The Architecture School Survival Guide

The Architecture School Survival Guide

Starting out on the path of architectural education can be daunting. With so much to learn and so many different ways to approach design, often the most basic principles are left for the student to learn the hard way. Predicated upon the idea that "every year new architecture students make the same mistakes," Iain Jackson's new book "The Architecture School Survival Guide" offers tips, tricks and advice to help make the transition from novice to capable student just that little bit less painful. Covering everything from how to properly approach contextual design to how often to back up your work, the book is full of ideas that new students will find enlightening, and older students - and even professionals - are likely to find useful as reference points. Read on for an excerpt of the book's fifth chapter, "Process."

Courtesy of Laurence King


Courtesy of Laurence King

Responding to context should not result in mediocrity and deference to what has been built previously. Remember that your design proposal is for a specific place and always include the wider context on your elevational drawings. Some students just include a couple of metres or feet of buildings, or space, on either side of their proposal, but try to stretch this to at least the city block or street. The more context you add to your drawings the better they will look.

Ghastly Good Taste

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Why do you like the things, styles and appearances that you do? What has informed those decisions? Trust your ability to judge what is good and bad taste – but also hone your taste through a sound knowledge of history, technology and current trends. Be prepared to design what others think of as ghastly. Don’t automatically reject the popular, pastiche or commonplace. Modernism and minimalism do not always equal good.

Ceremony, Myths and Rituals

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So much of architecture is connected to a notion of procession: most great buildings incorporate a sense of ritual or journey that the visitor experiences as he or she moves through a series of choreographed and curated spaces. Think about the spatial experience and the emotions you wish to stir in the visitor as he or she journeys through your design. We have become overly concerned with form. An exciting form is not as architectural as an exciting space that is experienced. The three journeys opposite all lead towards an artefact, but achieve the same result in three different ways.

Don't Reduce Architecture to Just Space, Form and Light

Sometimes we compartmentalize architecture: we think of materials, structure and services as somehow distinct from it, rather than being fully integral to it. Equally, we should not think of things as ‘mere’ detail or town-planning – it is all architecture. Read the list below out loud – meditate on these truths.

  • Architecture is structure
  • Architecture is materials
  • Architecture is details
  • Architecture is town-planning


Courtesy of Laurence King

Try to distinguish between what is front and public, and what is back and private. This will help you to organize your plan and your elevational treatments. We should be able to recognize the front and the entrance of a building without signage. Entrances should be integral to the façade design, but they are often enhanced if they are raised, protrude or are recessed.


Courtesy of Laurence King

Eye-catchers, landmarks and axes (imaginary, fixed straight lines) are useful in drawing attention from afar and serving as a beacon to draw people in or to distract their attention, or to provide visual delight. An axis is ceremonial and linear and, with a clear beginning, the destination always remains in view. The eye-catcher is less formal and is more about exploration and discovery. It plays "hide and seek," offering glimpses to the viewer but then disappearing behind a wall or landscape – it can be thought of as an architectural burlesque.

The Spaces Between

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The spaces created between forms need to be designed. Create spaces for exchange, meeting and people-watching. These spaces need to be protected from the wind, provided with rain/sun shelter and to be overlooked so that they feel safe. They should be in places that people want to move through, rather than tucked away and not part of a main thoroughfare. Steps can also become seats, planters can double as tables and subtle changes in materials can demarcate boundaries. Design internal spaces for chance encounters – encourage gossip spots and impromptu meeting-places.

The Chronological Drawing

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The purpose of a chronological drawing is to represent how a building, space, street or city has developed over time. You could, of course, use a map to show how buildings and streets have come and gone – but that cannot convey the same narratives as a chronological drawing. The drawing of Chandigarh below, by recording the gradual shift in styles, attempts to show the evolution (or narrative) of a district.

The Serial View

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The serial view shows movement through a space. Think of each drawing as being a key frame in a film. The aim is to show the views we experience and encounter whilst we progress along a journey through a building. Three sketches are shown here, but a drawing for a serial view can be made every 5 meters (16 feet).

The Threshold

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The threshold is the point at which one space ends and another one begins. Be aware of and attempt to set boundaries within your scheme. A doorway is the most obvious example of a threshold, but other, more permeable and less tangible thresholds can be created through changes in level, material and volume. Use the threshold to organize space and to create distinct zones of activity. How do we determine territories, boundaries and spatial ownership?

  1. A wall: even though the space may not have a door or a roof, the presence of a wall implies ownership and privacy. This is perhaps the most blunt form of threshold.
  2. Materials: by simply using a different flooring material a threshold can be created and boundaries, implying ownership and territory, defined.
  3. Markers: these are simple objects placed to define an edge. A line of small stones is all that it takes to create an enclosure.
  4. Ponds/moats/ditches: just as adding material to form a wall creates a threshold, so does its removal. Reflecting pools placed in front of a building are very effective – they make the building look taller and, in hot climates, can also help to keep it cool.
  5. Planting and vegetation: the living fence can not only define space it can also be a defensive barrier.
  6. Changes in height: the space on either side of the staircase seems to ‘belong’ to it.

"Through" Spaces and "To" Spaces

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Certain spaces we pass through, others are destinations. "To" spaces feel more secure and restful. They tend to have only one entrance and/or exit. A "through" space is more dynamic, offers opportunity for exchange and encounter, and usually serves as a hub from which other activities stem. Living rooms and bedrooms tend to be "to" spaces as they feel more secure. "Through" spaces are more difficult to plan as a portion of the space is always lost to circulation.

The Pedestal

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The pedestal is a way of highlighting the significance and prestige of a particular object or element.

  1. At its most basic, the pedestal is used to celebrate an artefact and to make it easier to view. The size of the pedestal in relation to the object on display is important. Recess the base of the pedestal so that it appears to float (and will not get kicked and scuffed when people approach it).
  2. At a larger scale, buildings can also be set on pedestals. In a domestic house setting the ground floor is raised to create a grander entrance, a better view from inside and increased privacy.
  3. The "tower and pedestal" model also works well, enabling a smaller, more human-scaled street front. Stepping back the tower allows more light to reach the street level and also helps visually to give the tower an appropriate base.

Form, Technology and Program

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A successful design needs to address form (the shape), program (the functional demands) and technology (the problems of making). If one of these factors is neglected the entire concept is in danger of collapse. These three components also exist within a certain place, time and society, which also need to be carefully considered and acknowledged.

Cost, Time and Quality

These are the three factors that control most architectural commissions. Your client can only have two out of the three:

  • If they want the project completed quickly and to a high quality it is going to cost a lot.
  • If they want a high-quality project for a good price it is going to take a long time to design and deliver.
  • If they want the project cheap and quick it is not going to be very good quality.

The Architecture School Survival Guide

About this author
Cite: Iain Jackson. "The Architecture School Survival Guide" 16 Nov 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884
Courtesy of Laurence King


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