Surviving the Design Studio: You will never be an architect unless you make physical models.

The realisation came about a week or so a go at the mid semester crits in our Colliding Spaces studio. One of the students was presenting and the guest critics and myself were holding up a white cardboard physical model and turning it around. It was massing model and there was a previous version with less massing and facade articulation. The project had curvilinear geometry and in seeing the two models seen together were able to ascertain how the project had developed from the first physical model to the second. Despite the whiteness of the card we could get a sense of possible façade treatments and materials.

I realised that we would never have been able to have looked at the model in this way if it was a computer model.

If it were a computer model we would have seen a schematic volumetric diagram printed and pinned onto the wall. A diagram ready to be filled in with texture and colour to make it look real. If we were lucky, if the student is kind to us, we might be able see this diagram with a bit of context thrown in.

The ubiquitous and depressing digital model pinup  

generale

I then began to think about the number of times I had seen design studio projects where there has not been any physical model design development. In other words, the times when the digital model had been spat out and printed from the computer and stuck on the wall. Looking back they all seem drearily similar, the same lack of context, the same lack of façade development, the same depressing lines delineating volumes, the same annoyingly and inappropriate view point.

Why we need physical models 

Physical models are vital to effective architectural design and development and it would be churlish to suggest that I am being an old school troglodyte in asserting this. Many large global offices use models as a way of quickly and efficiently developing massing options. Effective architectural design rests on hybrid practices that move between and combine the virtual and the physical. As the work at the AADRL establishes physical models also allow for the realisation of experimental digital processes. More importantly:

  1. The sooner you make a model of your design in the process the quicker you will understand the complexity of the design. This is because a physical model provokes the important decisions that need to be made at an early stage.
  2. A physical model embodies different design knowledge that may not be captured in a digital model. In other words, the physical model embodies in a physical form more design knowledge than what we might find with an undercooked diagram.
  3. A physical model once made can be easily be changed it is more effective as a tool that can be used to produce further reiterations of the design.
  4. A physical model can be shared more easily with others.
  5. In the studio a physical model can be easily moved around around and apprehend it from different angles and viewpoints.
  6. Physical models are more congruent with the final reality of the project.

How did it come to this ?

In the studio it seemed so simple and easy to turn the model around and look at it from different angles and to try and understand its possibilities. As well as imagine it in its context. After this realisation panic set in and it turned into rant in my head:

How did it come to this I wondered? How did our design teaching and practices become so diminished in favour of the lockstep production of the digital model? When did the physical model as a development tool depart from the design studio? Why did we so easily and unquestioningly welcome the dreams of the computer into our arms as architects and throw away all of the other things essential to design practice? Why as architectural designers have we allowed the proponents of technology, software vendors, grass hopper jockeys, CNC manufacturers, BIM engineers and the systematisers to tell us that everything can be done in a computer and then believe it?

More practically, and less rhetorically, perhaps all architecture students should do a model making subject. It should be in the curricula of all architecture schools.

This is an important debate that needs to happen. We need to ask why have some architects privileged the acquiring of technical skills at the expense of critical architectural thinking? By critical architectural thinking I mean the ability to generate and iterate solutions and ideas in three dimensions. The digital computer model only partially does this and its critical poetics is often diminished unless we pursue hybrid practices,

This weeks blog comes to you from ARCOM 2016 in Manchester. Where I presented my paper: The architect as Gleaner:  Design Practice As Performance In The Architectural Office

Surviving the Design Studio: 5 ways architecture students can avoid a mental health meltdown.

As an architecture student I was a miserable wretch and I was treated as such by my design tutors. At my part-time architecture job I slept at nights under the dyeline machine in the back of the office I worked in. Every week when I presented my studio work at the crits it was torture. My tutors either said nothing at all or said things like, “I am not really sure this is a 4th year (fill in the year) project”or worse still, “you cant put a fucking toilet (fill in the function room name) there or even better, (although often said with some laconic humour) “that is the worst model (drawing, axo, plan) I have ever seen in my whole life” which I think may have often been true. I was a pretty ordinary student and for the most part I was a sullen martyr who just sucked it up.

It was worse for my colleagues the female architecture students. No matter how hard they tried they couldn’t seem to get anything right. They were never going to be golden boys because the were simply not boys. At times it was an exhilarating but also brutal environment. I learnt a lot but I am not sure it did a lot to foster my confidence as a designer or even as a person. Supposedly, in the modern digital age things are better now in architecture schools and  architectural education is a fairer, kinder and less misogynist enterprise. But are things now any better? A recent survey in the UK magazine The Architects’ Journal suggests otherwise.

