School of Architecture: What we learn and what we don’t

There are times when we work at night to meet deadlines. When I say ‘we’, I mean Architects, and when I say ‘deadlines’, I mean every single day of this planet! But seriously, there is work in this field which never stops and especially if you are your own boss with an OCD!

So, yesterday while I was working, I stumbled upon a folder in my hard disk. ‘College’, the folder title was enough to promptly shift me from the OCD boss mode to the nostalgic student mode. A stash of memories oozed out, year by year, showing the journey of five years in a flash!

Apart from the late night chats, the confused states of mind and the ‘I wish’ parts, what studying in an architecture school exclusively offers, is working in the studio and late night submissions.

We start off as juvenile teenagers, at the age of eighteen, just done with the burden of board exams, curious to see what architecture school has to offer. The first few days seem like living a disoriented life. Well, hello Basic Design! On our first day, we are taught to scribble, with our eyes closed. Later, we are told to open our eyes to figure out what it depicts. (Whaaaat?) After this stint with madness, Building Construction Materials (BCM) and Theory Of Structures (TOS) swoop in to put our flying brains into place with technical information and few numbers. History of Architecture takes you on a virtual time travel + world tour.

We are also taught to use our hands along with the brains. So, we spend hours getting our hands dirty in making thermocol (Polystyrene) models. In the process, we cut our thumbs or get adhesives stuck in the eyebrows. In ‘Architectural Graphics’, we are taught to draw lines and various rendering techniques. We learn ‘Specification Writing’ later, which shows us how to step out into the practical world from the theory world and deal with the market standards.

As the years progress, we grow every day with every line we draft. We attend NASA’s and various lecture series and get inspired. We have field trips, not just in India but also throughout the world, and learn Architecture and how it affects the society, and vice versa. By the end of five years, as we don the graduation cap with slightly more dark circles than we began with, we are all set to conquer the world. Or so, we think.

So, does having a B.Arch degree make you completely capable of facing problems in the big world? Let us see.

We all upgrade our phone softwares to remain updated. Then why doesn’t it apply to our field as well? As a result of NOT knowing the latest upgrades in the architectural field, some architects tend to miss out on the efficient and cost-saving ways of design. For example, it is not a mistake to have a ply partition in a space. But if you know that a gypboard (drywall) partition can bring down your cost by more than 50% without reducing the purpose of the partition and the quality, why not use it? Or if you go more advanced, why not go for glass partitions with access control which turns the glass opaque with just a fingerprint? Time to think.

A great deal can be achieved with appreciation instead of criticism. It could be like teaching each other what we know, and in turn, getting to know what we don’t. This can also bind the different generations of Architects together. We have always been told that design is a process, not a product. We are aware of it until the day we present our presentation in a conference room. There are ways in which a design is questioned, and unknowingly, we start believing that defending our piece of work is important to pass the jury, as a student or professional. Probably saying “Yes Ma’am, I agree that I hadn’t paid much attention to the passage widths” would suffice. Unfortunately, we say “But Ma’am, I don’t think we have those many people in the office to use the passage”. Being more accepting of our own flaws could probably get us somewhere positive. Maybe it will come at the cost of being a laughing stock, for the worst. But it is better late than never.

Most architects tend to think they are indeed, the master of all trades. Photographers, writers, painters, 3D artists, graphic designers, product designers ..we are a one man army! But if I am an Architect, AND I also want to be a graphic designer, it may not be good for ME! In such cases what happens is, I design a playschool layout but I also design some funky signages! Instead of calling my graphic designer friend to pass on the signage work to him, I sit and design both the things. A strong decaf helps. Deadline doesn’t change and 6 hours later, I am late in submitting my work, which by the way is not perfect at all!

We must start to believe that sharpening our skill sets, also means giving our rarely used skill sets away to someone, to take care of. That is the reason all the best Architects have strong teams at their disposal, which are also really well paid. People are assets, and who better to know it than those who design for them?

As Architects, we are evolving, and it’s time our thinking of Architecture evolves as a way of life, rather than just a field. It will take time, but which good thing doesn’t? Just like this layout, I am revising for the 5th time, by the way! As I say this, the alarm in my brain has ticked, telling me it is time for another decaf. I hope to be fresh for this presentation tomorrow.


About the author:

Tejashri Deshpande, an Architect by profession and an animal lover by obsession, has her own design practice in Pune by the name of Design Doobki.

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