Things I Learned in Arch School: Year One

My first year of architecture school is almost coming to an end… one more month to go!  It was tough and a very surreal experience.  As the semester is coming to an end, pressure have eased up a little.  Our final is due the coming Monday following our Easter weekend.

I learned a lot in arch school.  It’s kind of like the analogy that you learn a language faster if you were immersed in the language especially if it’s in the host country.  Another quote I’ve came across is “Thrown into the ocean and learn how to swim.”

(But that’s why grit is so important.)  This post by Benjamin Dockter on what architecture school is like rings true.

I probably still have a lot of learn, but these are some basic things I learned in my first year arch school:


Materials: 1.) modeling materials and 2.) construction materials.  

Modeling materials:

  • chipboard
  • museum board
  • basswood
  • balsa wood
  • Bristol paper, etc… things that you can build models out of.

Construction materials:

  • wood (1×2, 2×4, etc)
  • concrete, etc… things that you can use to construct houses out of, I call those construction materials

Materials I’ve worked with:

  • Museum board
  • Kraft paper
  • Britsol paper
  • trace paper
  • Mylar (acetate) sheets, drafting vellum
  • wood (1×2 and 2×4)
  • chipboard
  • foam core
  • basswood

Some rules I learned about materials… of course this is all opinion, and most of them are slightly skewed after being told that an instructor will discourage the use of (etc.) because of (etc.)

1. Don’t use foam core for building models. For massing models, topography, OK.

2. Don’t use balsa wood. Styrofoam quality. Opt for basswood.

3. Use hot glue sparingly and only when you can conceal you did use hot glue. Difficult for fine level of detail, leaves globs of glue. OK for large surface areas that will be hidden.

4. Line weights. Discernible differences in line weight suggest the relative depth of the planes.  A basic rule: the closer the object is to you, the darker the line.  The farther away the object is, the lighter the line.

5.  Hierarchy.  Different sizes make things interesting. Things that can be seen from 5′ and something that can be seen from 5″

6. Sketchbook everything.

I’m not sure if this is all I’ve learned in arch school, year 1.  One of the most important things I’m hoping to accomplish is to document my learning progress because it’s so easy to look back later and wonder… when did I learn this?

Life in architecture school

1. Get familiar with your school’s fabrication shop.

2.  Put a pair of closed toe shoes in your studio. For last minute shop work.

3.  Just build.  

3. Learn from your classmates.  This is in every piece of architecture advice I read on other blogs or sites.  And it’s true.

4. Learn to experiment.  A big thing about architecture school and college in general.  Learn to experiment with materials, with concepts.  Play around with them a little. Experimentation will undoubtedly produce failures, but they will also produce results that are stunningly above all else you’ve ever done.

 Take leaps out side  your comfort zone.  Never stop learning.  And continually to push yourself beyond what you’re comfortable with.

5. Final note: Architecture school needs money.  

Apply to as many scholarships as you can.  Maybe at least 10 every semester, because there will be some that you won’t get.  10 is a decent amount of writing… it might take time, but if you think about it… perhaps it takes you 10 hours to complete one scholarship application: to write the few required essays, a personal statement, a resume, and to fill in the application.  If you’re awarded a $1000 scholarship, you’re making almost $100/hr for 10 hours of work.  Where can you find a job that will pay you $100/hr?

This certainly isn’t everything!  But like with architecture, this is hopefully a start in the right direction.

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