Is architecture a good fit for me?
April 29, 2010 7:25 PM   Subscribe

Is architecture a good fit for me?

As someone very susceptible to the harmful physical and emotional effects of stress (think perfectionism, fear of failure, anxiety, and physical illness...and a period of two years taken off after graduating from high school to heal from the burn out of running myself to the ground trying to get into a top college-oh the irony), would studying architecture be a good fit for me? I am considering an accredited Bachelor of Science of Architecture program. I am very interested in sustainable design, specifically.

Namely what I am asking is, what can I expect? All-nighters, even with careful planning and nipping my procrastination in the bud? Or is it manageable? Am I kidding myself thinking that I can accomplish this?

If there is any information that I am leaving out, please don't hesitate to ask. Thank you!
posted by DeltaForce to Education (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In my experience as an engineering major (and, full disclosure, dropout), only the architecture and music students seemed to work more than us. All of them essentially lived in studio for at least a few weeks every semester. I have no idea whether that reflects the sort of person attracted to it, or the difficulty of the work.
posted by phrontist at 7:29 PM on April 29, 2010

I used to work in a design and architecture agency as a design assistant, and yeah, the architects were some of the hardest working people there. Lots of deadlines, lots of being creative on cue, lots of disappointment.

But who knows, it might work for you anyway. Stress can turn from negative to positive if you're working under pressure on something you truly love. Probably this is something only you can know. If this is a general problem in your life, you could also try therapy to improve your mental approach to work and pressure.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:41 PM on April 29, 2010

I didn't study architecture in the US but as phrontist says: if all nighters, lots of deadlines, public "crits" - where you must publicly defend your ideas in front of staff and classmates - etc don't sound up your street you might want to research your college's program thoroughly. It's a fairly stressful profession too (I've never worked as an architect, though do consult to them) although most are these days. But ask the questions of the school as well as us.
posted by jamesonandwater at 7:41 PM on April 29, 2010

Just chiming in to say that you will need help to deal with these issues no matter which program you choose in college, so I hope you plan on speaking to advisers and counselors in order to figure this out ahead of time.
posted by Think_Long at 7:50 PM on April 29, 2010

Yeah, wow--it strikes me as not a good fit at all. Add to that the fact that the architecture market is made of shit, and jobs are few and far between, so there will be added stress when you graduate. Good luck with whatever you end up doing--but I think arch won't suit you.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:55 PM on April 29, 2010

I have my degree in architecture. The all-nighters are no joke - when you tour the school, make sure it has a decent area to crash for naps. You also want access to some sort of kitchenette, or at least a microwave. Check to see if you can bring in a minifridge.

The stress can be very rough. Be aware of any mental health facilities available to you, and make use of them if you start freaking out over deadlines. You will absolutely have to present your work to the whole class (or even more people) on a regular/weekly basis. It's a good way to hone your public bs'ing skills REAL fast.

Unfortunately, my program didn't do a very good job of preparing me for the real world; I really enjoyed the schooling, but hated the actual job. There was just way too much red tape for me. Apparently I just love making tiny models of things in the middle of the night, so now I am a jeweler. :)

Feel free to MeMail me if you want to know what specific school I went to. It wasn't an awesome one. I did not continue into grad school.

People don't say "Wow, architecture! That's hard!" for nothin' :)
posted by WowLookStars at 7:58 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I actually thought the long hours and monkish lifestyle were pretty fun in Architecture school. When you graduate to the real world the long hours aren't as bad, but the stress triples. There's a great blog called "Intern 101" you'll have to google if you want a good graduate perspective. But yeah, the market is shit. I pity the fools graduating this year with any student debt. About half of my peers have been unemployed over a year.
posted by tfmm at 8:16 PM on April 29, 2010

for what it's worth, if you plan to become licensed in the USA without continuing to graduate school first, you should look for a five-year BArch program rather than a four-year BS; you'll need a professional degree.

depending on where you go, all of the above may be true. all-nighters ending when you painfully truncate a digit with the extra-sharp olfa blades you bought to make yourself more efficient. critiques interrupted by violent outbursts, possible crying, and/or professors crushing models. blatant competition for hierarchy in studio. completely losing track of the world outside studio and friends who aren't architects. huge ragers after everyone's crits are done.

there are many types of people who are successful in design studio, ranging from the perfectionist iterators to the intuitive sculptors. there are always loose cannons and quiet, hardworking types. if it's something you absolutely want, you can do it, but frankly i wouldn't recommend it if you're not totally committed: it isn't a discipline you can successfully cruise through. it is a beautiful curse.

disclosure: i attended an undergrad BArch program ranked #1–2 while i was there.
posted by a halcyon day at 8:17 PM on April 29, 2010

If you're interested in sustainable design another route you might consider could be historic preservation. It's a less stressful field, but also less cash.
posted by teleri025 at 9:22 PM on April 29, 2010

I'm a couple of years out of an undergrad architecture program. I also no longer work in the industry. These statements are not mutually exclusive.

I went into architecture as a way to satisfy my love for working with my hands. I also really appreciate the intellectual side of architecture: coming up with ideas, citing inspirations, using critical thinking skills, defending my ideas.