The Architects’ Journal surveyed 450 architecture students in the UK that just over a quarter of them  (26 per cent) of “architecture students had received medical help for mental health problems resulting from their course, and a further 26 per cent feared they would need to seek help in the future.” Most disturbing was the finding that these issues were “more acute with female respondents, of whom almost a third had sought support for mental health issues compared to 26 per cent of male respondents.”

Details of the entire survey and its results can be found here. It covers working through all-nighters, student debt, working for free, practical training, discrimination and the length of architectural education. The survey identified that for the student respondents the primary stressors are issues related to increasing debt, a culture of crazy working hours and the anxiety about acquiring effective skills in order to be employable at the end of a long course.

As Robert Mull the former Dean of The Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design, noted in Dezeen  “High fees, debt, the fear of debt, low wages, poor working practices and educational models that reflect aspects of practice based on individualism and competition rather than collective action and mutual support have put intolerable pressure on those students who can still study and has excluded many more.” Mull (what a great name) is a noted critic of homogenised and commodified versions of higher education.  In response to the survey the head of the Bartlett Rob Shiel argued that new models of architectural education were needed in order to increase access to architectural education from different backgrounds and to reduce the mental health pressures on architecture students.

Mental health of the emerging generation of architects should be taken as a serious issue in architecture schools and by the profession. Larger studio sizes (recently shocked to hear of one school with 25 people in each studio; 12 to 14 is best) are one significant pressure point in the mix of fee paying higher education, poor and entrenched working cultures in the profession and the need to teach an increasing complex architectural curriculum.

For architecture students mired in the above circumstances there are probably a few things you can do to avoid a meltdown and manage your mental health through architecture school. As I am not a trained clinical psychologist I will keep my suggestions short and simple. They cover the most common things that I have seen in my experience as a architectural design educator.

1. You are not invincible 

Sometimes things happen. Health issues, family issues or even accidents. In my experience it is often not great for those who are grieve. When stuff happens its best to take the time out or at least to change your expectations or aspirations to manage it. Too often I see students think they can just work or push through the rough bit. Only to find later, usually towards the end of semester, that they just can’t do it. That is usually when it may be too late to compensate. No one is invincible.

2. Timing 

Timing is crucial. Design studios are as a much a project management exercise as anything else. Managing and organising your time is critical to your own mental health. You should not have to work all night either in the studio or in an office. This opinion piece on unpaid overtime speaks to some of the complexity of these workplace issues. Architects should not be working 60 hours a week.  Unfortunately bad working habits often start at architecture school. If you think your tutor is mismanaging your time or you are putting in all nighters and not getting much traction then you need to rethink how you are managing your time or speak out.

3. Dont procrastinate 

Don’t procrastinate. As I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog the sooner you get started designing and the more  consistently you work on a design the better. If you get stuck or need help get it from your friends or your tutor. Tackle the hard design task’s first and don’t leave things to the last minute. Dont get sucked into doing text based research and no drawing or thinking that you are working by spinning that 3D model around and around in the computer. Too often I see students putting pressure on themselves by procrastinating, week after week, and then letting it build up and up to the point where their stress levels almost prevent them from actually working.

Procrastination leading to the all nighter, or last few days, in the last few weeks of semester only reinforces this culture.

4. Get help sooner rather than later

Depression, anxiety, grief, and illness can all take its toll. All design tutors are usually extremely sympathetic to these issues and more than happy to help you adjust and get through the crap moments in life. There are lost of resources on the web to help you get through things. Its better to seek help or talk to someone rather than doing nothing at all.

5. Take a break 

Know when to take  break rather than beating your head against a wall. A break no matter how short will help improve your productivity in the long run.

Doing and considering the above will help you develop the resilience you need to survive the design studio. Of course, the best architects, and architectural teams, are kind of crazy in their own way. Some of my best and most successful students have been the ones who have worked through and come out of other side of serious mental health issues. It happens to everyone at some stage in life. As a profession we need to harness and foster the creative aspects of craziness that makes our profession unique rather than the toxic craziness of overwork and sullen martyrdom. Our profession deserves better.

 

Surviving the Design Studio: 7 things to do to hit the ground running.

The first few weeks of any project or new graduate studio are critical to the success and delivery time of the project. Too often I have seen both architects and students waste valuable time by not quickly setting up the research, design research and design production process. Whilst, I am all for mulling ideas around in ones head this is not all one should focus on early in the project. Too often procrastination or a laissez faire approach in the early stages of a project can ensure problems with the design further down the track. Timing is critical and what follows are a few ideas about getting started in order to hit the ground running.

