This summer a brand new class of eager architectural hopefuls are preparing to start their lives in design at architecture schools around the world. Entering a studio environment for the first time brings an exciting set of new creative challenges, but this thrilling new world of architecture can often be tough to anticipate for those who have yet to begin their journey — leaving newcomers feeling unprepared and nervous on their first day.
While most architectural skills are best developed under the coaching of experienced professors, here are some simple tasks that will help incoming architecture students feel ready on the first day:
A big part of studying architecture is learning to see and critically understand aspects of the everyday environment. There’s a lot you can learn about buildings by studying the ones where you live and spend time right now. New architecture students often struggle to accurately visualize appropriate spatial dimensions at first, but you can give yourself a head start by measuring familiar spaces to use as reference points in your first designs. Taking time this summer to measure the dimensions of rooms you know well, hallways, closets and bathrooms of different sizes, as well as common building elements like doors, windows, fixtures and furniture, can reveal useful patterns and help a new designer develop crucial design skills like spatial awareness and an accurate sense of scale.
Model-building is a big part of life as an architecture student, and learning to work quickly and use available resources effectively can make a huge difference in the final quality of a model. Studio projects often move at such a brisk pace that ordering material online and waiting for shipping is not always an option, so knowing what materials are available in local brick-and-mortar stores will go a long way once you start making design decisions on the fly. Art supply stores are a solid first stop for sheet goods, drawing media and other specialty items like clay and model building tools, but you can also find useful building pieces at hardware stores, big box home improvement chains and even thrift shops. Spending an afternoon exploring these kinds of stores and taking mental notes about the items they stock will help you understand your material options when you start making things constantly. While you’re there, save yourself some future drama by noting their opening and closing times too.
Learning to capture and express visual information through drawings is a huge part of learning the fundamental skills of architecture, and just being comfortable with pencils and paper is a surprisingly helpful first step in developing those skills. Particularly for those without much previous experience drawing by hand, starting a sketchbook and trying to sketch a couple quick scenes each day, regardless of their final quality, will help ease the intimidation of producing drawings for your studio projects to come.
Particularly for students starting school without much experience in the world of architecture, reading books written by architects is a helpful, low-stress way to introduce yourself into the world of buildings and design while also getting a feel for the vocabulary and language that architects use to describe and explain architecture. University libraries and magazines can be extremely helpful for finding an approachable entry point, and of course online resources like ArchDaily are another great way to make first contact with the words and ideas of architecture.
Studying architecture involves a lot of learning about projects through drawings, photographs, models and other means of representation―but there’s no substitute for experiencing architecture in person. Even if there’s not a Louis Kahn or Frank Lloyd Wright building near where you live, it can be hugely helpful and instructive to find a local place you find interesting and plan a visit that allows you to take plenty of time to absorb the space. While you’re there, try to observe and appreciate the entirety of the experience, especially how it makes you feel and affects your mood. Even if you don’t have the architectural knowledge to articulate your experience yet, when you’re sitting at a desk in studio it will make all the difference if you can take yourself back to that visit and remind yourself of how it feels to physically inhabit a magical place.