#7 Failing Upwards

[1] The Last Hurdle (Connelly, Greg)
[2] Derek Jeter Home Run (Getty Images)

At this moment the only thing holding me back from graduating is 1500 words and I am not sure how to make sense of it all. I feel like a don’t have a lot to show for it. Without even hesitating, my first regret is not having that one project that I hit out of the park that made me feel adequate to stand tall among my peers, like Derek Jeter in the ninth inning. All I seem to remember is a vast collection of unfinished and rushed submissions. Why didn’t I ever have that eureka moment in my time studying? Did I place a higher value on working and earning an income? Or was it my social life that coerced me to not take the degree itself serious enough? I am a clinical over thinker but how I see it, it comes with the territory of studying architecture where I find analysing an art form [1]. The past five years have been a mental battle where I would contemplate my coursework for days, if not weeks and months at a time and bathe in the successive self loathing. The aim of this article is clear. I want to ask myself the questions that I could never quite answer and remove them from just being thoughts trapped in my head. At first glance I will admit that the chosen topic borders if not supersedes self indulgence but this article is not exclusively for my eyes. My self interview/reflection, if answered honestly aims to assist current students so they may find fulfilment and worth in their studies and prove that they belong within the architectural graduate fraternity.

What has the degree taught me? 

[3] The Terminator (Tselentis, Jason)

Well, I feel like Arnie right about now because I’m borderline impenetrable. Sleep deprivation….never heard of it. What else… I can tell you the thickness, in GSM, of any piece of paper by touch. I defeat my computer at staring contests every day and I can tell you the location of every 24 hour supply store in a five kilometre radius of the UWA campus but I digress.

[4] Staring Contest (Getty Images)
To answer this question I had to remember who I was before entering the degree because it is easy to take for granted all of the knowledge that I have come in contact with in the past five years. Firstly, the most important thing a degree in architecture taught me was how to read buildings and analyse architecture [2]. Prior to diving into the architectural world, in the literally sense, my reaction to architecture was virtually skin-deep. I have now progressed to a point that steers clear of just style. I can criticise and extract details from a building using my nothing but my senses which remains mandatory for my development.

I will admit that at times I feel that I have learnt nothing, although it has become clear that the learning experience in architecture school is hard to pin down. The scenario is that we have either very few or no exams [3]. At times there is a certain mindset attached to a degree that doesn’t require students to study and memorise content which can make the learning experience appear slight. The reality of our chosen art form demands vigour, a positive approach and a lot of submissions. My time was well spent. To answer my question, a degree in architecture has taught me far more from comparing good design against the mundane. It has given me the ability to sharpen my approach towards design and creatively pair that knowledge with technical aspects involved. Learning architecture is an educational process, one that requires its students to learn a lot about themselves and be open and accepting to being taught and criticised.

[5] The Walt Disney Concert Hall (Laird, D)

Do you see any problems with the degree itself?

I do not know how to correctly answer this question. I experienced moments where it felt like there was something wrong with the degree but I could never conjure a solution, so I am not positive if I have the credibility to critique the degree. Going back to my first question, I mentioned what I learned, but in my years of schooling I often had to look outside of the architecture curriculum to make sense of certain aspects, which may be the issue. I haven’t left school feeling resentment towards the program for not offering different or a wider variety of courses. I feel the coursework in its entirety has provided the correct exposure to essential elements of architecture that allowed me to advance [4]. For most budding architects there is a single period during our schooling years where budget has no bearing on the result. I believe that the degree is successful in letting our minds wander unimpeded. There is a time where students, graduates or architects must make the distinction between unbuildable art and architecture, and school provides the framework to test such theories [5]. The Walt Disney Concert Hall shown in Image 5 is a perfect example of those worlds colliding.

How has the field differed from my expectations?

