September 30, 2011

Studio Culture...on a Friday Night.

Friday night in architecture school is definitely not a typical night of what you would expect in other buildings on campus. It might look a bit empty since admin, faculty, and students from various programs are calling it a week. For the architecture building, however, the picture is way different. Do not be fooled at the silence you are greeted with as you enter of the stoic atrium that is decorated with student work. Many architecture schools provide their students card access to their facilities 24/7. A Friday night is actually buzzing with students in the labs, the studio, and crit spaces. And you might have one or two of your professors offices light up at night.

Last Friday I was working in the lab for a school magazine - and having friends working with me made the load much more bearable - we had our laughs, our coffee runs, we helped each other, and it made the studio experience much more inviting. A few nights ago I was talking to some first years late night in studio, answering their questions about the program and imparting to them my experiences. In those moments, I did not care if I was sleep deprived or of the stress of the workload. I actually enjoyed being in architecture school. Being here with people as dedicated as myself.

It is amazing to see the dedication and social activity that is buzzing on a Friday night. Or just any regular night for that matter - which collectively builds sense of community that is inviting that breeds a positive studio culture. In the basement, a group of of graduate and undergraduate students are holding a party! They are working together to assemble the remaining pieces for their Nuit Blanche installation for this weekend. The breakout spaces for the design studios shift in character. During the day, these spaces are usually for student group meetings and studio design reviews. But tonight the story is quite different as the mood becomes informal. Third year students, trekking away at their intensive group research assignments have connected one of their laptops to the projector to watch some flicks. First year students, after a long week of studio are taking a break - one of the student's linked their Wii to the ceiling-mounted projectors in the crit spaces to play a couple of rounds of Super Smash Bros (I played one round with them...I love being Pikachu). I actually am impressed by the dedication that some of the first years have built in the program - for only in their first month of university.

It actually contrasts greatly from the attitudes that some of my classmates and I had when we were in freshman year. I remember that a lot us were very disgusted being in the building late night or on the weekend. I was always trying to find ways to avoid that all-nighter. but I remember that I had this principle - if you are going be pulling the all-nighters at the studio, you need to make these all-nighters comfortable for you! (I came to school on my first all-nighter with a bag of chips, and a smoothie drink)

What inspired this blog entry is the dedication of architecture students and the importance of us students taking a role in contributing to an environment that creates an inviting learning environment - which actually helps students perform better and learn from each other. We can all do our part by being engaged with the workload, our friends, and our classmates. Yes, the workload is intense and the notion of us being here late nights or on weekends is something we all cringe at. However, students are finding ways to embrace studio culture by finding a means to make studio a second or third home, even with that makeshift movie theatre, or blasting some tunes with your speakers as you work - it all contributes to a studio culture experience. These activities here show a sense of how students are trying to make the education struggle a little bit bearable by making studio feel a bit comfortable and enjoyable.

I have seen many students and classes complain to our professors to make the load lighter and bearable on their part - as always, the response usually boils down to an unsympathetic "just do it." and "we won`t change the deadlines" - but If we want to create an educational experience that is positive - Ultimately, it comes down to us students to be that intial change if we cannot sway the rigour and intensity of our education. We can be that change by making ourselves enjoy being here, having friends with us as we go through the workload to motivate and entertain each other, and ultimately doing our own part in be helpful, friendly, engaged with our peers, our education, and our (academic) community. The least we can do is contribute to creating a learning environment in studio that is enjoyable for everyone.

I am reminded by my research on stress and architecture school for my psychology elective a few years back. I ran into an journal article by Leonard and Christine Bachman (2006). It was entitled Student Perceptions of Academic Workload in Architectural Education. Though the article does not give blame to the role that professors and admin should be doing to dealing with the personal stresses and intensive sleep deprivation of architecture students (perhaps because both writers are architecture professors.) They say that there is a strong correlation of better handling of the rigour by having strong social support (your peers) and self efficacy (your confidence and positiveness). I believe that this is a critical point of departure for adopting a studio culture that builds social relationships and encourage students to work in studio, and it is something that we need as one goes through architecture school. We need to develop or create a studio culture experience that is positive and a learning environment that is welcoming and inviting for you and everyone else to have fun as you work on your design projects and perform better.

For more reading:

Bachman, L., & Bachman, C. (2006). Student perceptions of academic workload in architectural education. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 23(4), 271-304. Retrieved June 6, 2008 from Scholars Portal Search

September 27, 2011

The dilemma between eating right / eating wrong.

So I'm having a bit of trouble joining my school's Gym. It's been three weeks into the semester and it is only today that I joined and exercised. Okay, based on previous workouts I have only been able to do half of what I normally do, but I accept the consequence of not working out and I just realize that I gotta come back strong.

