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How to get top grades at architecture school | MArch | EP4

The second in a mini series of the journey to becoming an architect.

What does it take to nail your masters in architecture? We go into your placement year and how that prepares you, or not, for the second part of your educational journey at university; the MArch. We then cover the further two years in education and how it differs from your degree and finish with our usual Q&A segment.

Podcast write-up

Table of Contents

Introduction 0:00

Welcome back to the ArchAdemia podcast in this episode, the second in the series, we talk about how to succeed in university at Master’s level. Kenny notes that the ARBs consultation on education reform came out that week and that they guys plan on covering this in a later podcast.

The Journey to Become an Architect 1:00

Kenny states that in the last podcast they covered degree level and in this upcoming podcast they will be covering the year out placement and the masters. Kenny then asks about part 1 life? Jack states that his year out placement, in Nightingale Associates (now owned by Arcadis) was his first experience working within an architecture practice. Jack and Adam discuss how Nightingale Associates structured the office and then Adam describes his year out experience at BDP.

Adam discusses how BDP was a lovely environment to work in at the time but preferred the integrated desk layout at Nightingale Associates with senior and junior staff sat in teams. Adam notes the shortfalls of working for a huge firm at this stage in his career and felt that he didn’t get the best experience with regard to going back to study architecture at masters level.

They discuss how Jack and Adam initially used AutoCAD software at this stage in their careers but BDP used MicroStation software so Adam was at an immediate disadvantage when he started his placement. He noted that he wasn’t formally trained in the software and the onus was more on self teaching with the help of peers in the office.

Adam says that he then refined his skills out of hours with most of his learning in the evenings and at weekends. They all jokingly plug ArchAdemia and note how they would have had a real need for its resources at this stage in their careers. They note that Adams experience in needing to learn a new software was one of the earliest factors that influences the genesis of ArchAdemia.

They discuss an intimidation factor when starting at a new practice and Adam notes how he dramatically misjudged the dress code on his first day, turning up in a suit to what was a very casual office environment.

They both state that they really enjoyed their placements and eventually transitioned quite nicely into life working in an architecture practice.

Does University Prepare You for Early Practice Life? 10:15

Jack states that in his own personal experience that university did prepare him for practice life because a by-product of university was his software proficiency which put him in a good position initially. Adam notes that software efficiency is key during your Part 1 placement with design independence taking a back seat at this stage.

Jack goes on to say that the complexity of project as you progress in your architectural studies increases in increments with every piece of experience helping you. When you return to university to study for your masters in architecture the scale and complexity of the projects increase based on the assumption that your overall software ability has in turn.

Adam has a slightly different personal view and felt that university didn’t fully prepare him for life in practice. He feels that studying architecture at university prepared him more for life in a senior architectural role for a period in time when you have greater creative responsibility. He goes on to say that a module of direct preparation would be beneficial where you undertake projects more akin to an architecture studio placement.

Kenny asks how did they feel about going back to university after their year out placements? Did they feel confident and more prepared? Jack answers by saying that he was more confident as initially when he started his architecture degree, he had no knowledge at all of the course or industry. This was no longer the case when returning to study architecture at masters level as they had been studying architecture for quite some time by this stage.

They talk about how level 5 was broken down into a series of workshops that were quite intense when compared to degree level. Adam mentions that in addition to the intense workload of level 5, you had to undertake a specialist study (10,000 word dissertation) at the same time. Level 6 by comparison started as a group masterplan project and then you split to individual sites with the level of detail increasing in line with project progress.

Kenny asks if there is anything they would do differently? Adam responds by saying he wishes he had broken his dissertation down into smaller 500 work chunks rather than trying to rush it all in one go which affected its quality. Jack says pick a subject you are passionate about as you won’t get the most out of the whole process otherwise.

What Skills Are Needed for the Masters in Architecture? 20:45

Kenny asks what skills are needed to succeed when your return to your masters? Jack opens by saying that the skills he picked up during his year out allowed him to test his ideas to their full potential. He notes that his SketchUp ability has drastically increased which gave him the design confidence he needed at this new expectation level. They talk about how SketchUp can be used collaboratively which they were not aware of at architectural degree level.

Software proficiency is a key part of masters level which affords you more time at the conceptual stage as changes can be implemented quicker and production time is reduced as a result. Adam notes that the long summer periods between academic years offers a great opportunity to learn and test new skills and software.

They talk about getting less enjoyment from the structure of level 5 when compared to level 6 as it consisted of lots of smaller intense 2-week projects so you had very little design development time. The project duration at level 6 was in months which they both agreed was more enjoyable.

What is the MArch Actually Like from Experience? 30:39

They discuss their memories of the masters and what it was personally like. Adam discusses how the year group was split in half with one site in Belgium and the other situated locally in Liverpool. Both sites had different briefs and once allocated a site, you then had the option to pick your own groups.

They note how they picked a strong group and set the workload geared towards everyone’s strengths. The narrative produced was strong and responded to food production and depletion in an evolving world. They then discuss the intricacies of the project and how they tackled it at the masterplan stage.

How to Learn from Your Peers When Studying Architecture? 39:42

They move on to discuss what they learnt from their peers during the group stage and the benefits of working in a group during this period. They discuss how they adopted styles and techniques from the other group members and vice versa.

They move on to discuss how the group work then evolved into a single person project comprising a more detailed study of a key section of the overall masterplan. Jack then discusses how he personally tackled certain aspects of this project.

Adam notes that he really struggled with this project initially but with hindsight can now comprehend the urban design elements needed to successfully tackle this more detailed project. Adam mentions how he lost confidence at this stage in the project as he was scared to deviate away from the original masterplan which secured such high marks.

On reflection they note that it was a nice urban design process and they would relish the opportunity to work on a project of that nature, size, and scale during this stage in their careers. Design development was key during the masterplan project, and it was key to demonstrate that you had really pushed and tested your design development.

The Final Project & Semester of the Master’s 49:34

Kenny then asks Jack and Adam to run through their memories of the final project and semester of the masters. They discuss their final projects and ultimately the buildings they ended up with.

They discuss how they leaned on each other’s skills to really push their final projects in all areas. Adam pushed Jacks CGIs and Jack pushed Adams drawing production. They discuss the competition between architectural peers during this final phase of study and how beyond their friendship, they utilised people’s skills across the entire year through sharing communal resources such as SketchUp models etc.

Getting Your Grades 1:06:05

Kenny asks what it was like when they got their grades? Adam goes on to break down the process and how they felt personally at the end of the education journey, and they received their final grades.

The architectural masters course is not exam based so you typically receive your final grades a lot earlier, when compared to a traditional masters course where you would have to wait months. To their recollections grades were received about a week after the final crits on the day of what is called the ‘degree show’ where the final projects are placed on display to the public.

Q&A – Dealing with Constant Changes & Revisions 1:15:48

This week’s question comes from an ArchAdemia member who owns their own practice and would like to know how to navigate a demanding client in relation to design changes beyond the original design brief.

Jack and Adam offer advice in this situation based on their own experience.

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