container, and then someone tells them their design is “wrong”…it tends to get them a little stirred up to say the least.

Looking back on it now, of course, it is all fairly comical. Comical in how serious I took myself…comical in how seriously we took each other…I mean it was just school! We were all ultimately there for the same reason which was to get that ever-so-beautiful certificate of “Master of Architecture”. We were there to learn what we could and then move on with our lives. Again, in hindsight I do think it is necessary to teach this way however strange as that may sound. I think most architects would say this way of teaching through negative reinforcement is not the way. I used to think this way when I was a student. I think the intent to give constructive criticism from varied sources comes from a good place (at least I hope it does…). It is meant to give us more architectural “tools” in our arsenal to use once we graduate and hit the workforce.

I also think the IDP (Intern Development Program) makes sense as well. This is the internship program an architect-to-be must go through before getting registered (coupled with passing the board exams of course). I would actually go so far as to say what I learned in the field and in an architect’s office was more important than what I learned in school. In the office I was working on real projects with real deadlines, real trusses, real foundations, real clients, etc. I learned that each line I drew meant something in literal terms. For example: when an architect draws a dashed line it tends to indicate something being hidden like a wall below something. When an architect draws a dash-dot line it tends to indicate a property line. These are real things. If a line is drawn wrong in school you might get a verbal lashing, but that’s it. If a line is drawn wrong in the real world, depending on which line we’re referring to, we could be talking about possible structural failure or God-forbid loss of life.

I think what I find the most comical nowadays is that when I look back on my time spent in architecture school, I tend to remember the good times more than the bad. I remember endless pitchers of beer, first going out to shoot pool at 11:00pm with classmates, and eating chicken wings between classes. What people say is true: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…and thankfully architecture school didn’t kill me.