I would consider myself a pretty excellent candidate for giving tips on reviews in architecture school, for two primary reasons: 1) I have been through the dreaded final crit myself in the not-too-distant past, and 2) I found the experience absolutely terrifying. That’s right, even The Angry Architect has experienced struggles with presenting, most often due to nerves and a tendency to over-analyze the situation, leading to a rushed and somewhat muddled presentation.
However, during my battles within the arena of architectural reviews, I have picked up a few handy tips that can make those tense occasions just a little more bearable. Here are my top seven, and if you have any more please let us know in the comments section below!
1. Know Your Audience
If possible, establish exactly who will be present for your review, as it may well alter your approach when presenting. If the panel is made up of university professors who are already familiar with your project, you can look to explain how you have built upon previous iterations of your design, and in what ways you have responded to comments made in earlier crits.
Alternatively, you may be faced with visiting tutors or other external critics from the wider architectural community – advance knowledge of these attendees is useful as you can then plan a more holistic presentation, which outlines the origins of the design brief before tracing a narrative arc to explain how you arrived at your final design. If this is the case, a word of warning: stick to the pivotal points to tell your story, or your presentation may end up far too lengthy!
2. You Are The Expert
Although spending endless studio hours slaving over every minute detail of your design can feel as exhausting as it is stressful, it gives you a distinct advantage come review day – by the time your crit arrives, you will possess an intimate knowledge of every last column, beam and rafter of your proposal, and this fact will shine through during your presentation.
Be confident that you know far more about your scheme than anyone else, and if a member of the review panel questions the narrative, it should merely be a case of communicating exactly how your creative process led you to your final proposal. Of course, there will always be details that certain members of the panel may disagree on, but if you ensure that you are the expert of your project’s path from conception to completion, you won’t go too far wrong.
3. Practice Makes Perfect
As your deadline approaches, you may find it difficult to sacrifice valuable drawing time in order to practice your presentation – but you will be glad you did. Find anyone who is willing to listen – housemates, family members, or fellow students – and give it a whirl in a low-pressure environment.
Depending on your expected audience (see point one), it may be wise to practice in front of people who know nothing at all about your scheme – this way, they can point out any aspect of the project that you left unclear, and flag up potential ambiguities within your explanations that could prove confusing or overcomplicated to the panel.
You can also gain valuable feedback from them on general presentation techniques, such as the pacing, clarity, and projection of your speech.
4. Models Make The Difference
Past experience has shown me that good presentation material – clear drawings, rich perspectives, and fly-through videos – can provide you with a perfect foil for your verbal account of the project. Detailed section drawings in particular can provide visual cues to help you as you guide the panel through the spaces within your proposal. Which is the best medium of all? It has to be the scale model.
Providing models – be they sketchy paper maquettes or beautifully crafted 3D prints – can enhance your words beyond measure, as members of the panel can peer through physical spaces, and touch the very proposal as you are in the process of describing it. As lovers of architecture we can’t help but be drawn to three-dimensional objects as a compelling presentation tool, and your tutors and visiting critics will feel the same. Go forth and model!
5. Don’t Be Intimated
How do you make your audience seem less intimidating? Other guides around the web have advocated everything from imagining you are presenting to your grandma, to picturing your audience with no clothes on! Personally, I would find the latter approach more distracting than anything else, and it helps not to overcomplicate things here: simply keep in mind that your tutors were once in your position, and they are (generally speaking!) not out to trip you up.
They are also there for the same overriding reason as you – they have a passion for creative architecture. Therefore, if you can summarize your project narrative succinctly and paint a vivid picture of your proposal, they are sure to respond with enthusiasm.
6. Keep Hold Of The Positives
One trap I frequently fell into during my fledgling years in architecture school was to agonize over negative comments during my review, often blowing them out of proportion in my mind after the event. While it is important to evaluate criticism received and adapt your design accordingly, it is also crucial that you pick out the positive aspects from your review – these can help you pinpoint the most successful elements of your scheme, which can then be developed and expanded to great effect in the future.
If you don’t have the opportunity to further develop your design after your final review, then there is all the more reason to keep hold of the positives – this will give you the psychological boost that comes with the knowledge that at least some of your incredible hard work was appreciated!
While the final review is a significant milestone within the timeframe of your project, we have a tendency to view it with a foreboding sense of anticipation – as if our entire mark will be defined by those precious few minutes in front of the panel. This is far from the case, in fact, as tutors will pore over presentation material, sketchbooks and portfolios long before establishing your grade.
7. Keep Perspective
The crit is a chance to bring your proposal alive for the panel, and communicate your enthusiasm and passion for the scheme in a bid to persuade them of its architectural merit. However, if you endure a difficult review with critical feedback, do not lose heart: just try to learn everything you can from the experience and keep it in mind as you move forward into professional practice … your presentation skills will be called upon many more times in your career, so there is always another chance to improve.
Good luck everyone!
The Angry Architect