1.Curiosity

One of the key things any student or architect needs to do at the start of the project is to ask questions. These may be tacit questions one may ask oneself or questions you might ask a studio tutor or team leader. Critical questions about the site, the program, the brief, design approach or timing can all be asked at the project or studio’s outset. The purpose of these questions is to begin to set out the parameters and limits of the project. What can be done? What needs to be designed and what is possible? Are there special site conditions? What kind of density of building does the project parameters suggest? What are the critical things that need to be designed? What is ambiguous about the project; what new information needs to be ascertained prior to designing? What still needs to be researched?

Of course some architects or students never ask questions. There are often different motivations for this. But in my experience the student who has asked the most questions in the studio over the semester usually get’s the best design result. In design studio no one is going to tell you the answers. Unless you ask.

2.Traditional Research

I hate it when I hear about studios or teams that have spent weeks or months researching and not leaving enough room for design. Inevitably no time is left for actually designing and the results are usually mediocre. It’s great to be methodical. But, a good studio leader or team leader will recognise this and get the balance right between conducting traditional research activities, urban or precedent analysis and actually designing. I think it is a myth to not feel that you can’t design something until all of the parameters and research information (site topography, history, regulations, precedents, urban context and briefing notes) have been fully researched and documented. Given the internet this kind of research should not take that long. Of course it needs to be done. But it needs to be done quickly and efficiently and in tandem with early diagramming and conceptual design.

3.Design Research Parameters

A lot of architects these days talk about design research. As some of you may have guessed, it is not the same as traditional research although the two are linked. Good textural or theoretical research will underpin your design concerns. I worry that the activity of designing is too often conflated with this more recent notion of design research. Simply designing or thinking that because what you are doing is design doesn’t neccessarily make it design research. Design research is what it is you are trying to find out through the activity of designing. Are you trying to find out more, or ask something about, about a particular site, or brief or typology or cultural context? Is there a design research question underlying your design efforts? You also need to ask how your design process can contribute to knowledge. For example, in our recent proposal for the Pilbara we asked if Australia remote regions were a viable place for new settlements. We explored this via the design and strategic design of a autonomous settlement around an iron ore mine. Our contribution to knowledge was to establish how important notions of country are to new regional settlements. Moreover, the Planetary Urbanism brief was a good design research summary of the issues, the questions and the ground to be covered.

It may sound simplistic but design research should be structured around these questions and conclusions. The why, what, how and so what questions are important in generating design research solutions. To reiterate, design research parameters need to be clearly set out. What is the critical contribution to design knowledge that is being saught? What is unique about the project? What will be explored and how is this different to other similar or related projects.

4.Design

All I will say is why wait. Design is best explored by designing. It is not simply a matter of being creative or spinning that digital model around and around and around. In the early stages it is about exploring the parameters of the site, the brief, and any other things. In more conceptual projects it is about finding the right abstract structure or process that best represents and solves (in a sense) your design question. Procrastination only delays your ability to reiterate and explore different design options at a later point in time.

5.Avoid the delusions of technology

There is a lot I can write about in regards to design and design processes. Mostly, it is about the evils of computers and the need to respect traditional orthographics. I won’t bore you here as I am sure many of you know architects, or have tutors, who know more than I do about architectural computing and software. Needless to say, a computer model can easily lead you to believe you are designing when you are not. Just being technically adept at producing a digital model is not the same as designing.

6.Design production

The end result is important. It’s a good idea to think about it at the beginning of the process. What kinds of outputs in terms of drawings or models does the project suggest. It’s not good just making it up as you go along and lurching from graphic communication crisis to crisis. Having a vision of how you want to represent or draw your project at the end is actually really important. Considering this at the beginning will help you to design the most important parts of your project and help you to structure your time. Time is so important in the design process. Mismanage it and this will show up in the design. The last minute design effort, or the quickly found new concept a week before the hand in is usually obvious to every one. Client’s and jury critics can usually tell when they are looking at shit presentation.

7.Make space to design as much as you can

There are those who still think that design is all about being creative. Some innate force of ego or the will and innate talent is born into us at birth and the world is occupied by those who design and those who cannot. It is a view about stereotypes. It has helped to perpetuate the culture of star architects, gender and class stereotypes in the profession. It is a view that should not have any place in studios or graduate schools. This is one of the most damaging myths to prevail in architectural culture and discourse. Not unlike public speaking or politics or formula one or airline pilot’s designers are made and not simply born. Which is why we need to design as much as we can in our studios and graduate schools. Avoid being your own worse critic to the point where you can’t do anything. Everyone can design but like most things it requires a space to practice in. If you want to design, either in an office or at architecture school, then the above suggestions should help you to make that space.

