Not only will you learn to SURVIVE the notorious architecture critique, but you’ll learn to THRIVE through it.
Here are 10 tips to ACE your reviews in architecture school as a student.
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How to Survive Architecture Crits as a Student
10 Tips to ACE Your Reviews in Architecture School.
- It’s ok to be nervous.
Especially in your first semesters, architectural crits had me a nervous wreck. If you’re the last one to present, oh, I feel for you friend. Anxiously waiting, sweating in your hands while holding your last-minute written notes. Reading them for the 442nd time and still stuffing up on the third sentence. I feel you. And, it’s ok. It’s ok to be nervous – it’s not ok to not know what you’re talking about.
If you don’t know what you’re talking about, you haven’t practiced your presentation or clearly defined the objectives for your presentation – you are doomed. We’ll move a bit more into this in one of the later tips, let’s go to tip 2.
- It is not an attack on YOU.
Know that you are not being criticised yourself as a person, but your ideas. The crit isn’t an attack on you, and I mean that – don’t take it to heart. There’s no point being hard on yourself if your teacher says your design sucks. Guess what, my first designs always suck. My friends’ designs always suck at first. Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid’s designs always suck at first. But how do you think they got to where they are now? By taking the advice they’re given to better themselves and better their skills.
I wish I could rename the “architectural critique” to “architectural advice.” Because that’s what it is. Your teachers aren’t taking a stab at you and your project, they’re giving you advice and feedback to improve you and your ideas and skills.
Don’t take negative feedback personally. I know there are some really toxic and harsh teachers out there who enjoy stepping on people, so it’s not easy. But that’s number 1, don’t take it personally. Listen to what they’re saying with an open mind, smile and accept that you’re not perfect, no architecture student is – hence that’s why we’re not designing real buildings. It’s expected we suck, and this is the best time to just learn and try new things and practice without the limitations of judgement or perceived failure.
- Don’t get stuck on an idea of your own.
If a client doesn’t like something, you need to learn to be able to take their ideas, the problems they have and create tailored solutions. You do that by listening and taking their advice. Critiques really are an introduction to what the profession is like.
In the end, you’re not living in the building, so this is tip 3. Don’t get stuck on a design just because you’ve invested time into it. Experiment and take criticism on board to produce something great. Architecture is all about adapting and iterating, taking the objective and problems a client has and producing a tailored solution.
- Don’t read off your presentation sheet.
This comes back to knowing what you’re talking about and being prepared. A picture tells a thousand words. Use images, video, diagrams and animation to talk for you. Have an objective for your presentation. A lot of students go into their crits just to explain everything they’ve done and why they’ve done it. They’ll talk about their site analysis and which way the sun moves and by the end of the presentation, they’ve said nothing useful. They’ve just . . . talked.
Look at your criteria, look at the brief, write key points that you need to address and turn it into a presentation.
- Don’t repeat information.
If you have plans and sections and perspectives showing what the materials are, which you’re your design is oriented and how the walls join the floors, you don’t need to explain that. Once you realise that your teachers actually have eyes, believe it or not, you can understand that there’s no point repeating information. Only use your words to express key points and important information that isn’t shown in your presentation.
Keep it short, sharp and shiny.
- PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.
You need to leave at least a full day to prepare and another full day to practice. Practice practice practice. Presenting is a skill worth learning. The reason why we stand up in front of a panel or your class and present your project is because that’s what you do as an architect. It’s practice for when you need to present your work to a client. You need to think, once you leave architecture school, are you going to be ready to present work to a client on your own?
When you’re practicing, Consider the way you move, gesture and use your voice. Are you monotone or changing expressions? Are you talking at a reasonable, understandable rate?
Record and time yourself presenting until you can go through it at a reasonable pace that is clear and easy to follow without the need for notes. This takes time. I’ve spent over 20 hours just practicing a script in front of the mirror, changing the way I use my voice, move my body and gesture with every movement being intentional. This presentation was the most confidence I’ve ever been in front of my class of 100 students as well as my tutors and I had great feedback from my teachers, solely because I practiced my presentation.
7) Don’t dwell on your grade.
At the end of the semester, you get your grade back and it’s not quite what you expected. Don’t dwell on your grade. It really doesn’t matter what grade you get. Don’t compare scores with your friends or what other people have gotten. Consider the feedback you get and use your grade as an indicator as to where you can improve for next time. It’s just a learning experience, that’s all it is.
It doesn’t matter if you get a bad grade. In the long term of things, you have a goal to be working towards. If you’re working one small step at a time and improving with everything you do, who cares if you barely passed or failed?! (in the worst-case scenario)
Even if you take ONE thing away from your project, you’re going to be getting better even if it’s just 1% at a time. The goal isn’t to get a high grade, but to learn the necessary skills to allow you to be comfortable working in the real world upon graduating.
8) Be enthusiastic when presenting.
I mentioned earlier that It’s ok to be nervous, but it’s not okay to not know what you’re talking about. If you have spent the time to practice, you’ll know what you’re talking about and you won’t go all red like I used to when I present. You’ll gain confidence speaking and your passion really shines through when you speak confidently. It makes all the difference.
A lot of students work really hard on a project and it comes time to present and they bottle up. Be passionate about it. Show that you’re excited about what you’ve been working on for the last 6 weeks. Show you’re genuinely interested in what you’re talking about, it will engage the listeners and rub off on them.
9) The more time you spend on your project, the better it’s going to be.
If I were to graph students’ grades against the time they spent on their project, it would be visibly clear that those who spend more time on their projects get higher grades. Ultimately, they’re who learn the most. They’re the ones who are mastering their profession and getting better at what they do. If you hand up your work with the bare minimum effort and the bare minimum requirements, you’re not going to be progressing very much. Put in more time, find ways to get fired up about your projects and work hard to produce something amazing to you.
Really your teachers just want to see that you’re trying. Even if your design and concept SUCKSSS, if you’re actively engaging in class and with your teachers, adapting to the suggestions they’re giving and putting in careful effort to produce your best work, even if it’s not THE BEST work, you’ll progress and learn as much as you can. This will be noticed by your tutors and indicated by a high grade.
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