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How to get top grades at architecture school | Degree | EP3

This one is not to be missed! We explain how to crack university at degree level.

This podcast discusses how to succeed at university at architecture degree level. Jack & Adam talk about their own experiences and what they wish they had known when they were at University.

Podcast write-up

Table of Contents

Introduction 0:00

On this podcast we will be discussing how to succeed at university at architecture degree level.

The Journey to Become an Architect 0:26

Kenny asks Jack and Adam to outline the journey to becoming a RIBA chartered architect in the UK. Jack opens the discussion stating that it is a long hard road to becoming an architect. You need to love it in order complete the journey due to the intensity of the course and journey.

You typically start at 18 years of age at under graduate degree level which is 3 years in duration and upon completion you receive a BA (Hons) Degree which then takes you onto a ‘year out’ placement in an architectural practice as a Part 1 Architectural Assistant (usually for 1 year).

Upon completion of the ‘year out’ you will then return to university at post graduate level for 2 years and upon completion you will receive a Masters MArch. Following this you will then return to an architectural practice as a Part II Architectural Assistant.

The next step is to work towards achieving the RIBA Advanced Diploma in Professional Practice (Part 3). For those with Part 1 and Part 2 recognition who are successful in the Part 3 examination, it is at this point you are eligible for registration under the Architects Registration Act 1997 and have the opportunity to apply for a RIBA Chartered Membership.

The minimum amount of time from starting at degree level to full qualification is 7 years but typically it would take an extra year or so longer and our advice would be to undertake 2 years as a Part 2 Architectural Assistant before enrolling on the Part 3 course.

In this episode we focus on undergraduate Degree level encompassing the first 3 years of study.

Kenny asks, before you start, is there anything you can do to put you at an advantage for your degree? Jack discusses that if he was going back to start his degree he would start to learn the basic concept architectural software’s such as SketchUp and AutoCAD.

They discuss that SketchUp seems to have made its way onto the curriculum at key stage 3 and 4 which was not the case 20 years ago.

Adam discusses the option of undertaking a foundation degree in architecture which adds an additional year to the journey but would be extremely beneficial in equipping you with the additional hard and soft skills needed at degree level. (University is known as ‘College’ in the USA).

The guys discuss how ArchAdemia can empower your architectural skills and thinking ahead of staring your formal architectural education. It can bridge the gap between School and university and in essence that is the aim of the platform. In addition, it is extremely beneficial to try and undertake work experience in an architectural practice to give you valuable experience.

Adam explains how a lot of our lessons are based on a famous building which gives an appreciation of the component parts that makes a great building.

It is advantageous to determine your strengths as early as possible which enables you to focus on your weaknesses.

How to Set Up for Success in Your Degree 4:05

Kenny asks, is there anything you would do differently if you had your time at university again? Jack and Adam mention their total naivety about studying architecture and how their software proficiency was weak in comparison to the student they meet now. They note that software such as SketchUp seems to have been introduced into the curriculum far earlier than when they started studying architecture.

In Jack and Adams experience, they turned up at university totally unprepared and out of their depths. Adam notes that some people on their course had foundation degrees in various subjects that gave a real advantage when compared to their peers without. The negative is this will set you back an additional year but on balance they felt the advantages favoured this approach.

Adam then discuses it further saying for some people an additional year isn’t always practical so other options such as night school and summer school can offer similar benefits. Jack mentions to prepare and become well read whilst in school and how ArchAdemia can empower you with their tutorials and advice. He then mentions the benefits of a work experience placement in an architectural practice to give insight into the industry.

Adam highlights that his biggest shock was personally his own drawing ability and how this led him to the computer a little earlier than typically normal whilst studying architecture. He notes a shock factor with regard to understanding projects and interpreting a brief. He notes that the ArchAdemia courses try to address this as they are based on famous building examples which allows you to relive the process of how the building was drawn and designed.

Jack mentions how overwhelming it can be when your start to study architecture at university when considering the varying strengths of your peers on the course. They note that the playing field does level out in due course and can actually be advantageous, allowing you to lean on and learn from other people’s strengths. Adam jokingly says that if you can’t draw, just model the building in SketchUp and trace over it.

Kenny then asks the question, what is the architectural degree course like in reality? Jack makes the analogy or the course being like military training in that it is difficult but once you complete the training you have a new understanding and respect for your peers around you. The analogy ‘brothers in arms’ is mentioned and how the course is like an art A-Level in that the entire course is project based as opposed to exam based.

Adam notes that one of the biggest differences between studying architecture and school/college is the intensity across the whole year as opposed to a course with exams where the intensity grows and tapers off at certain times. You are constantly being assessed and checked at architecture degree level. The first year is just about keeping your head above water and the competitiveness is greater as everybody is new to the course, with friendships in their infancy’s.