 

 

 

Architecture Students as Customers: How not to measure the value of architectural education

Whilst we are waiting for the outcome of our federal election it is worth noting that The Abbott-Turnbull  government has increased funding to a new project that measures quality in tertiary education. This initiative is called QILT: Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching. QILT is a ranking system that relies on independent data based on the 2015 different Student Experience Surveys. In September the survey will add in graduate employment data as well. On this basis your architecture school is a great architecture school if you graduate (in order to do the survey), love the experience (no matter how little you learn) and earn a buck. Yes, as a customer you will need to earn a buck to pay down your Higher Education student debt. But as we all know nowadays everyone pays to attend. Some more than others.

Architectural education is now well and truly a part of this increasingly global “business” of education. Although, architecture is not a large part of the “business”, or as large in revenue generation as law, commerce or biomedical sciences, it still seems to tick over nicely. For some university executives architecture is a commodified cash cow. You can thrash it like an old Holden via lot’s of short term contracts and  high staff-student ratios in the studios. It doesn’t really matter who you take in as students, or how you treat them, just as long as they pay.

QILT

Data measures such as QILT only seem to reinforce these “customer” orientated tendencies. The architecture student is now a customer; student’s get the branded degree they paid for; and they aren’t challenged too much or they might complain (tell me about it); and they learn a few technical skills (throw in a bit of of CNC, Rhino and Revit) that enables them to get a paying job (maybe).

The first flaw of QILT in relation to architectural education is is that it  aggregates data from across number of different disciplines.  This includes Architecture & Urban Environments, Building & Construction.It slums together Architecture, Urban Design and Regional Planning, Landscape Architecture and Interior and Environmental Design, Building Science and Technology, Building Construction Management, Building Surveying and Building Construction Economics. How any one could lump together architecture construction management and economics with urban planning is astounding. The built environment design disciplines should be in a separate dataset.

QILT uses data that is based on university Student Experience Survey (SES) which, as most committed tertiary teachers will tell you are notoriously flawed for reasons too long to discuss here (this is a good introductory paper on the issues). In architectural education a brief example might suffice: In architecture design students respond to the surveys prior to their final studio presentations. The administrators of the SES view these crits as an examination but do not realise that getting students to respond prior to the crit distorts the figures. Fewer architecture students respond, they are to busy preparing for the crit, and more importantly, the end of project design crit is one of the significant learning points in the semester.

QILT is also based on data gathered from the The Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ). This is completed by graduates of Australian higher education institutions four months after completion of their courses measuring: Overall satisfaction, good teaching, generic skills. QILT also measures data gleaned from the Graduate Destination Survey. Which includes the median salary of graduates. This is one reason why the discipline data should not be mixed up together as every one is on different pay scales. The QILT data jockeys are also developing a “The Employer Satisfaction Survey (ESS)” which  is being developed as part of the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching

The QILT website allows you to compare between universities. Using the quick comparison I did it would seem that one architecture school in Australia appears to outshine all of the others in terms of graduate satisfaction, skills learnt and median salaries. There is not a lot I can say about this; except I don’t think much of the QILT methodology or its comparative results.

What makes a great architecture school

Of course, we all want to say that we went to a great architecture school. The one I went to is now argued to be, by some at least, one of the best in the world (it did not rank as well on QILT). The one I teach at is also ranked highly across global research measures. Of course when I went to Architecture school in the pre-digital dark ages there, some of us much longer than others, we thought it was a shambolic and chaotic mess. That was part of its charm and that’s probably what you get when you have architects running the whole show. Of course now that we have left architecture school and look back on it it doesn’t seem so bad. Compared to other schools in Australia at the time, or even elsewhere we had a pretty good deal.  In fact I would argue that because the architects were in positions of leadership in the faculty and the school this contributed to it’s burgeoning global reputation at the time. Sadly, one architecture school I know of is governed almost entirely by administrators.

Measuring architectural culture

QILT doesn’t really measure the value of an architectural culture or how students may be involved in current global debates. It is  a one size fits all approach to running the “business”. As a student I was actively involved and close to the architectural debates, controversies and conversations of the day. I had the opportunity to be taught by the best practitioners and academics of the day. As students we were challenged by our studio tutors and we did not mind this. As students we helped to create the culture that made the school better. Moreover, thanks to Whitlam I didn’t have to pay a cent and in fact I even got paid an allowance to escape my outer suburban bunker and go to architecture school.

Measures like QILT are easy tools for the administrators to bludgeon university academics with. Its a misleading tool to guide the potential customers. Fostering the link between teaching, research and industry in architecture schools is essential for the future of the architectural profession. This is not measured in QILT. Just giving graduates a technical skill set or measuring output by how good the graduate feels during the course or their employment and salary outcomes really misses the mark.

In the future most architectural graduates will have to cope with the firestorms of technological change, climate change, political volatility and perhaps worse. Being narrow technologists who cant think across disciplines, or graduates who have never been challenged by inspired teaching to think doesn’t really cut the mustard with me. Bad shit is coming down the pipeline and our architectural graduates really need to be able to think rather than consume.

