Thoughts on Architectural Education

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Alumni descriptions of the architectural education experience can often range from frustration to admiration. The article Creative Education? An Analysis of Existing Architecture Education in Singapore, written by a fourth year student attending the National University of Singapore, is a collection of thoughts and observations based on this individual’s experience. The article primarily focused on particular frustrations. However, these same frustrations are comparable to those commonly voiced throughout many institutions across the United States.

The author starts by critiquing NUS’s lack of attention on the creative process and the hindering effects of tight deadlines. Comparably within the US, students are often surprised at the lack of time available for the creative design process. Often, more time is given to preparing presentations than the actual design. However, architectural education is not entirely focused on creative exploration. Different semesters often have a different focus, which typically depends on the designed plan of study and focus of the professor. Lessons learned attempt to cover the basics of effective verbal and visual communication, time-management, self-motivation, collaboration, and design.

The Singapore architecture student continued to describe the grading comparison between students resulting in competition rather than collaboration. Understand this is a biased opinion and conflicting arguments were written in the comment section below the article from other NUS students. This idea of competition is disappearing from the US architectural school systems. In recent years, a hyper focus on collaboration seems to reflect the modernization of the field. Firms using lateral power structures, rather than the traditional top-down structures, are becoming more idolized.

Collaboration fosters innovation and creativity, and it is an important skill that an architecture student must be exposed to. However, the author’s frustration with the institution’s inability to aid students in collaborating outside their area of study is a common complaint. Although schools are continually attempting to integrate mixed disciplines, collaborative intentions are strong in the beginning but motivation tends to die out as the semester goes on.

The lack of technological skills taught throughout architectural education is a major complaint of the NUS student author, as well as many students across the US. The educational system appears to have a difficult time keeping up with the rapidly evolving technologies of the field, failing to provide adequate courses, and pushing the responsibility onto the student. In-depth knowledge of popular software is necessary for students to be competitive in the job market and this is something students are often struggling with.

Lastly, the lack of ability to maintain a balance between a student’s academic and personal life seems to be an issue that is prevalent not only in Singapore and across the US, but also throughout the profession. Sacrificial tales of the dedicated architect are common, but the lack of ability to maintain a balance is often a result of poor time management or unrealistic expectations. Typically in the early years of architectural education, students struggle to maintain this balance. However, during grad school, many students have learned effective time management skills and require fewer all-nighters. On the contrary, all-nighters are not always avoidable. It is impossible to design every detail in a project within a semester and sometimes putting in extra hours is worth the effort to further enhance the design.

Whether your architectural education is in Singapore or the US, its purpose is arguably intended to teach students self-learning, time-management, and critical thinking. Similar to any program of study, it is difficult to keep up with a rapidly evolving profession and there is always room for improvement. However, as reluctant any student may be to admit, there is much to be gained from an architectural education. How much is attained is largely dependent upon the individual.

Cite: Rosenfield, Karissa. "Thoughts on Architectural Education" 30 Oct 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 25 May 2015. <>
  • Daniela

    Architecture is a tough profession. School should be a time for creative exploration but it’s not necessarily a waste of time to learn how to give a good presentation.

  • Ronique@Freshome

    Speaking as a professional Assoc. Architect who graduated in 1997 from Tuskegee Arch. program in Alabama, the emphasis always seemed on the presentation. While important, many of us pulled ‘all nighters’ trying to make our projects look pretty, as opposed to thinking through the design.

    This is a great article. Later in life, it will be shown that the creative process is sometimes more important then the end result. I’m now a writer of arch. and design at, and feel the creative process should have been stressed more and then presentation…

    Thanks for the great article.

  • Bernardo

    Same happens in Portugal or at least in my school.
    It’s true we lose a lot of time making the models or preparing the presentation and that obviously restrains our time on the design or concept development. I really think that enhancing our technological abilities would saves us lots of time. Sure it’s important to learn how to draw something or make a precise model, but we shouldn’t lose 80% of our time doing those things… 3D model is faster and cheaper than a test model.

    • gi

      in contrast,in china most students have no much opportunities to do precise models for lack of good tools or just ignoring the importance of making models which trains your good sense of form.and i think conception is important,while the process of completing the conception worths could think during the making models and have thoughts from the models.that is what i think.

  • godryk

    I would love to see some american students trying to survive to the crazy spanish system, spending six to seven years to complete the 5 year-plan, including a considerable amount of engineering subjects while still having to go through 9 semesters of projects workshops, and don’t forget the urban planning and construction workshops. And when you’re done, you have to spend at least another year with your final degree project. Is this worth the effort? Well, I don’t know.

