It’s been a week since the midterm review, an exciting but difficult milestone that I’m happy to say my classmates and I managed to negotiate. Over the course of two rather long but enriching days, we presented our final projects to a panel of critics for the first of two major studio projects of the semester.
A student presents to a panel of critics.
The days leading up to the review were nothing short of intense. Everyone was in nonstop production mode and, on occasion, freak-out mode. The constant hum of the laser cutters, booked solid from 8 a.m. to midnight the day before the review, permeated throughout the studio. Sadly, I broke my streak of never working through the night and pulled my first all-nighter the night before the review.
The fully booked laser cutter schedule the night before the review
In our world where digital images are shared so easily and consumed so voraciously, it seems miraculous that all projects would turn out so distinct from one another. As I have been since the beginning of our program, I was struck by the sheer variety of ideas pinned up on the walls.
The broadness and open-endedness of the project’s overall brief allowed each student’s unique interests and educational backgrounds to color and shape their work as governed by a distinct concept and problem-solving strategy. Despite this variation in core concept, cross-pollination of ideas occurred; such exchange is the result of constant dialogue that comes with working side by side in studio.
Before hearing feedback, a student explains his work to students and critics.
Now that I’m halfway through the first semester, I have had a bit of time to reflect on and evaluate my experience in school thus far. I’ve fallen into the rhythm and have gained a level of familiarity and established a routine here. I have a firm understanding of what’s expected of me as well as what I can reasonably achieve on a day-to-day basis given the wide scope of my responsibilities.
What I’m coming to realize is that it’s hard to arrive at a level of complexity and depth that I would like in my work given the rapid pace of our project and the fact that we are expected to devote as much time to our other classes. This is the constant struggle that keeps architecture students in the studio so late at night. To be able to explore complex ideas and bring them to a satisfactory level of resolution requires more hours than there are in the waking day. And so we work into the night.
First-year students at work in the studio
This is one of the phenomenons of architecture school that, until now, mystified me. No, our sleeplessness is not an act of heroism or simply for show. It happens out of dedication to our work and a faith in our abilities to see our visions through. As a student just starting out in this discipline, it takes me a lot more time and effort — and struggle — to design and execute my projects at the level of complexity and meaningfulness I aim for. In short, there is a gap between what I can dream up and what I can draft and model.
This struggle I describe is the stop-and-start motion of the creative process. All designers, no matter how seasoned, experience the frustration of creative blocks, self-doubt and scrapped work. This experience is inextricably a part of the countless hours that we put in.
The entire school gathers in Hastings Hall before a Thursday evening lecture.
It’s like learning a new language or an instrument: To produce a comprehensible sentence in speech or a full-bodied tone in music requires a level of familiarity and practice that comes only after one has put the hours in. I hope that by the end of this first year, my “fluency” in expressing my ideas in architecture will have reached a level where my representational skills can catch up to my ideas.
I often ask myself what the value is in working away on a hypothetical project that is largely structurally impossible and never to be built. Why do we do this? Some days I have a ready answer, others I dejectedly shake my head and wonder if all of these hours are really amounting to something valuable for myself and for the world. Maintaining a long-term perspective — that each hour of work is one step closer to proficiency and finesse of design I hope to possess upon graduation — keeps me going.
My biggest concern with the pace of our program is that it gives us very little time to just stop and think. When we are expected to do so much every day, a period devoted to ideation and concept development is brushed aside due to an impending deadline. Such is the nature of the first-year curriculum: It is deliberately designed to have us overextended and pressed for time. For better or for worse, the curriculum is designed this way.
Students in Modern Architecture engage with original copies of Bauhaus-era printed materials at the Beinecke Rare Book Library.
I find there is value in the speed of the program in that it allows us to learn a lot quickly, but I fear that sometimes quality or depth of concept is lost along the way. Conversations with my peers regarding the somewhat frenzied pace of the program have raised questions about the sacrifice of mental and physical health (stress, lack of sleep) as well as the compromised quality of some of our work (not enough time to complete it).
As I move forward with the rest of the semester, I think it’s important to remain critical about the program while also celebrating its strengths. For now, I am thankful for being a part of this program despite its challenging nature.
All photographs courtesy of Martin Man unless otherwise noted