 I am almost out of the country yet on annual leave. So watch out for next week’s blog which might even be written in road trip style. 

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving the Design Studio: Getting through the last days before the submission deadline.

Architecture is a desperate enterprise. This is because in many ways designing is a race against time. As a designer you are always time poor. Deadlines are imposed externally. The more time you send on the design the more you burn up your fees. Fees that sometimes have already been cut to the bone. Whats worse is that it takes time to design properly. It is a labour intensive exercise that involves the consideration of different options and the exploration of different design pathways.

Most architects are always designing in a blind panic and this is what you need to get good at. But: too many architects procrastinate and too many architecture students leave things to the last minute. Finally, the procrastination can inevitably give way to blind panic.  Its 5 days to go and you still need to do the layout and print ! OMG !!

As it is almost the end of semester here in my hemisphere I thought I would do a special Surviving the Design Studio blog outside of my normal weekly blogging routine. So here are a few last minute survival points to think about. Enjoy.

1.Dont Panic

Hyperventilating and multitasking and not knowing where to start can lead to conflicted priorities. Its best to sit down and to methodically  plan you way out of things. Make a list. Write down all the things you need to do. Prioritise the list. Decide what you can’t do. Yes everything is interlinked but you can only do one thing at a time.  Put the prioritised list next to you computer and every time you start to panic look at it and stay calm.

Avoid anxiety and your own inner critical negative voice. Be mindful as much as you can.

2. Work back from the end

Know what your layout is (and I don’t mean the layout of your plans). Know what drawings you are going to pin up or publish at the end and how these drawings contribute and support your argument. If you know what you are going to present at the end then you will know more accurately what you have to do. Do an actual mock up and stick it on a wall and see how it looks.  Read this previous blog of mine on layout and this one on verbal presentation.

Timing is critical and working back form the end helps. Too often architects forget to allow for the print queue. There is nothing worse than having a great design but missing the deadline set by the project manager or the studio submission.

3. Plan and resolve your way through problems

The quicker you can resolve issues around your design the better. At the end of the project it usually the medium and little things that need to be resolved.  What is the profile of the roof or volume, where should openings or windows go, what happens at the entry conditions, is the circulation pattern easily communicated. Resolve as much as you can and as quickly as you can.These are design development decisions.  If you think you are getting into a bind about anyone decision. Just make a choice. Its your design.

Know when to design and then when to just produce the images.

4. Figure out what you can and cant do

You cant do everything. Use a prioritised list and a final layout plan to figure out what you need to do.D hat way you won t get sucked into the computer finessing things that you don’t need to worry about and making design development decisions. Concentrate, and complete, the hardest and most time consuming elements of the design and presentation first. Leaving the hard and time consuming things to last is just another form of procrastination.

Your mantra at this stage should be. Resolve, Resolve and Resolve; one issue at a time.

5. Look after yourself

Staying up all night to 5 in the morning hyped up on mother or red bull or coke or amphetamines is really really bad. After 1 am your productivity will drop. It doesn’t matter if you are in your twenties. Take breaks, eat properly and know when it is time to sleep. Get some exercise.

If you are really strapped for time the best you can do is work form 9 am to around 1 am with an hour for lunch and hour for dinner. Then make sure you get 6, maybe 7 to 8 hours sleep. It will help you to make better decisions.

Know when it is not worth it. At the end of the day it is not worth sacrificing your mental health for a better than average pass or wining the selected competition. There will be other design studios and other projects. Stop and get help if you feel your mental health is suffering.

6. Get help

Get your friends in. Get them to do stuff. Get them to lend you another eye when you are not sure about things. Ask your tutor, or a team member, about design and design development decisions. A good tutor or team member will relish the questions and help you to resolve issues more quickly rather than you agonise over something for hours.

Discussing your project s concept and design process with others even at this late stage will help you to clarify and prioritise what you need to do to finish it.

7. When bad things go wrong problem solve and replan again

There will be glitches of course. Once I printed out all of my final thesis drawings and looked at them only to realise they were all wrong. The line weights combined with the particular experimental printing process I employed led to unreadable drawings. It was a total disaster. The best thing to do was to have a sleep and not to panic.

After the sleep I could think straight and look at my drawings with a more evaluative eye. I then replanned my production technique and after a few days had reprinted my drawings. I lost time, but on the second print run my drawings were much better (see 2 above).

8. Don’t sit on the computer for the sake of it

If you are sitting there looking at the screen and not getting much done it’s time to move. Efficiency is good and sometimes that means taking breaks every so often. Don’t deceive yourself by thinking that all because you are sitting in front of the computer you are getting things done. Move on to another task.