I think a big challenge with architecture students is trying to find ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle. After all, we're in the studio or on campus most of the time. Eating right and exercise are critical to better well-being to cope with stress, anxiety, and gives you the endorphins to give you that natural high as opposed to drinking (Starbs) greens.

I just worked out this morning and decided to bring some food since well, I really am tired of eating tonnes of fast food, and obese as I am - I know that eating right is better than eating wrong. Today I just brought some kamut puffs with strawberries, some milk to wash that down, a ham sandwich, as well as a bag of almonds and bananas. This my friends is gonna last me throughout the studio day. (Ironically, I find that I'm eating more healthy since I moved out than when I was a commuting student - and I feel that this is an issue that should be brought up and we should think of solutions as a school, as a person who should maintain a healthy lifestyle. The answers are not easy this is what it takes to bring a healthy set of meals to school it's heavy because of the glass containers:

As I aim for my dieting and weight loss goals for the school year, I think this is the challenge:
- When you pull all-nighters - you don't feel like cooking for the next few days
- If you want to work at studio and avoid the fast food crap - you might have to make that extra effort to pack a lunch (and if you're an architecture student - dinner and breakfast) to school.

All said and done - I can do this since I live across the street from the architecture building. However, for those who commute or are hardcore studio enthusiasts, I believe strongly that this is a challenge. I want to hear from you guys what do you do? What are some tips to maintain a healthy lifestyle during the school year, cause as we will deal with less sleep - the next best thing besides coffee is actually the nutritious stuff. (I guess this is the inspiration for my eating section for my studio research on student residences)

September 04, 2011

Summer 2011 - I grew up.

This summer was super-busy and stressful than the previous summer breaks. However, summer 2011 was enlightening. I learned more about myself as a person and reflected about my career path.

In the early days of my blog - I told a story of an architecture student that became overwhelmed in school. In his third year he dropped courses "Snoop Dogg" style (drop it like it's hawt) and he was being overwhelmed easily. The following year, He was thrown into a new curriculum where he felt inferior and isolated by the new class he was with. Eventually anxiety, stress, weightgain, and a failed studio would mark would encapsulate the year he thought he would succeed and own. He was pissed off at his school and the studio professor that he believed that failed him. My entries were reactive and reflected a student that did not have control over his life - he was letting his circumstances hinder him.

A few months later, right now, I am starting to change my outlook on my current situation in life (or trying my best to say the least). I want to gain that control in my life to not get myself in to a dark stressful place I was two years back. I've gained valuable lessons about who I am as a person from my Architecture Student Leadership Seminar - the AIAS Grassroots in Washington DC, and more as I am currently reading Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective people. Summer has made me question and reflect my architecture career path - however it is opening something that a few good friends are encouraging me to go in. And you will see this as this blog becomes revamped. And, though ambitious as it is, my failures and this enlightenment has kinda rekindled my goals in continuing in my architecture career path by looking into non-traditional forms of practice, as well as now eye-ing a different M.Arch program on the other side of downtown for me. I'm still into architecture, It's great realizing that there's more opportunities with our degree than just aiming for being licensed and practicing in a design firm.

I've taken an interest in advocating studio culture and ensuring that architecture students succeed based. I would like to mark my role as chapter Vice-President as a leader that is for the students. I want them to learn the lessons from my experiences as opposed to them repeating them. I realized that I may not be the kickass V-Ray rendering, I-wear-all-black-and-I-am-a-crazy architecture student - but I like to help and inform students and this blog is soon going to show this. As I finish my year - I have taken a role as a Chapter Vice-President for the AIAS Chapter in my school and I hope that I can be a person that makes positive change for students, while also helping me grow and learn at the same time.

As a Christian, I'm starting to remember how the sweetest vengence Jesus taught is Love and Kindness. In other words, integrity and victory comes from doing good. And it is good which must overcome the bad under all circumstance. I can be reactive by railing against profs like in earlier posts. But now I`d like to be proactive by learning from my mistakes. I can only go forward in my life and my career, stronger than ever, by not letting my setbacks phase me out. So for my final year of school - by taking leadership roles in the AIAS chapter, pushing events regarding career help, and being of service to the students - I've set the tone of wanting to make my positive mark and leaving a permanent legacy and I hope I can be the change I wish to see in the architecture student world.

I've learned the importance of being proactive than reactive amidst our trials, our pains and our failures. It's not an easy experience - it's humbling. As my blog continues as I enter my sixth and final year, I hope that I continue to use it as my personal tool for reflection and meaning as I finish this degree. Additionally, there is potential to turn my failures, my screwups into my success. I want this blog to become a positive means of giving architecture students the leadership and architecture student success tools needed to survive. I want this blog to give hope to the architecture student that fell behind, or struggled, and I want to show them that it's not the end of the world.