    But I think that, while most of graduates know nothing about real life, when you get an architecture graduate, you know you got someones who can take A LOT of pressure, has above-average group skills and is not afraid to speak in public about very personal work (and is used to take harsh criticism).

    • Chris

      How is the spanish system so much more hardcore now?

  • NUS Grad Student

    Dear Architecture community,

    I’m glad this article is being featured on Archdaily. This article was a major discussion topic among my peers. Alas, like many the article resonated with the majority of us.

    Having been to others schools and near the end of my education, I’m sad to admit that NUS simply doesn’t measure up.

    Say what you will about the school’s ranking and such, but the truth is like the author says, the school is only concerned about its end results- grades,recognition from the international community etc. It is simply far too conceited and resistant to change.

    Consider the fact that on the day the article debuted, there were professors instead of listening to the writer and the issues brought up began making personal attacks on the writer, calling he/she a “coward/cowardly” simply for choosing to remain anonymous.

    Singapore is a country where freedom of speech is greatly repressed. It is filled with notorious libel laws where authorities threaten any individual or group even rallying even for a peaceful cause. Of course, school is as we know is a microcosm of the state.

    An architecture school on the other hand, one which the nation’s aesthetic and pride is far more important.

    Eventually, many of the proffesors in charge simply brushed off the article and the writer’s criticism as merely the “work of a weak student”, trying to steer attention away from it.

    The aftermath of the article brought to attention the many division that existed in the school – two student societies for a small student population, the reluctance to teach local contextual architecture theory over revered architecture from the west. The latter due to the school and nation’s preference for hiring foreign professors and architects in hopes of garnering international recognition and accolades.

    This has ultimately jaded both local architecture and architects, ultimately further contributing to Singapore’s current crisis : a lack of national identity.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter. The people in charge are indifferent. The students are too caught up in day to day living, in hopes of getting that prized internship/job and deluded into thinking that one day they too might land the next big project.

    Still like the author says, professors pay lip service to the creative process making students “buy” into the “vision” of the school. Here i mean buy literally; the school fees for the faculty gets raised frequently, while the school doesn’t undergo any change. No one bothers asking why, cos the students know even if they did it wouldn’t make any difference.

    >>>>PS: This is how the faculty and the people in charge have decided to resolve the issues — A Survey form with your usual vague open ended questions with names listed of those who offer opinions. So far the survey form has been successful in exactly way what it has been designed for — It has deterred anyone with strong opinions from speaking up and apathy among the student population for anyone who even looks at it.
    I last saw it underneath a pile of waste cardboard in the corner of my studio. So much for creative education.

  • common_cents

    Godryk,no offence,but we are not here to ‘compete’about what architecture course is tougher,or who can survive what course.Im a bit over the whole competition thing.Important issues that are affecting the architectural education are what needs to be discussed.The next 10-15 years are absolutely crucial for the profession.with the architect taking less of a role in projects,we are working ourselves into irrelevance.Architecture students must be equipped with a whole host of skills if the profession is to work itself back to relevance.Although architecture schools are trying,alot more needs to be done.
    And also,with weekly presentations,do students really need to produce at least 5 A0/A1 sheets of work, and physical models?how about digital presentations…saving paper and wood…hello sustainability?

    • michal janak

      paper and wood are at least biodegradable, but what about styrofoam? :)

      I have no problem with working hard. I have no problem with presenting every week. What I have problem with is, that how much time would save if in the first year, there would be a course of “presentation” and “model making”, if not only top paid schools have a scale model workshop in the school (with all the CNC, etc). how much it would be better if we have the same technological background as it is usual in every other science / engineering campus? the problem, from my point of view is, we are still treated as artist students and everyone thinks we need only a big open space studio, bunch of laptops, a plotter and a beamer. that’s less than high school!

  • sam

    Totally agree with ‘cents’, I think architecture is one of the most expensive courses to enroll on, the amount of materials we use on a weekly basis is such an unbelievable waste. Our tutors, some of who are still practicing architects, admit that all of their presentation work with clients is all digital, so why do we waste 5 years on paper?
    Don’t get me wrong, I love hand drawings and creating models etc, but I think a better balance between the two should be introduced.

