For me the architectural studio, is more than just a place, it is a culture, a second home and at times a detriment to my mental health. Student life and the culture of the architectural studio has built a reputation around the world for its uniqueness for both good and bad reasons. My opinion, would maybe differ to many of my peers, maybe it wouldn’t, but as much as studio is a rich learning environment, it, for one, can build culture of competition where we always want to best each other, and in turn, isolate us to the extent we don’t come to uni. Is this degrading our health and ability to lead balanced social and physical life’s? I believe so and maybe we don’t quite realise that yet.
Image Source: Archiculture documentary title (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62r3UPrOS9k)
The documentary Archiculture examines the individuality of the course and its teachings, but more importantly, the portrayal of studio culture from both perspectives of teacher and student, which is very important in understanding how studio for one, has changed over decades, and how it could be bettered to prepare students for the real world in a balanced way.[i]
“I get this thing called idea block where I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about my project, and the only way to stop worrying is to go back to studio to continue to work on my project at 12am”. [ii]
“Your mental health and physical health is put on hold for weeks at a time”.[iii]
These are quotes from the documentary, that I’m sure, for many of my peers don’t exactly paint a foreign picture. I’m not trying to say that architecture is the only tertiary discipline that has these issues, but I’m saying it is accentuated due to one the subjectivity of the course, and the never-ending notion of artistry vs pragmatism.
Image Source: The Left & Right Brain (http://www.lawrettawrites.com/battle-brains-left-brain-versus-right-brain-people/)
In the documentary, Shigeru Ban suggests that architectural education is one of the best in the world because of the studio system[iv]. I’m not convinced, at least not anymore. It is definitely unique and teaches us team-based values as mentioned in previous blogs. But I think, there is however another side to this story, being that the studio culture has been significantly degraded due to university cost cutting, and the advancements of technology that distance students from university life (such as the lms). When students don’t come to studio to get direct feedback from tutors, they can be left in the dark, so to speak, no matter how good technical communication has become. It is also an issue for educators, how can you monitor your students’ progress (both academically and mentally) via a screen?
Image Source: UWA LMS – we don’t need to show up to Uni anymore (https://lms.uwa.edu.au/webapps/portal/execute/tabs/tabAction?tab_tab_group_id=_1_1)
In talking to architects of the 80s generation, this immediately realised.
“I was always working in groups and interacting with my peers in a very personal way – maybe we didn’t have the stresses that the modern generation faces, but I wouldn’t trade my studio experience for anything” – Patric Przeradzki (plus architecture)[v]
The issues of mental health have seen a significant increase[vi]. A study in the UK showed that 26% of students had sort help for illnesses such as depression and anxiety with a further 25% thinking they would need to in the future. Of course, this can’t just be attributed to the singular studio culture, but a plethora of issues such as isolating technology, and lack of physical interaction. Students sit stewing about their problems if they don’t bounce them off one another. And maybe my point about competition is why we sometimes distance ourselves from the studio. The question is how can we recreate a culture that breeds “healthy” competition and stops students suffering in silence alone.
[i] “Archiculture: a documentary film that explores the architectural studio.” Filmed 2014. YouTube Video, 25:04. Posted by “Arbuckle industries,” December 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62r3UPrOS9k
[v] Przeradzki, P., interviewed by James Rietveld, 2018, Plus Architecture, Perth
[vi] Kaji-O’Grady, Sandra. “Stress test: Addressing mental illness at architecture school” Architecture AU. September 8, 2016. https://architectureau.com/articles/stress-test-addressing-mental-illness-at-architecture-school/
[vii] Perrot, Wesley. “Will the study of architecture become unaffordable?” Australian design review. May 28, 2014. https://www.australiandesignreview.com/architecture/will-the-study-of-architecture-become-unaffordable/