Advice For First Year Architecture Students
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Advice For First Year Architecture Students

5 things we wish we were told as first year architecture students.

Advice For First Year Architecture Students

As I enter the end of third year there are some sage pieces of advice I wish someone had told me as a first year student. Freshman year of architecture is horrible. Almost half of the students drop out or switch majors freshman year because it is so unbearable and devoid of advice. One could say this is a weeding process to make sure the people who stay are dedicated, but as years progress, the major becomes nothing like the horrors of first year design.

To offer some advice to my former self and to all first year students, I’ve enlisted the help of some second, third, and fifth year architecture students on what they wish they had been told as a freshman in the program. Please take these things to heart from those of us who had to learn them the hard way.

1. Take care of yourself.

After first year, I never pulled any all-nighters because when first year ends, you realize that taking care of yourself is actually sort of important. Going into a review without any sleep the night before is an enormous mistake. Chances are your project won’t be fully finished anyway, so you might as well get some sleep and be able to market your project better.

It is absolutely essential to eat every day, not overload on caffeine, and get an OK amount of sleep. If you stay healthy, your mind will be clear and you’ll be able to work more efficiently. If you pull an all-nighter, your ability to work efficiently decreases, making the hours you stayed up not worth it. Trust me, it is better to get to bed at a decent hour and wake up early in the morning when your brain is reset and ready to tackle a load of work.

2. It’s not the end of the world.

When you feel your workload is so enormous that it becomes a metaphorical monster in your mind, take a step back from the situation and relax. If you sit in front of a computer on Rhino for 12 hours, your eyes and head will feel like dead weight. Get away from the computer every couple of hours, even if it feels like your workload is so insurmountable.

I promise you that not having that one section is not the end of the world. It might feel like it after the fourth cup of coffee, but it’s not. Your lineweights (or lack thereof) will not make or break your grade. Showing up to class, being an active participant, caring about your work, those are what will make your grade. Making everything perfect and failing calculus because you spent too much time waiting for the welding torch is not the way to go.

Take it from the upperclassmen/women when we say to take a step back from your work sometimes and just let yourself breathe.

3. Creative process highs and lows.

The amount of times I have had ridiculous creative highs and life halting creative lows are too many to count. This is far more evident freshman year when creativity is important. Second/third year you can make decisions more on environmental impacts or working off of a grid so your decisions are more informed by quantitative strategies. But first year it’s all about expression of ideas and examination of form, it’s much harder to take an analytical approach because you’re still learning the basics.

So, I’d like you to know that there will be times when you can do nothing but create, like you’ve been possessed by a creative monster, and there will be times where you will be so out of creative energy that it will stop you from doing any work whatsoever. Both of these phases are OK. They both happen naturally, and they will both phase in and out naturally. If you think that people around you aren’t also feeling the deprivation of ideas, you’re wrong. We all feel it; you’re not alone.

4. Comparing yourself to others.

One of the hardest things about this major is comparing yourself to others. It’s like we’re consistently in some sort of dog show, being paraded around by our owners (professors) and being judged by every person you see. This can make you feel horrible about your work and yourself because you feel that you put so much of yourself into your work. I know the feeling, we all know the feeling, and we all try to hide it for some reason.

Third year there is something called the “best of show competition,” which puts all of the third year work against each other and awards scholarship money to whoever has the best work in third year. The ridiculousness of this is astronomical. Imagine a bunch of paintings in a room, all of different styles and personal tastes, and judges walk around to pick the best one. “What makes the best piece of architecture?” is similar to asking “what makes the best painting?” They’re equally impossible to answer.

The department clearly wants this level of comparison to each other and I think you’ll be surprised to find out it’s supposed to be a positive aspect of the program.

Please do not be afraid to be vulnerable when you go into a review or when you’re doing work. It’s OK to have a completely different style from the way Cal Poly teaches us. Professors want us to do diagrams like big, collage-style renderings, work only on Rhino, etc. You do not have to conform to these ideas and you do not have to worry that breaking away from this makes you inferior.

Everyone develops at their own speed. Gehry and Hadid were nobodies until very late into their careers. You don’t have to be a perfect architect as a first year. Focus on being yourself and allowing yourself to become vulnerable.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.” – Brené Brown

5. It gets better.

First year was, personally, the worst year of my life thus far. It was so impossible being alone and so far away from the place I grew up in. I wasn’t into partying and was always tired because I could never figure out how to do well in architecture. From someone who has been through it, I promise that it gets better. You won’t be doing elaborate models for the rest of your time at Poly, and yes you will get to actually work on designing buildings. You will get to know about building code, HVAC, solar gains, insulation, engineering, and much more. The rest of your time at Poly will be spent entrenched in the real world of architecture, getting to know about buildings and not so much about the vague feeling of “space” and “form follows function.”

Trust me. Stick with it and you will not regret it.

Extra: Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Finally, as a last piece of advice, do not be afraid to ask for help. In the arch building there are a ton of upper level studios. Go in any one of them and say you’re a first year and you need advice or help or just want to talk and any of us would be happy to. We remember the pain and difficulty of freshman year. We will do whatever we can to make things easier for you. Even if you want a place to come and work that’s quieter than studio, feel free to come to one of ours. Our home is your home and we care about you, especially as our younger selves.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” – Ira Glass on “the gap”

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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