Currently, I've sparked an interest in some business/personal management (why I'm starting to read Stephen Covey's book) - and I feel like for many students like me that rush into architecture school fresh from high school does not give us sufficient time to be mature enough to handle the stresses that architecture school gives - and there will be students that will struggle with this. And I feel that writing on this blog - reminds and reinforces the personal lessons I learned and in turn will help the architecture student that struggles.

So as I end Summer 2011 - I just gotta say thanks for the memories and the lessons. I'm just in awe of the personal growth I've made. I hope that with faith, prayer, dedication, and effort that I can finish this year with a high note. I know architecture school is not fine and dandy like cake, so I'm hoping that this year will be better than the last and let's rock n' roll!

August 20, 2011

Failing and Being a Failure - they're actually both different.

Failing sucks and feels horrible. I failed my driving test yesterday. However, I'm trying my hardest to ensure that it does not get to me. Failing sucks, and part of the horrible experience is bashing yourself. Especially if you lack confidence, you can degrade yourself and become anxious. I remember two years ago when I received my F in studio. Emotionally and mentally, I was in a dark place. Reminiscing about that experience in the past - I decided that I did not want that to happen this time around. I'm kind of in a conflicted mood. Trying to keep positive this time and just move on positively, and the other side, i'm really pissed off at myself and my circumstances of why I failed. However, I'm currently reading Steven Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" and one of the most hardest things to accept when failing is taking the responsibility and not blaming your circumstance and others - ultimately crucial for success. To be able to find control in all aspects of life and not be dependent to the outside circumstances beyond your control. It's just such a huge pill to swallow.

After the test, I went to lunch with my instructor and we talked about our career paths and life in general and he gave me some words of advice (Oh yeah, btw he's an Alumni from my school...different programs):

  1. - You need to fail in life to grow. Many people tend to just keep climbing up in life, however if they never experienced failing in life - they won't know or have a clue on how to easily get back up. The fall will be much steeper. That's what many successful people do - they accept failing, reflect and improve on it.

    Actually, I recall something I learned from counselling when I was struggling in previous years at school. The topic was about avoidance - we as people tend to avoid whatever makes us anxious, worrisome, or stressed (this was me three years ago when I dropped my courses, unable to manage my time, busy) - however running away just makes the problem much more worse. (this is where I failed studio). The only way to decrease the mess you made is actually by going through the anxiety, the worry, and stress (in my case the hard work) and beating it down (it'll take more effort and time - but that's they only way - going through the experience and grow)

  2. There's a difference between failing and failure. Failure means that you're unwilling to try again, and you allowed failing to defeat you. So you aren't a failure - (you just started improving your driving and you just need to keep working that muscle/skills.)
I do not know how many or if people have looked down on me through my undergrad from failing. But at least i'm breaking the barriers to have some balls to fail and shatter fear of failure.
I'm gonna keep my head up through this, through my university career, and improve.

August 01, 2011

To be (an Architect) or not to be, that is the question...

We sometimes get these days and moments of self doubt and questions of self worth in our lives. And we are always constantly questioning about the career path we have tread. Am I gonna be a licensed architect? Can I actually become a licencsed architect? Do I have what it takes to make it? and will I be able to go out and do a damn good job at what I do? (And from my setbacks and hard experiences in University, I do get at myself with these questions - ALOT, and it's sometimes disheartening). And usually, I would usually beat myself up for it, but for somehow this time it is different, and I had a positive experience and possibly might be scratching the surface that I might want to explore.

I just arrived back in Toronto a few weeks ago from a conference on student leadership in Washington DC that was hosted by the American Institute of Architecture Students. There we received alot of seminars on management, selling, budgeting, as well as trends and the discourse in the future of architectural practice and architectural pedagogy. I learned so much, made friends from different parts of the United States, and was fortunate to get out of Toronto for a change. (I have never been able to go to various cities during the earlier years of degree - and the primary reason was time and money, it's only now that I have been blessed with these opportunities - I'm saddened to pass up on NYC, Chicago, and the other "Au Currant" cities of architecture, but I have been able to check out cities like Boston, Minneapolis , and DC - But hopefully soon I can go to NYC and Chi-Town).I think it was later in my degree and after my first AIAS Forum when I actually appreciated the AIAS and my local AIAS chapter in which I found a support system of friends that helped me trek through my degree. I have personally experienced some of the most bitter moments in my program, and I hope that as a chapter vice-president for this upcoming school year, I will be able to guide students and help them find the resources and support they need as they go through their education.

I guess, my epiphany of exploring non-traditional career plans was realized in a roundtable discussion on the last day of this year's Grassroots Conference. it was about the practice styles of different architects and how they saw their firms in terms of their ethic and values - seeing if we have similarities to these practioners. The facilitator for this roundtable brought up a question that really struck a chord in one of the questions. She was asking what kind of architects would we be like. Would we be professionals who come up with crazy designs, or the ones that were practical, the ones who see the big idea, the ones who took their time, the ones who valued process, product or business and e.t.c.

