ArchDaily's Ultimate List of Advice for Incoming Architecture Students

ArchDaily's Ultimate List of Advice for Incoming Architecture Students

Architecture school. You’ve heard the myths - the legends of all-nighters and innovation, of unmatched workaholism and love for the profession. Perhaps you know what you want – to solve the great urbanization problem, to create the next sustainable wonder-gadget, or maybe just to start your own firm and show the architectural world how it’s done. Maybe you have no idea what you want to do, drawn to architecture by the romance, the larger-than-life scale. Maybe you’re an artist who wants a job when they graduate. A hometown hero, you’re about to be thrown into a classroom of the best, possibly for the first time in your life. You’ll be surrounded by the brightest in engineering, problem solving, writing, drawing and a host of other skills. Anxious and excited, you stand ready at the doors of architectural education, hungry for innovation and ready to share and learn from others. Stepping inside that first day, you prepare yourself for the best - and most difficult times of your life so far.

To prepare you for the strange beast that is architecture school, shed light on what is fact and fiction, and give you some peace of mind, we at ArchDaily have prepared a list of advice for all incoming architecture students. There is no other education in the world quite like an architectural one, and we hope that this list can help prepare you for its unique wonders and challenges. The advice below is meant to ease the transition into school as much as possible – but be warned, nothing can compare to experiencing the real deal. Read them all after the break.

ArchDaily's Ultimate List of Advice for Incoming Architecture Students - More Images+ 13

First year reviews. Image © Ien Boodan

School is what you make of it, so give it your best.

Ask Questions: You will (most likely) never be in this type of learning environment and be surrounded by this many intellectuals again, so make the most of it.

Teach yourself: Even though you'll be learning from your teachers and fellow students, it's important to teach yourself the things that aren't always included in the curriculum. The internet is home to a beautiful, magnificent, constantly-updated treasure trove of tutorials.

First Year Review. Image © Jeff So

Organize & catalog your research: Use My ArchDaily. In the digital age, information can be excessive and overwhelming. Taking the time to organize your research not only refines your results, but helps develop your taste and can serve as a tool in the future.

Travel: Nothing can compare to experiencing a city or building in person - and it will look good on your resume.

Read all that you can: Use your school's library to comb through journals and books. Follow your favorite site's RSS feeds.

A lecture in Brooklyn. Image © Ien Boodan

Visit ArchDaily for inspiration: It's what we're here for!

Don’t be afraid to question your teachers: It can be tempting to gain favor with your tutors by doing everything they say, but there are many ways to approach architecture and becoming a clone of someone else isn’t always the best way. You’ll produce more interesting and individual architecture by learning from your teachers, but also questioning them occasionally. 

Persevere: Frustration will be part of your everyday life when studying architecture. Each year will test your resolve to continue in the profession, but if you love the work, keep mind of the big picture.

First year review. Image © Steven Lin

Be Patient: Listening to an arrogant colleague or professor might be hard work, but there is always something to learn – even if it's just what not to do.

Create freely: Schools are there to open our minds. Don't let others close it. Often you will not find reasons for some architectural decisions you make. Just believe in your will. You have just five years of total experimental freedom.

© Ien Boodan

Go to class: Though this may seem like a no-brainer, often Architecture students skip lectures to work on studio projects. Not only are you depriving yourself of a break from studio and a well-rounded education, it’s the worst form of disrespect to your professors who have spent time preparing their lectures.

Stay busy: Though downtime is rare, find a measurable and resolvable problem to work at when you have it. Enter competitions or try solving problems in your immediate environment, like making your studio more environmentally friendly.

A student organized Coffee House. Image © Jeff So

Architecture school can be strenuous, but you’ll be far more effective as a fully functioning student than as an overworked zombie.

Don't be competitive: School is about learning, not about "one-upping" your classmates. The mindset of comparing your work to others in a creative field is not only nonsensical, but dangerous.