    • michal janak

      I think there’s a difference between “presenting” and “designing”. sketchup is still 2d, rhino is still 2d, 3d max still 2d. the only 3d thing (untill the holograms will come) is a scale model and it is still the best way to test the project. but yeah, I don’t see the point of waisting paper when there’s a beamer aeverywhere

  • Pepi

    Yea I’ve yet to understand the real reason why people study this course even after so long

  • celine

    Those wishing to bypass some processes and create everything digitally are missing the point. Its not about finding the shortest point to the destination, you cant just bypass it because you are chasing a deadline, there is a reason building models is so important, its the building part! Your computer is only an extension of your drawing hand, it isn’t THE drawing hand, computers create their own restrictions of what can be produced and cause havoc with your thought processes, if you don’t start on paper, all you end up with a computer drawn drawing. Its impressive that so many people just want to do better, but we don’t just need a new breed of technicians!

    • common_cents

      Its not about bypassing process Celine,its about adapting to the changing times.I understand ur reasoning behind building models.But at the same time,we need to understand that,for architecture to survive as a profession,we need certain changes.’Professional dogma’is slowly killing the profession.We consider ourselves as a creative profession…a chosen people who can make a difference in the built environment..but we cant save our profession from irrelevance????
      Fact of the matter is,if architecture wants to claim back what it has lost over the last 30 years,things will have to not saying we should do away with certain processes of exploration(physical modelling).The REALITY of practicing architecture is that alot of firms use digital modelling,and fabrication techniques on projects.Cost is not a downstream design variable ( in the eyes of the client).
      Which brings me to another point(sorry for the long post).Buildings are just gonna get more complex(HVAC systems,green technology,advanced building materials).Im of the view that architecture needs to develop processes that can adapt and keep up with the changing times.This starts from the schools of architecture.

  • Clement

    I am interested in the topic of the grading comparison resulting in competition rather than collaboration. Could someone please explain how to promote collaboration within the studio? By grading students, the students become more competitive to stand out amongst their cohorts, right? This is what happens in the studio. So what are we supposed to do?

  • Pedro Camara

    That is crazy, no matter where you are in the world we have the same complains! I study in a private uni in Brazil, still I do not have a CNC or 3D Printer in my Uni , why not ? Our tutors stoped in the modernism, they should evolve as the architecture does!

  • godryk

    I apologize if I sounded like a jerk (which I probably did), it’s just stress and pressure talking.

    I have say that I love models and they still can’t replace 3D models in the first stages of the project. It’s the same than sketches. There is something in your hands and in your ability to work with unfinished material, that still can’t be reproduced by digital tools, no matter what iPad software they want you to use.

    Computers require a lot of definition. If you want to draw a line, it has to be straight and you have to go from point A to point B, you had to make so many decisions before you are ready. The same with 3D models. However, it’s true that we can use digital presentations once we got a powerful concept and we’ve started to work with CAD tools. This is the case in many workshops at Madrid School.

  • Lauren

    how did you get my picture???! thats from 5 years ago!!

  • RCT

    I don’t know if this applies to all Australian architecture courses, but at the University of Western Australia, there is a definite focus on developing a student’s design process over technical knowledge. I’m handing in my folio for end of semester on Friday (currently writing this as procrastination), and I’m definitely having more trouble with the technical aspects of my project, rather than the design itself, or how to present it.

    On the subject of materials, for the first time in four years of university, we’re handing in a digital submission, after a semester of solely digital presentations. On the other hand, the tech unit for this semester required 14 hand drawn A1 panels, and again was more focused on design than tech, really.

  • Adam

    Being a semi-recent graduate of a professional architecture design program (KSU – 2009) and currently an instructor in the College of Architecture there, teaching Structures, I’m constantly trying to find a balance of competition vs. collaboration – especially in the topic of Structures. It is a tough to do so sometimes.

    Even with all of the push towards digital, when I’m offered the ability to be involved in a studio, I encourage the students to explore space through sketching and physical modeling (rough study models). The computer is simply for production in my opinion but, at the same time, the computer should be used as a tool. Just because you are modeling something – either physical or digital – doesn’t mean you should stop designing it.

    A major pitfall of our young students in the program is they get into the “production” mindset where they don’t think they can change anything. They simply build what they have drawn and go on autopilot instead of obsessively looking and analyzing what they are doing.

    I agree that there needs to be a nice balance in all of this, but I still stand by the notion that the computer is simply another tool for use during the process. It is neither one nor only. All ways of exploring design are crucial – hand sketch, drafting (look at Peter Bohlin’s work…he still drafts), physical model, CAD and digital modeling – all in an effort to put out something beautiful.

    My final comment is, in school I think it’s imperative to print your work to present especially when there is multiple critics. There is nothing more that I despise when doing reviews than asking the student, “can you go back to the plan? oh no wait, where is that in section? where is that in perspective?” You end up spending more time flipping between slides than actually discussing how to further the design.