I opened up to the people in my roundtable group, I told those around me that I was a struggling student in my degree and how my strengths seem to be more on the leadership and organizational side of things than design. I love design, and I loved architecture to bits since I was young - but I knew that I was a struggling student - I suck at renderings and keeping up on track with the software, I suck at cranking out something quickly - but from helping out in student groups, youth groups, branding/graphics for the FORUM conference my AIAS chapter hosted - I realized that my strengths were more about looking at the process and picking out the overlooked items that have great impacts, I was strong in communication with diagrams/graphics/talking as well as coming up with big ideas.

...However, opening up and showing a vulnerable side of my life lead to the unexpected. I thought I was gonna get some disgusted eyes saying "then why the f**k are you here?" or like "c'mon now..." but the response was different. The others joined in and we all started sharing our commonalities with the challenges in architecture school that I brought up. Many people were talking about how they were better in having big ideas, but struggled in expressing it right since they were struggling with harnessing the computer software. others were saying how they were good at managing the process for group projects. I felt less alone in this, and started to realize the possibility that maybe I can swerve my career direction to use my architectural education background into something with what I am good at. ( I'm not sure what that is, it might just be procrastination from not finding time to work on my portfolio - but even friends have seen the stress and heartache that I've been through and maybe I need to rethink and reevaluate things. I'm not gonna drop school - just I wanna see what this education can do for me)The conference brought up how today we are seeing emerging professionals in the field of architecture who are choosing to take non-traditional paths. And maybe this might lead into something interesting. we had speakers and lectures of people with an architectural education that chose to go into business, computer software companies, to go into urban planning, interior design, and project management. I guess maybe this might be the direction I wanna take. I'm not really sure who to get advice on this, and I might know and might be shy to. I guess I'm in a point in my life starting to realize how far I can go.

I remembered I told a professor "I'm dedicated and passionate for this field" and the response was "(Don't fully rely on that) Dedication and passion can only take you so far man..." I guess now, I'm at another point in my life where I'm wondering how hard my efforts are, and if I'm hurting myself more than ever after numerous tries at being the best and at the end being disappointed in aiming high and not meeting the standards I set for myself - is it all worth it? In this conference, it made me start to question and reflect upon this more. The facilitator is an author who wrote about California-based architects and their practice and their stories of failure and sucess. She told us that she loved photography and studied it - however, she realized that she's good, her peers are wizards at photography and she began to discovered her strength in writing and communication - so she decided to use her strengths and passions and curtail her career into becoming a writer, using her photography in her work. I kinda feel like I might have to reconsider. I love architecture, I like what I've studied - I can have great ideas, but there are sooo many students before me that can do it much more well, so much more that are kick-ass in the software. I know I've invested 5 years (and now a final year) and maybe my strengths lay somewhere else?

I value the things I have gained in my architectural education - though daunting and stressful - it has made me become more of a hard-worker, a team-player, and is building a strong ethic in me, I guess now it is more of reflection if I wanna go far and aim high for an M.Arch or do I wanna go for an MBA or study Project Management or Planning or another design field after this like graphic design or something?

However, the challenge is this, I am interested in sooo many things and open to things that it might be hard to discover. I keep myself open to the world around me. My last years in high school as I've set my sights towards "RyeArch!"made me intrigued that there is a whole world outside of Rexdale (my home town). And this is reflected in the manner that I led my years in my degree. Now, I'm not your cavalier, wildchild, university student that chooses to get drunk and party like it's 1999, but even as I went to Ryerson - I enjoyed my electives that gave me a world outside of architecture. I enjoyed making friends with students outside of architecture just because I felt that architecture might get more insights from knowing the world around you and getting along with others outside the field - and for the sanity of realizing that life isn't just sexy buildings. I enjoyed singing in church choir twice a week. And though I'm obese, I enjoyed taking time at the gym to work out. And aversive to weight loss, I was always into culinary arts (though high school made me realized that I would not like this as a career). Though being busy and stretched in all of this had its cost - it was a reflection of my value to be well-rounded and not just overtly focused on architecture.

I guess, right now I'm just figuring out this along with the other things that might've hindered or struggled with over my degree and learning more about who I am more personally than ever. Can it be that now I am becoming a little more realistic...maybe at tad negative? - or possibly practical on what I know more about myself. I just hope that whatever will happen, I will be content. I'm just afraid to be disappointed in my 30s realizing that I wish I was that architect, or to be disappointed that I didn't attempt it or go all the way or likewise the disappointment or dislike of letting go of a career goal you had since you were in your sixth grade. But for now, this reconsideration is looking into who am I as a person, what are my strengths and weaknesses - and how I can make my career something I can be happy and content.

Goodbye Undergrad, Thanks AIAS!