Get some sleep: There’s nothing romantic or cool about slaving away all night at a project. With proper time management and hard work, all-nighters can be avoided. Sometimes, you might find that it’s unavoidable, but try not to make a habit of it.

A student organized Dodgeball tournament. Image © Jeff So

Join a soccer/frisbee/croquet/dance/etc team: Exercise and time away from studio does a body good. Dodgeball, anyone?

Purchase wisely: Some universities will ask you to show up with pencils, pens, set squares, charcoals, watercolors, and hundreds of dollars’ worth of books. Architecture is one of the most expensive degrees as it is - so when you’re starting out, it’s best to wait and see what you’ll actually use.

© Jeff So

Enjoy every new project: Every project should be a long moment of joy and fun. Change the mentality of differentiating work and vacations – Architecture must be both the greatest love and challenge in your life.

Stay energized: Eat full meals at proper times whenever possible. When it isn’t, make sure to keep healthy snacks available - a tin of almonds and cashews or a crate of clementines can save your life.

© Ien Boodan

Cook for yourself: Pack lunch and dinner if you can - it doesn't take much longer to cook a little extra. Around deadlines, preparing in advance can save you money and give you extra time in studio. 

Make friends: The importance of a support system, and the simple company of others cannot be understated. Don’t fall into the trap of the lonely genius; you could miss out on lifelong friendships and possibly business partners.

These are people you’ll be working with for 4-5 years so leave a good impression!

Respect others: Unless you've been given explicit permission, don't touch other people's models and don't rifle through the stuff on their desk. It sounds like common sense, but sometimes curiosity can get the best of you.

Respect the space: Keep studio a place for work. Architecture school can be fun, and it’s easy to get side tracked by good friends after many long working hours. However, keep the fun – especially if it’s loud, to other parts of the school where people aren’t trying to do their work. Take calls outside and listen to music on your headphones.

The (rare) empty studio. Image © Ien Boodan

Keep spare clothes/deodorant in your studio locker: There’s no real replacement for a shower, but your colleagues will thank you for your consideration.

A tin of mints goes a long way: They can help with everything from long nights to coffee breath to networking.

Make it clear when you want to work: Nothing says, "do not disturb" like a hoodie and headphones.

© Ien Boodan

Not only will this help you have an easier time after you graduate, you’ll learn more about the profession and do better in school.

Build your network: Your classmates are your greatest resource for collaboration. What better time to reach out than when the consequences are the least severe they’ll ever be?

Keep your options open: School is an opportunity for trial and error. Architectural education is a multi-faceted one, often touted as the last true Liberal Arts degree. Many graduates go onto multi-disciplinary practices – fashion, graphic design, industrial design and publication are just a few options. 

An exhibition of first year work. Image © Steven Lin

Build: Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity or get involved with programs that give you hands on experience. A set of drawings on a piece of paper will never teach you the beauty of a perfectly laid brick wall or the elegance of a wood connection. More and more schools are embracing design/building studios, where you will have the opportunity to learn more about how to actually build. If you have the chance, take one of those studios!

Learn to write: Writing is an invaluable skill in architecture that's closely rooted to the successful communication of design ideas. Write. Edit. Repeat. Better articulation often results in a clearer design process and you'll develop a better appreciation for what to say during reviews and crits by practicing in writing.

A student organized poetry night. Image © Ien Boodan

Stay humble: The greatest trap of architecture school is to believe that you are better than others. Recognize that you will always be a student, constantly learning. You are here to provide a service for others – not greedily guard your ideas and look down your nose at those who don’t understand “good design.”

Note: This article was originally published on 24th August 2015, and was republished on 22nd August 2019.

About this author
Cite: Eric Oh. "ArchDaily's Ultimate List of Advice for Incoming Architecture Students" 22 Aug 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

OMA's Milstein Hall at Cornell University shows off the dynamic atmosphere of an architecture school; as students on he ground floor have seminars and crits, other students mill above them. Image © Matthew Carbone


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