9. If it looks good it is good

The above statement is my cardinal rule for deciding when to move onto the next task or micro task. If you are running out of time you need to suspend your own inner critic and inner perfectionist. If it looks good then use that and move onto the next task. There is no point having a great and perfect render if the rest of your drawings and images are awful.

Getting the balance right between different images and representation of your design at the end of semester or project is what will count. You are producing an integrated and wholistic design vision. Making one thing superbly refined at the expense of everything else is always remarked upon by the jury critics. But you will never win the competition if you do this. Jury critics usually want to see that how well your design proposal relates to everything.

Of course it may be too late for you to get the balance right. between the design of different elements on your final images. You may have just run out of time or read this blog too late in the day. If that’s then case you may need to make sure a couple of things are so good that you cant fail. This is what I would call a salvage operation.

10. Take notes

Take notes as you work and different justifications, rationale or aspects of your project spring to mind. Use these notes to frame and articulate your own arguments if and when you have to stand in front of your project and discuss it. You can also use the notes to help you include any explanatory or annotative text that may need to go onto the drawings. These notes will also help you to take lessons and insights onto your next project.

Don’t try and constantly second guess your tutor or the critics. Consider what they might want and then craft your response to it. Use the working notes to do this.

Finally 

All of the above should help if you are in desperation mode and you have kissed your significant others goodbye. You may think you will never see them again  as you go into the vortex of the final days of a design project.  But it will soon be over and then of course there is always the next project and it is actually the next project that all architects yearn for.

Surviving the Design Studio: 10 ways to fix the plans before the final deadline. 

Ok so it’s the end of semester or the project and you have spent your life deep in the Rhino, or the other R model, and it’s time to do your layout. But hey you forget about the plan. The what? Oh yeah, the PLAN !!!

The problem is the plan is the first thing any critic or competition judge will look at. Sure they might glance at the crappy 3D render you have done; so hastily crafted the night before. But it’s the plan they will use as the co-ordinating point of reference for the rest of the drawings. Its probably the thing they will look the most at. In fact an excellent plan will mean that the design jurors or critic (or perhaps even a client) will more easily forgive how bad the rest of the project might be.

The demise of the plan

In this digital word it is easy to forget about the plan. You may have sketched something early on; quickly outlined it in the computer and then constructed a model from that plan. By the end of the project you have actually forgotten about the plan.

We no longer read plans because we are too busy watching the future stuff. This is because everything nowadays is three dimensional or even four dimensional. It’s all about AI, CNC fabrication, robotics, autonomous agents and swarmies (I think I mean swarms). Patterns, processes and parametrics reign supreme. Plans are pretty dull compared to the latest YouTube clip or article on Architizer or Dezeen.

In the age of big data, global analytics, digital diagramming and planetary urbanisation the plan has lost its power to seduce our eyes. The network diagram and digital clip is king (and queen too). Born in the computer the global diagrams of networks, animations of swarms and simulations of a flooding cities are more compelling to watch than those old planny plan things. There are some excellent exponents of these new must-be-watched diagrams: Michael Batty at UCL, Neil Brenner’s mix of geography and global flows at the Urban Theory Lab, Eyal Weizman’s forensic architecture. In the work of these contemporary image proponents its like the ideograms and diagrams of the Smithsons’ have been sped and given life through the joys of accelerated computerisation.

In the past, like today’s digital clips, the plan was a seductive artifice in its own right. It could simultaneously be read as a conceptual diagram, a spatial condition and the history of  place. Plans are stratigraphic in their ability to embody layers of meaning and different narratives; no matter how abstract those narratives might be. But, in the current real world, I fear that plans don’t mean that much anymore. For the merchants of neoliberal architecture slapping up the apartment towers its all about the skin bae. These days the plan no longer seems like it means anything at all.

Ok, so much for the ranting and raving about the lost world of plans.

More importantly, when the critics come in, all jackboot like, and start criticising the plans you know they have it in for you. A good critic can demolish your entire scheme just by looking at, and asking questions, about the plan. Here are some tips to get that plan in shape ready for the submission and the critical onslaught.

1.The plan demonstrates the size of things 

The plan and measuring the size of things is extremely critical in housing schemes. A few years back I ran a studio in to we tried to teach the students all the things they didn’t know about plans and unit planning. Basic stuff like how big is a bathroom, or a bedroom and what’s the best way to design a kitchen. How big is a bed or a table?  How do you do a carpark what do you need for turning circles?  You know when a critic is really out to get you is when they start asking you questions like these. So be prepared this is the sort of stuff you need to know. The plan is the best way to control and convince others that you have handle on the dimensions. If you don’t already you need to get one of these books.  

