First of all, I know not all of us are going to relate to this topic and everyone is different, but in my opinion it’s worth sharing.
In his article, An Anxious discipline, Brian Kinnaird elevates the issue of how as students we are drawn into the culture of “Work harder, play the game, play your tutor, stay up later, suffer some more, and you’re likely to be rewarded with a better grade”.[i] All disciplines I’m sure have this issue, but not to the extent of a subjective field like studio architecture. This isn’t associated with every aspect of architecture, it is the design aspect.
Hard work should result in better grades, I’m not arguing against that, but architecture school culture at times promotes a “martyr for the art” culture.[ii] Subtleties that I’m sure we take for granted like bean bags in the hub or 247 access to the labs provide comfort and often great experiences, but they also indicate and promote an all-nighter culture of constant nonstop, non-balanced work.
It’s not news that architecture has some of the highest rates of dropout and mental illness[iii], and as mentioned by Kinnaird, schools are getting better at diagnosing it, but doing a really “average job at curing it”[iv]. Many students suffer in silence. The problem is we accept the fact that architecture school is demanding and that we should just get on with it, we make fun of the culture in an attempt to ease each other’s distress. But the reality is almost no one benefits from “just getting on with it”.
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I’m not talking about this from the outside. Its personal. In 2016 I went to Athens for the summer studio offered by UWA and came back straight into another semester of Uni (Don’t recommend). By the last week of Athens, I was over it, and was contemplating taking a break instead of continuing straight on, but I decided to “just get on with it”. Does that phrase sound familiar? 6 weeks into IDES and mental fatigue was getting worse. More coffee, more stressed, and eventually became depressed about the whole situation, getting to a point where I was adrift with uncertainty and couldn’t put pen to paper without getting frustrated and angry. But I’m sure most people have that feeling of addiction to their project to the point we just sit at the desk thinking but not productively “the idea block”.
I needed to drop the unit, but there were issues of debt, knowing I would still have to pay for it and it would go on my academic record as a 0 withdrawal. What comes after isn’t what I like to talk about but If it wasn’t for my parents noticing, and student experience officer Alicia Brown, I would have completely lost the plot.
The message I’m trying to say, is forget the phrase “just get on with it”. Your health is more important. Slow down and you will get much more out of your university education. I find we are all sucked in, especially those of us coming straight out of school, to the dream of finishing the course by 22 and earning a real wage by 23 or completing the course in 5 years full time. If you have your life balanced, then great, but no one should feel compelled to do so, no matter what anyone else says. These are personal issues that are emphasised by a self destructive culture instilled throughout the education. Maybe it’s time for universities actively reaching out to combat this way of thinking. Because at the moment its reactive rather than proactive treatment[v]. But I suppose that’s the next part of the conversation.
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“If schools are actually serious about the pedagogic merits of curating crises in their students, they should declare it. I don’t want to hear that “this is how practice is”, because this is not a labour environment, it’s a learning one”- Brian Kinniard[vi]
[i] Kinnaird, Brian. “An anxious discipline” Archipalour. September 23, 2016. http://archiparlour.org/an-anxious-discipline/
[ii] Stott, Rory. “For and against All – Nighter culture: Archdaily readers respond” Archdaily. April 7, 2015. https://www.archdaily.com/616567/for-and-against-all-nighter-culture-archdaily-readers-respond
[iii] Waite, Richard. “Mental Health problems exposed by AJ student survey” Architects Journal. July 28, 2016. https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/mental-health-problems-exposed-by-aj-student-survey-2016/10009173.article