Today’s post is brought to you by Ulysses Valiente, an author and recent graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Architectural Science from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. He maintains the blog “The Underdog Architecture Student’s Blog” which is one of the architectural blog sites that I keep in my RSS feed. He wrote this article on his site the other day that caught my attention and with school starting soon and a fresh batch of architecture students about to be indoctrinated into studio life, I thought re-posting it here would be a good thing, possibly even an important thing.
September is almost here! A new batch of students will be entering architecture school again. On a serious issue, I wanted to write this article now, to shine a little awareness of mental illness to those beginning architecture school.
Mental Illness & Architecture School
For some students, college will be the time when some might struggle to cope with the stresses associated with college life. Many do not realize that at the age of 18-24, that the college years, is when mental health as well as learning disability issues begin to show up in people more so than any stage in life.
Architecture school has another layer of stress and rigor placed upon its students – we are in the studio, perhaps for a day or three, our limited time makes it more difficult to uphold a healthy lifestyle and maintain our personal relationships with those outside of architecture. We pull a heck of a lot of all-nighters, might not eat right, and not getting enough sleep – all which can trigger or worsen symptoms associated with mental health. With the highly competitive environment that architecture school has some students feel isolated and lonely.
If you’re suffering: Get Help.
The best advice I can give students that struggle or find themselves in a life crisis in the middle of architecture school is to seek professional help right away, and confidentially. Seek out the professional counselling services your college provides – part of your tuition in university is actually for ancillary services. Get yourself checked. there is no shame in that. You might be able to know if or when you have a personal crisis – your work is slipping up, you’re falling behind, you might not be happy as you used to be, your friends or classmates around you might notice if you`re not at your best.
I know first hand that the architecture school culture can easily mask off signs of mental illness for actual students that have a mental illness. I went through counselling when I felt that I could not cope with the workload normally like other students, and I had to drop courses and fail studio to realize that I needed to learn the right strategies in coping with stress.
“I’m not gonna get this done!” “I’m gonna fail” “I’m gonna suck” – We all say it, and for some of us it works and we move on, and we feel that our pessimism and worry fuels us to succeed. What happens when these words become a self-fulfilled prophecy? The problem is when those students that actually worry non-stop with deeper problems may reinforce it to them as the norm and can hit their esteem, self-worth, and confidence – impacting their mental health.
As a leader in one of the architecture student groups in my school, I met students that struggled and some even opened up to me. I know that the architecture studio culture seems unhelpful and not accommodating to students with mental health issues. There is a stigma going to get help and accommodation in a life crisis. I’ve heard students talk against students who didn’t hand in their assignment on time or did not present their studio. I’ve seen professors unsympathetic to those students, and a little more biased against them. Which is why I suggest to seek out help in confidence/privately, because unfortunately our studio culture and our professors are not accustomed to this and are not welcoming to these issues.
Architecture School: Rigid & Conservative
The culture of Architecture school is very conservative and insular culture. Author Thomas Fisher(1991) points out three aspects in his editorial Patterns of Exploitation*; first, architecture is entwined in a macho cut-throat toughen up approach; secondly, a fraternal aspect of our profession and education that likens the workload pressures to hazing; lastly, how we glorify and seek to personalize ideals of the self-suffering artist.
It is a shame that architecture schools are still stuck in an old school mentality that favours the survival of the fittest and takes the cut throat approach to any student that shows a trace of weakness. The problem is when we lose students who are legitimately dedicated, but were overworked and stressed out to the capacity and forcing them to stop. I personally believe that they still have a chance, and that architecture is a life learning experience – they’ll learn how to be tough and proficient eventually, maybe as clearly defined by a 4-year or 5-year educational track. Losing students because they are unable to keep up or fall behind due to personal circumstances means another voice or perspective lost in our schools and our profession. It reduces the plurality of insights, the limitless opportunities and potential for our field to progress.
Mental health awareness is starting to be portrayed in the media, and this is from years of getting the facts straight. Architecture, as a field, has always looked back and with new knowledge evolved and iterated itself after being informed. The question lies, how does architectural education see itself in teaching our generation of Millenials with different circumstances and needs than before? I think that architectural education needs to reflect and modify itself on what works and what does not – what is effective and what is not in order to maintain relevancy in this day and age.
What architecture students like us can do.
The right studio culture is needed in an architecture program. If professors have a hard time finding ways to lighten the load while effectively teaching and expecting the level of work at the same time, we as students can act as support systems in architecture studio. Yes, students must learn how to manage their time but if we are there for each other and willing to help and learn from each other (I hate to sound cheesy) studio can be more enjoyable and actually encouraging for all to succeed. I’ve seen architecture years that were competitive where studio sections became fortresses for clicks and I have seen years that have been really open to each other. Despite the competitiveness of architecture school I believe that sportsmanship in the realm of studio is of greater value and integrity.
For More Information:
If you know a friend that is suffering with a mental illness or you are:
http://www.halfofus.com/ (US website) I just discovered this link and it actually tackles these issues and informs a lot of students. Also provides some useful help for students to figure out how to PROPERLY help a friend out in a time of need including what NOT to do.
http://www.camh.ca (Canadian Website) also provides resources for help.
This show in Canada, The Agenda, actually sheds light on the growing rate of anxiety among University students and a growing concern for anxiety disorders. Also check out their blog entry that discusses the episode and provides statistics.
