Top 10 Things We Wish They’d Taught in Architecture School

Spartanburg Day SchoolWelcome to Parchment, the blog of David M. Schwarz Architects. In this space our team will share our musings, thoughts, and perspectives about architecture, design, and place making, all of which are rooted in our belief in humanism and a humanistic approach to design that gives us people-sensitive, pedestrian-friendly, socially active architecture defined by characteristics, not style. Our aim is to inform, inspire, and provoke thoughtful discourse about architecture today. We hope you will join the conversation.

At back-to-school time, our thoughts turn to the enlightening – if sometimes endless – charrettes, the inspired all-nighters, and the gritty caffeine-fueled mornings of architecture school. And that leads us to Parchment’s first top ten list –Top 10 Things We Wish They’d Taught in Architecture School.

10. Save your work often. And always, always back up your hard drive. To avoid hair-pulling grief and a siege of self-loathing, it’s the only sure prescription.

9. How to build a better gingerbread house. When all is said and done, the things we do for fun and for good sometimes count the most. You can check out our hard-won expertise in building the perfect gingerbread community when DMSAS hosts its annual Gingertown celebration on November 26.  More than 100 architects, engineers, builders, and others will gather in Washington to build a whimsical university-themed confectionary community, with all proceeds donated to local charities.

8. The tools of the trade. It’s good to have more than on-the-job training in AutoCAD®, Photoshop®, InDesign®, SketchUp®, foam core model building, and the documentation of drawing sets. While many schools are spending more time working with the latest and greatest computer programs, that training often comes at the expensive of some of the more tradition, hands-on techniques, though the reverse also true. If only we could strike the balance in instruction that we do in our designs.

7. How to write as well as you draw. Drawing isn’t your only communications tool. You must also draw an image with words. From writing a winning proposal to crafting the right storyline to accompany your glossy professional photos, high-interest explanations greatly inform your audience’s response and feedback.

6. How to communicate effectively. To succeed in architecture, you need to communicate what you know you can do for your client. Successful presentation skills are as necessary for conveying design concepts throughout a project as they are for winning the work in the first place. Furthermore, you must be your own – and the client’s – best advocate. The ability to sound convincing is an art form that’s essential to selling a solution. The skills of communicating in concise, compelling ways are invaluable.

5. Business 101. While designing buildings may be the most fun part of architecture and what brought us all into the business, it is still a business. Schools should help students form a basic understanding of licensing regulations, risk and liability assessment, time and team management and contract language review – especially everyone’s perennial favorite – the indemnification clause. Not to mention a sound understanding of real estate development would be extremely helpful.

4. Options are good.  Most of the time, the first thing you draw – or even the first five things – may not present the best solution. It takes time to sketch and get your thoughts down on paper so you can start to see where progression is needed. Drawing something a second or third time is always easier than the first.

3. There are at least 20 shades of white. Hues that range from anti-flash white to vanilla or as this Architects Guide to Color  playfully notes from Angry White to Ennui to Random White. And to top it off, there are probably more than 100 shades of “grey.”  Sometimes you can have too many options and you have to sweat the finer points.

2. That that expressive, curvilinear, canted, glass curtain wall would never make it through the first VE process…  Enough said.

1. It’s not about you. Architecture is a collaborative process. Compromise is as essential as collaboration. Great works of architecture are influenced by co-workers, government oversight and regulation, and – perhaps most importantly – the community in which your project resides. Because in the end, delivering what the community will share and come to view with appreciation, respect, and even affection, is the greatest source of satisfaction and the finest honor any architect can achieve.

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