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2. Conventions 

Don’t forget the drawing conventions. Scale and North points; North up the page. This goes without saying.  The same goes for other things like windows, doors and stairs. Draw them correctly. If you don’t put these on your plans, or get them right, you end up looking moronic. Get the measurements right.

3. Spelling

Spell the room names properly. This goes for just about everything on your drawings. Use a dictionary if you have to. Choose a lettering font that isn’t going to be confused for your actual building or prevent it form being understood. Try and avoid using the standard fonts straight out of the software program.

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4. Draw it like a section 

Draw it like a section. Yes, for those of you who don’t know, a plan is really a section. But it is a section where you are looking down about a meter above the ground plane. Hence it is good to draw it as if it sis a section. Line weights, whilst seemingly subtle are critical in conveying planimetric depth.

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5.Show the levels 

Use the plan to design your levels and level changes. Stairs and steps should be drawn in a way that is well crafted and shows that you know that a plan is not simply a flat plane.

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6. Don’t fill your plans with crap 

Don’t fill it full of standard library furniture. It always looks like shit and makes you look like an indolent and lazy idiot.

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7. Plan composition 

After the horrors of the image above it is good to remember that the plan is a composition in its own right. Recognise and emphasise the patterns, shapes and figures in it. It doesn’t matter if these elements are abstract or figurative. Counterpoint and contrast these. Exploit these to generate further design elements, details and iterations of the plan. A plan is in fact a series of plans within a plan.

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8. Inside and Outside 

Pay attention to the plans interfaces both within itself, between rooms or spaces, and where it’s edges meet the outside world or other conditions.What lies just outside of the plans walls. What is its context? How do you get to your plan? What is its realtionship to its surrounding urban context? Or it it just another one of those plans sitting in a kind of blank ether.

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9. Draw in the detail 

Draw in structure and floor patterns and as many detailed elements as possible. As explained above that is the same as filling it in with stock library elements or banal patterns.Floor patterns well done and with the correct line weight are always good.

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10. The plan is a spatial field 

Never forget this: the plan as a diagram, that describes and implies a three dimensional spatial field in which points, lanes, planes and dare I say to volumes are located.

A well drawn, represented, or crafted plan, can hide a multitude of sins if the rest of the project is a pig-dog.Of course sometimes its too late. No matter what you do the plan is still a pig-dog. Remember Raisbeck’s number 1 rule. If it looks good it is good. In other words if looks good to you it will probably look good to the critics or jurors as well.

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Finally, the plan is never really finished 

For the Italian Architect Carlo Scarpa the plan, such as his plan for Castelvecchio in Verona, was in a way never really finished. The most powerful plans, the ones that will burn a hole in your brain, are those that are iconic and compelling images in their own right. They may look finished but in fact they are not and they are usually the result of numerous iterations. It is best to remember a plan is never complete and even when the project is finally constructed it is still good to remember that the plan, even across the digital archive, has a life of its own.

Surviving the Design Studio: 10 things to do when your design tutor is always critical negative. 

Here at “Surviving the Design Studio” I wanted to title this blog “What to do when your design tutor is a bit Psycho”. But, I thought better of it. Then I softened it a bit and thought I would title it “What to do when your Design tutor is kinda crazy.” But maybe those titles don’t really do anyone justice. Especially, those people with genuine mental illnesses or personality disorders.

Anyone who has graduated from an architecture school would  like to think they have had Psycho or crazy design tutors or leaders. You would be surprised to know some students think I am pretty crazy. But seriously we of the old Archi-school studio world all have our stories about the jumped on model, the swearing, the tantrums and all of this followed by all the students crying. Not to mention the cronyism and the sexcapades: Architecture school is not what it used to be. But the real problem is not so much the mental health of our design tutors or team leaders. The real problem is when the design tutor or project team leader is actually not that good at teaching design or mentoring our design skills.

Bad design tutors or teachers abound. They don’t neccesarily have to be an architect. Nor do they have to be working in academia. Yes, they could be running your design studio at Archi-school, or embedded in your practice studio. But, they could also be the project architect leading your team. They could be in any of the design fields, architecture, graphic design, interior design or even advertising.  Worse still they could even be a client. In other words a  client who thinks they no something about design.

Bad design tutors normally share a few common characteristics. The key site of contention is how they give, receive and foster criticism in the design studio.  Contrary opinions from week to week is a primary attribute of this type. Always critical negative about your work. So much so you wonder if they were actually your parents in a past life. Hence, you can never be right or never know if what you are designing is right.