    • Digital Basics

      The whole “the computer is just a production tool” thing is such a dated (and uninformed) idea, and the fact that it’s being taught at a university in today’s world would be laughable if it wasn’t so scary. If you go into any design office in the world you will see just how much digital modeling, drawing and fabrication actually affects the creative process. It’s true, sketching and physical modeling are equally as important, but a good computer model can, and should, just as easily inform design decisions. Please be cautious in feeding this “production tool” line to your students, not only is it confusing but it is absolutely not true or applicable to any professional environment, and you’d be doing them a great disservice if you lead them to believe otherwise.

      On a related note, it would be extremely valuable if all design studio professors were required to have a minimum of 5-10 years of professional experience. We have moved past era of the postmodern thinker and theorist, and hopefully into a new generation of doers. Theory and process is incredibly important and an understanding of the past must inform the future, but in such a pivotal time in our profession these academic thought exercises must be paired and balanced with practical application if the profession hopes to reclaim any respect or credibility.

  • Pedro

    My frustration this year, among the lack of time and aid in creative exploration, is the lack of encouragement in creative design. I cannot comprehend the reasoning behind this; the students that have safe boring horribly organized box design are quicker to understand their building and systems therefore get done faster, therefore the professor takes a liking to them and spends most of the time with them… instead of giving time to the student that took a risk, that is pushing the creativity and exploration further, that is questioning more, yet gets less attention, less help… but I digress

  • DaVoR

    Hi everyone.
    This will be comment from somebody who is trying to teach young generation of future architects and interior designers. After more than 30 years experience as practicing architect and quite few Projects executed, awarded, published etc. etc. ,I found I am enough experience and with knowledge capable to share it with young colleagues. Predominantly i am working as tutor and visiting lecture (usually talking and presenting my designs and my studio projects), taking students on journey from Inception to completion of Project, illustrating through drawings, computer animations, sketches, physical models, site visits, work with trades people, etc., evolution of Project. Idea is show them “real world” with all ups and downs. I found (students comments) it is quite interesting and students like it and they told me that it is one of missing details.
    Unfortunately at University , predominantly (probably over 80 % of teaching staff are people who newer ever design anything that was build, that was awarded or widely published and recognized by profession as good design). They just do not have any design experience, particularly not as Practicing architects. In same time most of them are even not Registered Architect, but …………they have “paper” what is obviously the most important detail to be able to teach. Often young colleagues are so young , that in reality they newer worked, they just have been study and after that immediately started to teach Architecture. I suppose comment is not necessary. Unfortunately quite often even tutors are just recent graduates (often without work)so again no much more knowledge or experience teaching colleagues which are just 1-2 years younger. That just does not have common sense. Often students are finding that they have more experience and knowledge (particularly some who are working in practices) than people who teach them. So , to cut long story short, something drastically different has to be done to improve teaching design. students have to have opportunity to be educated by recognized practitioners who has broad knowledge, keen to share it with young generations. Education has to be mix of “old fashion approach” with free hand sketching, scale modeling and free hand drawings, but in same time give full freedom for interpreting and developing and presenting projects using computers and variety of software. Lectures has to have more “real staff” and not just “theoretical research approach” (expecting that most of staff students will to do by themselves). That just does not work. students has to know human ergonomic to be able to understand needs and requirements. I often say to my colleagues at University: “You have to first teach students note and after that to teach them to compose music or you have to teach them first letters, prior they will be able to right stories, poems etc. etc.” From my experience is incredible lack of knowledge that students are getting, but in same time is very high expectations that they will “to do it by themselves”.
    Fees per semester are incredible high for what they are getting back. Everything is so “bureaucratic” that sometimes you think it is “monstrous machine – system without chance to change. But I am sure it can be done and students have to rise voice and ask for more and better. Just for illustration (30 years back) I had per subject minimum 4-6 hours lecture per week and minimum 6-10 hours per week tutorials and work in studio, comparing with today 1 hour lecture and 3 hours tutorials. After completing course and graduation, often as young graduates, in offices where they will eventually get job,they are “lost” and they feel they actually start again “real education”. Often principals and experience architects are surprised with “level of knowledge”, particularly practical staff. I was in same position earlier, but from moment I started to teach (I enjoy it very much and I am learning from young colleagues too) i stop “blame” young graduates, because simply it is not their fault. They are just “result” of existing Education at University.
    But we all together should not give up. System has to be dramatically changed and improved and yes “bureaucrats” has to go. Students has to have opportunity to be educated by the best and learn from people who are creative, who has descent knowledge, who loves and who are passionate about design.

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