August 26, 2013

Architecture School is like an Obstacle Course.



Just over a year past graduating I have been working on my life-long battle against obesity and if anything that architecture school and university has taught me was to persist, persevere, and always be open to new things. And for the past few months I have been exercising to get myself fit and go for my first 6km obstacle race.


In some ways, I think the anxieties and nervousness came out at parts of the race. I had friends and even strangers cheer and encouraged me on as I trekked through some of the most toughest challenges a guy of my size would have went through. (usually obese kids like me avoided the poles and jungle gyms in the playgrounds – there was no choice to opt out this time)


In some ways, it is like the challenges you would face in progressing through architecture school. It might not be physically daunting and joyful as the race I did last weekend, but it has all the elements and obstacles that would challenge your abilities, your drive, and your endurance. Architecture school will test you mentally and emotionally.  The studio projects and deadlines are designed to take you outside of your own comfort zone and that’s where you have to push and learn how to cope and survive.  Each project gets slightly difficult to force you to sink or swim, to pick up quickly the skills and abilities that are expected for you as each year intensifies. It is tough to be in a degree program where the all-nighters, anxieties, and stress can take the best away out of people. But I know that even going through 6 years of a stressful degree has developed a stronger character in me and for that I am grateful because it is what has got me to push through to explore and try different things after school.

So, here are some things that I can impart which confronted me during this race, which you can apply going back to school this fall:

  1. Screw perfectionism, get dirty!
    I recall my first obstacle and trying to avoid the first mud puddle and ended up falling over big after trying to run around the mud pit. In some ways I can relate to perfectionism and failure – the quickly you can get to fail fast and often and pick yourself up quickly you can let go of being perfect and just focus on exploring, learning and doing. This is critical because you do not have time for any project in college – you have to really keep churning and iterating out a design until deadline. Get dirty and just don’t care and keep going. You have to let go of the habit of always being perfect...clean in this instance.

  2. Surround yourself with the right people – Good Sportsmanship/Studio Culture
    I was with a team where we supported each other and they helped me go through things that I would not have been able to do when I was in middle school/high school. But even other people outside of my team were encouraging me - strangers. Just like Mark Twain’s immortal words:  “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

    In architecture school there will be a lot of arrogant and egotistical people who prevail and get the upper hand at times. But realize there’s a majority of students out there who struggle and do the best they can. If anything, have the right friends and support systems from the get go helps and being the right sized and humble student who helps their peers is not a sign of a lack of confidence. A good studio culture begins with you.

  3. Anxiousness and Worrying wastes time
    I froze, repeated, and paused when I hit obstacles that I was not comfortable. Some had the easy way out, while others did not and I had to do it anyways. If anything, when you are confronted to learn that new software, do that drawing, or render this or model that or do something you have never tried or learned,  you need to just do it and be willing to be resourceful and strategic to figure it out.

  4. Try and Do Your Best
    This is my first race and even though I might`ve been the last 30 in my age-gender category of the race, I know I have tried something that I would have never have thought I would have done when I was in high school or architecture school. The point is that I tried to be my best and go for something so not typically me shows how much I want always try something new.


I hope you have enjoyed your summer. I hope as you enter this school year, I wish all architecture students the best for the upcoming challenges that lay ahead – stay strong, positive, and healthy as well! Regards.

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