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

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