Jack then notes the amount of people on the architecture course on the very first day is overwhelming. In their personal experience there was about 200 people on the course on the first day in September and then by Christmas that figure was eroded down to about 60 people. Adam thought it was going to quite an intimate setting with about 10 people on the course, but the level of people was a great shock. Adam says how second year gets a bit more serious and the course makes more sense by this point.

What is the Management Style of The Tutors 16:10

Kenny mentions the high level of independence required for the architecture course and Adam and Jack note that you are not micromanaged in terms of what you are doing day to day but more so what you present at key project milestones.

Adam does note that studio attendance is noted and important so would recommend being in the studio at every available opportunity to give the tutors the best impression of yourself. Jack notes that in first year, you are not aware of your ability or how long tasks take at that stage of the architectural journey.

Adam gives examples of how to break a project down and how you can prepare and manage your time accordingly. He recommends drawing a famous building before you start studying architecture and then even your own house as you will have an intimate knowledge of how big each space is relative to your own experience.

Jack agrees and notes that he still does this to add relative scale to a project. An example he mentions is how he sometimes overlays spaces from his own house (of which he has an intimate understanding) with his proposals to ground the spaces in relative scale. They note how in year one of your architectural degree you have very little appreciation of scale.

Adam notes how there is an intimidation factor in the early stages of your studies with some students nervous about approaching tutors and peers for advice. Jack notes how the course structure in their experience was set up to account for this with private tutorial sessions allocated between students and tutors.

They touch upon presenting their projects at ‘crits’ and how it comes naturally to some people whilst others really struggle. Jack notes that he was in the latter category so used to try and find common ground with the tutors to reduce the level of intimidation and intensity of the situation. Adam notes that increased studio presence organically helps with this as you get to know the tutors naturally.

The advice for presentations is to not just robotically read from a script but to have ‘prompts’ prepared that allow the presentation to flow more as a back-and-forth conversation with feedback taken on board at multiple intervals rather than all at the end.

How to Deal with Negative Critique 26:10

Kenny then asks the question of how does it feel when you get a negative critique and how do you deal with this when it happens? Jack opens by saying the process is quite a humbling one and with hindsight you aren’t as good as you think you are at the time. He advises to be humble and take on board the advice of the tutors as they do have your best interests at heart.

Adam mentions that it isn’t personal, and the process is very relevant to real life as a qualified architect as you still have critiques in the form of client reviews or meetings with the local authority. You need to adopt a mindset that it is just constructive criticism, and the tutors are not there to appease you. They will always have critique no matter how comprehensive the project. It is good to strike a balance between the tutor’s feedback and your own personal design development. Adam notes how Jack would refine his projects whereas he tended to start again multiple times which got in the way of really testing a design.

They note that by second year the expectation of the tutors grows exponentially, and Adams advice is to ask yourself, what is the problem this building is trying to solve as this underpins the entire project. First year is very narrative based and you only start to design an actual building towards the end of the year. Second year is a balance of the two.

What is architecture? was a key question asked at varying stages of the degree level and they note how difficult this is to define as it means different things at various stages of your education and career.

The degree level focuses more on the poetics of architecture with less emphasis on the technical aspect at that stage.

The Importance of Narrative in Your Projects 37:38

Jack and Adam discuss how it took a while for them to ‘get’ architecture. They didn’t understand the profession/course until the end of second year/ the start of third year. They discuss that ‘Architecture’ is difficult to define, it means a lot of different things at varying stages of your career but at degree level, the focus is geared towards the poetics of architecture with your technical and construction ability taking a back seat. The focus is on theory at this stage in your career and how to translate this to a building.

They discuss that during second year they struggled to translate narrative and theory into a competent scheme. At that stage it wasn’t about drawing amazing looking buildings. The building is the by-product of a strong narrative.

Adam states that during the summer between second and third year, he/jack really focused on the works of world-famous architects such as Tadao Ando in order to broaden their knowledge. In third year, the night before ‘crits’ they would watch lectures by Daniel Libeskind which opened them up to a totally new architectural language and way of thinking.

In third year, it ‘clicked’, and this was down to the hard hours spent reading around the subject.

What Other Tips & Tools Can Help You During Your Degree 49:10

Kenny asks what tips and tools they would recommend? They both agree that they would recommend ArchAdemia as it gives tailored advice to all students and how it would have been something they used which is how it was conceived.

Jack noted that he wishes he had ArchAdemia or similar before he started his degree in order to give a competitive advantage by the time he started his formal architectural studies.

Adam reiterates his number one tip is presence in the design studio as the benefits are great and often not entirely evident at the time. He advises to not be shy and if you stay in the studio all day, a lot of people do go home so you can sometimes get additional 1 on 1 time with the tutors.

Q&A: How to stand Out When Getting a Job 54:23

This week’s question comes from a member who is about to finish their degree who asked:

‘What can they do to make themselves stand out when applying for a position in architectural practice?’

They discuss having charisma, confidence in dealing with people and relative software proficiency all play a key role in helping you stand out.

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