Mismanaging your time during studio is another. The tutor has no respect about other people’s time and will mismanage your time if you let them. The night before the hand-in, tender or the pitch they will berate you for getting the smallest detail wrong and thus getting everything wrong. They will change their mind just before everything is due.  In studio’s they will humiliate you in front of the others (especially in the crits).  When this happens you will unfortunately perceive how their lackeys and acolytes will stand by and applaud.

Before you quit your studio or job or wallow in misery by reading DSM-5. Here are few ideas to help you cope with the design tutor, project leader or creative who cant actually teach design or effectively mentor you. The person who never has a good thing to say about your work.

1. Zero Tolerance Issues

Firstly, dont put up with bullies, racism or discrimination. Check your organisation or companie’s policy on these issues. Understand who the right person in your organisation is to talk to if you think this is happening to you. Don’t keep things to yourself. If there is a pattern of behaivour take notes and record these. If necessary seek legal advice. You have to protect yourself in the first instance.

Make sure you are not being set up to fail. 

2. Personality matters.

But more often than not things are more subtle than what is suggested above. If you are having differences with your design tutor. It could be about personality differences or maybe different learning styles. I think all students of architecture should be self aware enough to do a Myers-Briggs test and figure out where they are positioned. It is always helpful to know if you, or your team mates, are a INTJ or an ENTJ or whatever. It is a good ida to be self aware of other peoples personality types. Especially your design tutors, leaders and mentors. 

3. Culture

Your differences with your tutor may well be as a result of cultural differences. In the globalised education market and contemporary workforce this is more of a factor. You need to think about negotiation style in different cultures. What culture is your tutor or project leader from and how is this different from your own culture or sub-culture. Mannerisms, vocalisation, gestures, status, and even dress codes are all communicated differently, and mean different things, in different cultures.

Once you understand some of the differences between you and your tutor it will make it easier to work with them. 

4. Keep producing. 

You might hate your design team leader or tutor and hate the project and wonder why you picked that studio or job. But that is no reason to just close down. The first thing you need to do is to focus on your design and not procrastinate. Keep producing what you think the right solutions or possible options are for your design. Keep talking with your tutor no matter what you might think of them. If you hide a way or become to fearful to produce you will not get anywhere.

5. Do the work 

Then really important thing you need to listen to is if it seems like your tutor is continually nagging you to do more work, week after week after week. I would take that as a warning sign. As a design tutor I hate nagging postgrad architecture students to do more work. My tactic is to say it a few times and if it then doesn’t happen not to keep saying it (until the end of semester of course). By then it is too late. More often than not students fail design because they have not done enough work.

The best thing to  do that is to design, avoid procrastination, and design and redesign. Design confidence is built up via practice. Even if you think your work is awful there is nothing like learning how to polishing up a pig-dog (as we used to call bad designs at Archi school).

6. Listen 

Listen to what your tutor is saying about your design and your design processes. Is it reasonable? What is that they are suggesting? Do they have insights into the project or your own design processes that are valuable or helpful. Part of learning how to design is quickly, and I mean quickly, being able to take on board criticism, evaluate it and feed it into your design processes. If you can do this you will be ok. In fact if you can do this you don’t really need the bad design tutor or project team leader. Which leads to the next point.

7. Criticism

Good design tutors and project leaders create an atmosphere within the studio or the team where it is safe to criticise without fear or favour.  It’s probable, if you tutor is really bad, that whatever you do will be criticised. But if your experience is limited it is sometimes hard to figure out what to do. If you feel that your work is being unfairly criticised seek other opinions form your peers and friends. Create your own design crit circles and networks. Chat about it at lunchtime with your co-workers. Sharing the pain of unfair criticism gets you thinking about what is good and not good in relation to your design process.

8. Get help 

Who needs a design tutor when you have friends and all your friends are other architecture students or architects. Use your friends to try and sort out the good from the bad aspects of your design. Use them to help you judge what your tutor may or may not be saying to you.

9.Do the alternative design 

Do the alternative design either by stealth or in your head. Think about the things that will drive that overly controlling modernist parametric purist you are working for into a design rage. Build those elements into your design and then sit back and watch the fun when you turn up for the crit.

Producing the the alternative design is always a good way to test and explore your own design processes.

10. Remember it maybe not be you that is the problem 

Don’t let a bad tutor destroy your confidence. Protect and nurture your own sense of design, design skills, always try and improve your own design processes.

You should not rely on the good or bad opinion of a tutor or your star-architect employer to bolster your confidence. Work through the issues if tutor feedback is bad. The purpose of architecture school, or any school for that manner, is for your to develop confidence in your own abilities independently. Being overly reliant on tutors to give that to you is fine up to a point but at the end of the day you need to stand alone.

The best way to gain your own design confidence is to be responsible for your own design education. This is a life long process and no architecture school, or the star architect you are working for is going to give you that confidence.