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Studying architecture - let's get started!

As you are about to embark on a lifelong journey of exploration, creativity and critical thought into the spaces that we craft around us, this is a tremendously exciting time in your life.
Architectural education will challenge and push you to think creatively in ways you would never imagine about society’s biggest problems.


But most importantly, you can’t simply assume we, society, are asking the right questions. Your first challenge is to start by asking your own questions and consider how we might be able to reframe or reimagine our world. Designers too often automatically jump into solution mode. You however should be prepared to dream – you have the chance to imagine a future iteration of our world that doesn’t exist yet. What could be more exciting? Fuel your design thinking with your most imaginative ideas. It’s of the utmost importance to be critical and reflective of contemporary society and how we can improve the systems, experiences and products that define it.

How to Thrive at Architecture School, by Neil Spiller


Be prepared to be uncomfortable (in your work). The design process can be messy and it can be unknown. Some students struggle with the uncertainty, but you have to trust in the process and be open to where it may take you. You will likely do things that you have never done before (and may never do again!). This may seem counter-intuitive, but you also need to become comfortable with failing – failure can be the quickest pathway to success. It is important to learn through doing, to get ideas out quickly, to feel comfortable in learning through a process of trial and error.


Architecture school at its best will excite you with the possibilities of what you can achieve – it should drive your curiosity of the unknown and propel a raw enthusiasm and inquisitiveness for life, art and the built as well as the natural environments. Make sure you bring a sketch book and set of pencils/pens to wherever you go, observe your surroundings and sketch daily. A key skill for an architect is to be able to quickly and visually absorb the spaces they have experienced and to be able to visually document and communicate them. Remember you have the power of the pen – don’t let go!

101 Things I Learned at Architecture School

I’m always surprised by how many students think architectural education doesn’t involve much reading. Believe it or not, it’s still a good idea to read as much as it pains many of my students; opening your mind to new ways of thinking and seeing the world is crucial for architects; as well as having crucial reference books that support the further development of an idea. The books suggested below can be of special help as you are starting your journey. The number of references may seem overwhelming, but everyone starts in a uniquely different place, thus it’s important to consider which books might be best suited to your interests and development.


A relatively new book by Neil Spiller, How to Thrive at Architecture School: A student guide provides an excellent overview of the typical stages of architectural education identifying key learning opportunities and potential challenges. It can be a great reference to supplement the entirety of your journey, but it’s especially useful when everything is new and you’re going through particular activities for the first time. Just as important, there are a handful of books that we suggest to students that provoke thought on and reflection of their personal experiences, values, behaviours and understanding of our environments – Thinking Architecture by Peter Zumthor, In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki, The Craftsman by Richard Sennett and The Feeling of Things by Adam Caruso. These books (and others) can be very useful to open our thinking and approach to design – our designs are often grounded in our experiences.

There are also great introductory reference books that will reinforce and/or broaden your understanding of fundamental architecture principles or ‘rules’: 101 Things I learned in architecture school by Matthew Frederick, Lessons for Students in Architecture by Herman Hertzberger, The Architecture Concept Book by James Tait and 101 Rules of Thumb for Sustainable Buildings and Cities by Huw Heywood. In addition, Will McLean and Peter Silver’s books provide an excellent introduction and encyclopaedic overview of the more technical side of architecture with their staple publication Introduction to Architectural Technology and their newly published Environmental Design Sourcebook. In addition to understanding the choices you have, it’s important to contextualise those choices to make informed decisions when you are faced with competing influences. Seetal Solanki and Liz Cordbin’s Why Materials Matter: Responsible Design for a Better World is a good introduction for considering material decisions.

Environmental Design Sourcebook by Will McLean and Pete Silver
To supplement your thirst for architecture, there are several architecture news feeds, for example, ArchDaily and Dezeen, which can provide you with a daily dose of new, quality architecture projects. There are also interesting blogs on Architecture such as Archinect and Design Milk as well as more skill-orientated blog’s like Alex Hogrefe’s Visualizing Architecture.


Like any challenging endeavour, architectural education can also be stressful. It’s important to be mindful of your well-being, to talk to others and to find activities that replenish your mental and physical health. You have selected an education that is like no other and while it does have its challenges it is full of experiences that will foster close friendships, warmth and mutual support to make the successes and failures of learning through problem-based explorations, not just engaging but life forming. Becoming an architect is not a short journey, so inevitably it will have its ups and downs, but most importantly, it will all seem trivial when you step foot inside the first building you designed.

Dr Robert Schmidt III is a Reader in Architectural Design and the Head of Architecture at Loughborough University. He has collected varied academic, industry and personal experiences exploring the built environment across a broad range of cultural and physical territories establishing two key strands of expertise - designing for adaptability and the development of digital co-practices for design.  His work has resulted in several funded UK Research Council grants and publications including the book Adaptable Architecture: Theory and Practice.  He has served on many international research committees and currently leads the Adaptable Futures international research group.

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