However, I'm a known perfectionist, which really hurt me in architecture. Like a halcyon day said, it's not a discipline you can cruise through if you're not totally committed. I didn't cruise through it--I struggled bigtime with feeling like I didn't know as much or grasp the concepts as readily as my peers, that I was too literal of a thinker in certain circumstances, and that I wasn't original enough to design well (or to come up with the perfect design that I knew I was capable of and yet couldn't make come to fruition). Instead of abandoning thinking and just forging ahead and making stuff, I would sit and ruminate about the best possible solution. Which DOES NOT WORK for architecture, seeing as it's an iterative process. You can't just sit at your desk and think forever about the perfect outcome, because unless you kill yourself thinking (aka what I did), it won't come the first time you put something down on paper. Or make a model. Or a computer rendering. It takes TIME and a hell of a lot of it. And doing it OVER and OVER and OVER again, obsessively. Cue the bits above about all-nighters.

I also found the working world to be quite different from school. My architecture school was more liberal arts-based, focused on honing critical thinking skills and theory rather than mastering drafting, AutoCAD, and standards/conventions. This was a real hindrance when I went to work for a landscape architecture firm, where it was almost expected that I knew these standards and became a real problem when I revealed that I didn't. I'm glad I got the education I did in the long run, but were this a grad program I had attended, I would have felt like I had gotten the major shaft--who wants to go into the workplace unprepared?

Anyway, I could blab about this stuff all day. I think the long and short of it that can be applied to you is: do you like solving problems with inventive solutions? Do you like designing and being creative? Do you feel competent in doing that? It sounds like you could deal with the hours. But do you WANT to do what everyone has listed so far as facets of architecture school?

Also, do you naturally seek out design magazines? As in, holy mackerel! I can't wait to read the latest Architectural Record to see how these architects are negotiating space! Or do you find them merely interesting? Cause the kids in my class who were the most successful actually lived, breathed, loved this stuff. If it's merely interesting to you, you might encounter the similar struggles I did.

And another important point: do you mind sitting in front of the computer for long, tedious periods of time? Back to the working with your hands bit that I thought was a motivation for studying architecture, most of my "working with my hands" in school involved moving a mouse around and staring blankly at 3D rendering software. Yeah, there's physical model making, but there's an awful lot of computerizing....and that's all I did all day, every day that I worked for a firm (granted, in different capacities, whether Photoshop/Illustrator, researching online, or AutoCAD). And DAMN it got BORING.

Good luck in whatever you choose. Again, I'm proud of the fact that I earned this degree--there's no end of compliments when you tell people you studied architecture. But it was a definite struggle to ultimately get there.
posted by trampoliningisfun at 12:27 AM on April 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

Seems like I have much to consider. Thank you everyone for your insights. I really do appreciate it.
posted by DeltaForce at 6:48 AM on April 30, 2010

The thing is, more rewarding careers tend to be more stressful. If stress is really that crippling for you, and you don't learn to control it and find balance in your life, you may never be able to meet your goals or reach your potential.

Some things that you will learn in architecture school (or die trying):
- time management
- persuasive public speaking and defense of your ideas
- a willingness to try and fail, over and over, learning a little bit each time
- understanding that nothing can ever be perfect

So... it could be good for you. But remember that in most arch programs, there is an 80%+ dropout rate in the first two years. Lots of people decide that it's not for them. If you end up being one of those people, have a backup plan.
posted by Chris4d at 7:11 AM on April 30, 2010

There is no way around the stress in architecture. Whether in school or in the workforce.

Deadlines are always looming. There is never, ever enough time to get it all done. In school, the all-nighters are a must. Living in studio is a must. Forgetting to eat is a must. Crying from stress, exhaustion and a bad crit is a must. Excuses are not acceptable for something done poorly or late.

When in school, you learn to keep both the big picture in mind while sorting out the details and prioritizing them. You do the important stuff first and get to as much as you can. No matter how good you are, there is never enough time. Does this thought make you feel like a failure? Consider your reaction to that.

And, you'll put your work up for public crits. It may seem that the goal is to find fault with your work. Rather, it's a way to make you learn coping skills to face the things you must face every day: The boss doesn't like how you drew that ADA toilet room detail, the client doesn't understand your design, the code official doesn't like your reasoning, the contractor is fed up with your silly ideas, the material you specified is no longer available and you have to find a replacement ASAP, the plotter is acting up once again.

But, you know, there is satisfaction. If you love putting disparate things together and juggling the impossible and revising and rethinking all while keeping the big idea in mind, it's a great fit. And, when everything all comes together and that vexing problem is resolved and simultaniously solves 7 other things, it's golden.
posted by mightshould at 2:59 PM on April 30, 2010

If stress is a big issue then there are probably easier, more direct and immediately rewarding paths to sustainable design than architecture.

This isn't meant to add to the chorus of "architecture: badasses only need apply", only to point out that there are easier ways to get to where you want to go, in fact I want to offer a dissenting opinion about all nighters. All nighters are popular but they aren't necessary. There's a culture of machismo in architecture that appreciates self abasement in the pursuit of the awesomest model or the best drawing. This is quite separate from the time you need to spend on a piece of work - there is for sure a lot of work but in some cases the workload calls for a more disciplined use of time...not staying up 4 nights in a row without showering.

For me this discipline is about separating your moments of critical analysis and your period of production or execution. You cannot sit in front of a design and agonise over every decision, you have to know how to take risks and when to put the chattering doubts aside to make whatever fantastic creation you envisaged and this only comes with practice. In short architecture is probably tougher than you think but less scary than people say.
posted by doobiedoo at 2:15 PM on May 2, 2010

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