"Stop comparing yourself to others," they say. If only it were that easy. I do my best to live up to the motto, but in a major that is built around a collaborative studio environment, it can be a challenge.
Sometimes I miss math and science classes. You take a test, and the answers are either right or wrong. You know your grade, and you know if you need to study harder or can take a moment to relax. Architecture isn't like that.
Architecture is, among many things, exhausting. The fact that your work is constantly compared to that of your classmates can be draining. Being told that your drawing is "second best" or your model is "the least successful" is not constructive - it only instills an unnecessary hierarchy among studios and pushes students away from originality.
I should mention that I completely understand the necessity of learning from peers. With that said, there is a difference between learning from others and ranking their work. Discussing the effects of a drawing or the meaning of a model is far more important that listing which are better than others. For instance, in my architecture seminar, the professor corrected herself when using phrasing that promoted a comparison culture. We had our work pinned up and she first said, "let's discuss which drawings are most successful." She immediately retracted that statement, and rephrased that by saying that we should rather "discuss the qualities that are effective in the drawings." This small shift in wording sent such a strong message about her willingness to promote a positive critique.
Each studio is different, and I have been fortunate enough to be in studio classes where projects are largely discussed in small groups or individually. Last semester was the first time my studio didn't pin up work to critique as a class, and I was skeptical at first. How was I supposed to know if I was doing well and staying on track? Was my project too simple? At one point, I voiced my concerns. My professor told me to have faith in my work and not compare it to the rest of the class. It was the first time an instructor had ever advised that to me, and by doing just that, I ended up with one of my favorite studio projects from throughout the past four years.
Seeing other students' work may be an important factor in setting benchmark expectations, but when discussing suggestions and constructive critiques, other commentary becomes unnecessary. By adopting a subtle change in the language used in studios, professors and students have an easy opportunity to promote a more productive and positive learning environment.
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