Fisher, Thomas. “Patterns of Exploitation” Progressive Architecture May 1991:9. General Reference Center GOLD, Web Aug 2012.
If you would like to contact Ulysses directly, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Filed Under: Architects, Do you want to be an Architect?, Guest PostsTagged With: Architecture School, design studio, Do you want to be an Architect, Guest post
A great experience that included working on campus building design
Lisa Johnson, a junior majoring in Interior Design, completed a summer internship at the Madison-based design firm KEE Architecture. Lisa worked on multiple projects, including one that involved remodeling a UW-Madison sorority house. Internships are valuable experiences that allow students to practice their applied-learning skills in the real world. Thank you for sharing your experience, Lisa!
As a college student, the future is full of mystery, excitement, and fear. I find myself daydreaming in my classes about all the possibilities that my future may one day hold. Now that I am a junior in college, that “future” is approaching rapidly! But how do I get from here to there?
An internship is the answer! After finishing up my sophomore year here at UW-Madison, I thought that this was a great time to put my skills to the test. Through networking, I was able to land a full time internship with KEE Architecture for the summer. It is a small firm that is led by three principles, two architects, and one interior designer. They have been established within and around the Madison area for over twenty years and have completed projects around the UW-Madison campus, such as Carson Gulley’s and the Porter Boat House.
I loved the look of the KEE Architecture conference room.
What did I do all summer?
There is no such thing as a typical day in the office! I am the only interior design intern and work with two other designers, so we each take on a lot of responsibility. Usually in the morning I start the day off in the materials library sorting and organizing samples that we pulled but need to be put back. Then by about 9:00am when everyone is mostly here, the two other designers and I try to sit down about once a week to organize the tasks and priorities for the week. I really like doing this because it puts all of us on the same page and keeps us focused. That is about as much normalcy as it gets. From there, every day or week is different and is usually driven by a certain project.
One of the projects we are currently working on is for a sorority house. They are remodeling their chapter house and is getting close to done for the new school year. I have gotten to help with this project quite a bit! One of my major tasks was to create a presentation of all the items we still needed to select. So I started out by familiarizing myself with the architecture of the house and looking at the already purchased items to get a good sense of the style. The items that were missing ranged from mirrors, lamps, and picture frames. Some of these items would be focal points and other pieces were meant to blend in.
Once I became familiarized with the essence of the house, I started looking for pieces that I thought would work. Some items I was able to find online while for others I drove to the frame store to pick custom selections. From there, I then studied the dimensions and proportions by outlining them in AutoCAD to make sure the items fit properly. Once approving the proportions with the purchased items, I then put them into a floor plan, in which some rooms could have a couple different options. So I mocked up a few different plans in AutoCAD for the client to select one.
Finally, we sat down with the client and presented our ideas. I was able to take all the information and put it together into a cohesive packet using InDesign. The meeting went very well and we accomplished our goal! After the meeting, I contacted the representatives and put together purchase order forms for all the items. About a few weeks later the items started arriving, which was very exciting to see the end result after putting in long hours for that presentation.
My own project
After finishing up that task, I got the opportunity to take on my own project! This was very exciting for me because I never thought that I would be able to take on one as an intern! The project is a small bathroom remodel that desperately needs to be updated. There are many code issues that need to be addressed due to the houses age. This was a nice challenge that I was looking forward to, trying to use every inch as wisely as possible!
To start this project, it took me about a day to set up a Revit file and model the existing bathroom from the client’s dimensions. The company has standards for setting up construction documents so it was interesting to learn about how they are organized. I also had never worked with the multiple layouts tool before, which is a really cool feature that will definitely come in handy for future projects.
After getting the file set up, my boss and I sketched out a few different layouts for the bathroom and then I took those drawings and drew them into Revit. Once we had a plan, I began to draw up elevations for each plan. There were three plans overall and each one needed four elevations to cover the whole room, so if you do the math that is 12 total. This was the most time consuming part, luckily I really enjoy seeing that transformation from a 2D plan to starting to think more 3D. I spent around two to three days getting every detail right and making sure that the dimensions were what we wanted.
The construction documents were one of a couple different items we needed for our client meeting. We also needed a plumbing schedule, finishes symbol, and some samples for the client to touch and feel. We decided to go very clean and simple with the fixtures using companies like Kohler and Grohe because they are quality products that will perform well. As for the finishes we kept them very clean and simple, going with a mosaic tile on the floor that will continue barrier free into the shower. This is a nice feature that will also make the space feel bigger because the glass shower will not seem so dominant in the room. The cabinets will be an off white color with a nice slab of granite that will look very nice with the sleek sconces. It was an interesting challenge to find pieces that stayed true with the history of the house yet updating the fixtures to a more contemporary fresh feel.
At the client meeting, they loved both the plans and selections! I was very proud of my first real project and thrilled with the results! I even got to lead part of the meeting! This was just the beginning phase and there is a lot more work to be done over the next month or two. This was the highlight of my internship experience and I really appreciated the opportunity I was given.
I think most college students share that same fear of how to get from here to there. How do I go from being a student to a working professional? My internship this summer eased my fears and gave me great insight on the industry. I am confident now that my experience with KEE will make the transition smoother after graduation. I could not have envisioned a better way to start off my career!