Mistakes & Regrets in Architecture School

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They all look like ants from up here.

So I’ve finally done it. I’ve finished my long journey through the NSW educational system.  Having completed my Master of Architecture postgraduate degree I am now free to enter the fun and exciting world of full-time, nine-to-five work for the rest of my life until I accumulate enough money that I can stop working and exist in a relative state of comfort while my body slowly disintegrates. Hooray! As a bit of catharsis – and as I haven’t come across any games lately which have prompted me to want to write – this post is a means for me to reflect upon the past six-ish years I’ve spent at university. I’ll be a little more informal here than my usual posts and it’s going to be very much a stream of consciousness deal.

Now it’s all well and good to remember all the great times one has had whilst reminiscing, but in order to learn we often have to understand where we’ve failed. So, without further ado, here are ten of the (many) mistakes and regrets of my past years in architecture school.

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2011: The dark days of hand-drafting and terrible Photoshop perspectives.

1. I focused too hard on the end result instead of the process.

When a presentation was coming up I would look at all the deliverables: plans, sections, axonometrics, perspectives. I would then form a mental (or often a physical) checklist of these things, and right off the bat, even before a design has taken shape I’m already subconsciously working towards drawings which would all fit together nicely on a panel.

This meant that my wings were clipped from the get-go. Instead of being allowed to let my creative process wander, it was set on a fixed path with no detours. I may have been precluded from certain failures, sure, but that also meant I couldn’t learn from them.

2. I was afraid of late nights and all nighters.

I would plan my workflow so far in advance that in my entire university career I’ve never pulled an all-nighter (an extremely common apparent rite of passage for architecture students). Until my final semester of the Master degree, my policy was generally to stop work around dinner-time so I could relax before bed and get a good night’s sleep. I refused to partake in architecture’s infamous ‘culture’ of late nights.

This might seem like a positive thing, but along with the previous point it meant I never pushed particularly hard or worked outside of what was expected. As a personal trait, I am extremely unproductive past around 6PM, and I used this as an excuse to essentially switch off my thinking and play video games. However, an extra few hours every week over the course of a degree could certainly have pushed my projects in innovative or exciting directions.

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2012: AKA the ‘fuck haircuts’ phase of my life.

3. I listened to my tutor.

For me, the tutor was the law: everything they said, went. Sometimes it felt as if the work I was doing was just an extension of their own thinking without any of my own. After all, they were the ones who would eventually hand down the final mark, so why would I want to go against their advice?

When viewed as a whole, this makes my work look like a bizarre mural painted by a dozen different artists. While I have my whole career ahead of me, it made it difficult to establish my own style or identity, and all for the sake of ‘good marks’. Marks which are inconsequential once you’re out in the workforce and someone wants you to come up with your own idea.

4. I lived too far away from university.

This isn’t a complaint, nor is it really something I had a lot of control over: I know a lot of people who travelled far more to get to university each day. However, the fact that it would take me almost an hour and a half each way to get to uni meant that I tried my best not to spend any more time there than was absolutely necessary. This eventually devolved to the point that I would experience deep anxiety whenever I had to stay late at university for group work or anything else.

I missed out on a lot of socialising and bonding which took place during late nights in the computer labs or in the studios. And since I didn’t want to have to travel to university to work, and I wanted to work in the comfort of my own home…

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2013: Can I somehow work a zombie apocalypse into my final project? Yes, yes I apparently can.

5. I worked much more efficiently at home.

This was a result of the previous point, and perhaps the anxiety. Unlike many of my classmates I found it much easier to concentrate at home. I knew I could wear comfy trackies and go downstairs to make a coffee whenever I wanted. Since I didn’t have to commute, I had an extra two and a half hours of productive work time. It just made more sense to me.

Over the entirety of university, however, this meant I spent the majority of my time working in a vacuum. I had no peers to comment on my work or suggest ways I could improve. As far as I knew, I was going in the completely wrong direction and nobody would have known until I made the trek back to uni and presented it.

6. I was too organised with my time.

While studying for the HSC, our yearmaster in high school taught us to break our study days into four-hour blocs, with short breaks between them. I continued using this long into my Bachelor degree for the days I wasn’t at university. A lot of the time, at least in my earlier years, this meant I would finish my assignments days or even weeks ahead of my peers.

Why is this a bad thing? Aside from the ire I often drew from those still up the night before a presentation, there was a whole lot of time which could have been used to make my projects better, or produce more work. Instead, I would use that time binge-watching eight seasons of Entourage or replaying a game on the hardest difficulty. (Towards the end of my Master degree, however, I couldn’t really get away with this anymore.)

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2014-2015: Full time work at an architecture firm, and the first year of my Master degree.

7. I viewed architecture as work moreso than as a passion.

Don’t get me wrong: I love architecture. It’s great. But when you’re doing it for both university and work (paying for and getting paid for architect-ing, respectively), I found I needed to switch my mind off and do something else. While this seems like a normal thing, it’s hard to imagine the great architects of the 21st century saying, “Architecture is my life… but only between the hours of 8:30AM and 5:30PM on weekdays.”

It’ll be a long journey, but I hope I can eventually reach the day where I love architecture so much that work becomes play.

8. I never read any architecture literature unless I absolutely had to.

I bought a lot of architecture books by famous architects and theorists and expected that I would, in my spare time, actually read them. But as long as there was a video game I had yet to complete (see: literally all the time), that was 100% going to be my preference.

There was also a period where I had Archdaily and various other architecture websites on my list of daily bookmarks, but this habit soon deteriorated until they were replaced with various other video gaming news websites.

I wish I could blame video games, but it’s honestly my own laziness. I’ll get around to reading them eventually.

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2016: Architects wear black.

9. I didn’t apply for exchange.

Sydney has some great examples of architecture, but compared to almost every city in the world, Australia is still so young. The past two centuries of Australian architecture can’t put a candle to the richness of European architecture developed over millennia, by hundreds of of different cultures with completely different views of the world and how we inhabit it. I learned various things through my short travels in South-East Asia, but nothing compared to what I would have gleaned from living in a city halfway across the world for several months.

There were several opportunities for exchange – and while there’s no guarantee that I would have gotten in if I had applied, at least I could say I tried. And now that I’m out of university and working full-time, the only way that I’d really be able to really experience another culture would be to abandon my life here and move overseas.

10. Until the very end of my university career, I never really pushed my limits.

My final semester of the Master degree was the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life. By the end of it, I could say for the first time that the final product was absolutely the best I could have done, without a ‘maybe if I did this’ or ‘maybe if I did that’. I wish I could have said the same about the semesters which preceded it.

While I didn’t pull any all-nighters, I was on around four hours of sleep per night for the entire week before my final presentation, while I was working 99% of the other twenty hours of the day. And honestly, it wasn’t that bad. It was actually quite fun (though I’m not sure I’d want to do it again). But I only found this out at the point in my university life where it was almost too late to learn from. If I had pushed this hard, or even just slightly harder than I had in all of the semesters before it, I feel like I would have come out more experienced and better equipped for what lies ahead.

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2017: The smug look is from before I saw my final mark.

A lot of these points are because of my method of thinking and my personality, and a culmination of all the things learned in earlier years. It’s hard to say if I would have changed all that much in retrospect. However, reflecting on all the experiences – good and bad – of the final chapter of my education feels like a satisfying way to tie it all off. While life is pretty good right now, I know university is something I’ll definitely miss.

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