[6] Selfie (Getty Images)

I thought that hearing my professors rant each semester about “how architecture isn’t just design” would prepare me for the real world that extends beyond Stirling Highway and Hampden Road but in typical fashion, I was wrong. In my experience (and I know I’m being dramatic), the field appears to have no room for actual architecture anymore. It’s dead [6]. Once feasibilities studies are completed and developers and/or builders have cut costs wherever possible, the result is often poor. Currently, you cannot drive around Perth without seeing a crane around each corner. This is strongly indicating that the time is right for developers to whip up a tower, make a profit and call it a day. Being so profit driven, an architects power is lost along with his or her morals and vision [6]. I feel that the field is losing touch with what the up and coming market is after by leveraging their is proximity to the city with bad design with a need for profit. The one thing our generation longs for is a good time, whether it’s for “the gram” or for personal gain…but let’s be honest it’s for the gram. This is where proximity to the city comes into play. We want to be as close as possible, we want a high quality space and at a low cost, of course. Rooms can be compact but the quality is still important [7]. I thought that architects would cling to their vision that make spaces meaningful and experiences worth while. The real world has no time for such things. We as a profession have failed to define meaning in space to the general public and have instead given into the compromise and offer the community a watered down product. If Cameron Chisholm Nicol’s (CCN) latest project, Empire Apartments, located in Floreat is nominated in the multi residential category in this year’s WA Architecture Awards, how healthy can the field be? Please refer to Image 7 to be adequately uninspired.

[7] Empire Apartments (Hocking, Greg)

How would I summarise my time?

In a word, fleeting. In two, comfortably uncomfortable. I took my time with my degree which made my situation ideal and I encourage all students – not just architecture students – to do the same. I was fortunate enough to take a one year hiatus between the Bachelors and Masters to gain local experience and another year hiatus in the middle of my Masters to work in an architecture office in the United States. When I arrived home I took on a very loose full time load to ensure I had enough time to attach myself to a local office and guarantee that I was gainfully employed by the time I completed my studies. My first failed article touched on offices being willing to share their resources to teach us while we are students and the expectation that is attached once the Masters program is completed. The aim of this article is to use a few of my experiences and takings from my university career to help educate any student in doubt. I think those who are dedicated enough to complete the degree understand that architecture is not learnt in a five year stint. Be fulfilled, move around in spaces, observe the surrounding environment, be willing to learn and take your time.



[1] Trufelman, Avery. Comment on “Episode 220: The Mind of an Architect.” 99% Invisible(audio blog), July 12, 2016. Accessed April 5, 2018. https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/the-mind-of-an-architect/.

[2] Cragoe, Carol Davidson. How to Read Buildings: A Crash Course in Architectural Styles. New York: Rizzoli, 2008.

[3] Doidge, Charles, Rachel Sara, and Rosie Parnell. Crit – An Architectural Student’s Handbook. Oxford: Architectural Press, 2000.

[4] Tanner, C. Kenneth. “The Influence of School Architecture on Academic Achievement.” Journal of Educational Administration38, no. 4 (2000): 309-30. Accessed June 8, 2018. doi:10.1108/09578230010373598.

[5] Shiner, Larry. “On Aesthetics and Function in Architecture: The Case of the “Spectacle” Art Museum.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism69, no. 1 (2011): 31-41. Accessed June 8, 2018. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6245.2010.01444.x.

[6] Merrick, Jay. “The Death of Architecture.” Information Age (London, UK), December 10, 2004.

[7] Benjamin, Wharton, Richard K. Green, and Eric Sussman. Comment on “Why Millennials Are Moving the Needle on the Real Estate Market.” Knowledge@Wharton(audio blog), February 2, 2018. Accessed June 8, 2018. http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/millennials-housing-market/.



[1] Connelly, Greg. The Last Hurdle. Accessed June 8, https://www.trifectanutrition.com/blog/failing-upwards-fastest-way-to-recover-and-succeed.

[2] Getty Images. Derek Jeter Home Run. Accessed June 8, https://www.si.com/mlb/photos/2013/07/11/derek-jeter-greatest-hits.

[3] Tselentis, Jason. The Terminator. Accessed June 8, https://medium.com/@JasonTselentis/kickstarter-t-800-model-101-terminator-2a9e34c30eff.

[4] Getty Images. Staring Contest. Accessed June 8, http://time.com/2954696/stop-bad-habits/.

[5] Laird, D. The Walt Disney Concert Hall. Accessed June 8. https://www.flickr.com/photos/dottieg2007/6085551117/.

[6] Getty Images. Selfie. Accessed June 8. http://time.com/3465/the-millennial-kids-are-alright/.

[7] Hocking, Greg. Empire Apartments. Accessed June 8. https://www.instagram.com/p/BjtUUMljczP/?taken-by=architects_wa.