The Second Studio Podcast on The Differences Between Architecture School and Architecture Practice

The Second Studio Podcast on The Differences Between Architecture School and Architecture Practice

The Second Studio (formerly The Midnight Charette) is an explicit podcast about design, architecture, and the everyday. Hosted by Architects David Lee and Marina Bourderonnet, it features different creative professionals in unscripted conversations that allow for thoughtful takes and personal discussions.

A variety of subjects are covered with honesty and humor: some episodes are interviews, while others are tips for fellow designers, reviews of buildings and other projects, or casual explorations of everyday life and design. The Second Studio is also available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

This week David and Marina discuss the differences between architecture school and architecture practice. The two cover school projects vs real buildings; design process; teamwork; architecture concepts; personal growth; clients vs employers vs teachers; the pace of architecture; academic and professional career paths; skill sets; and what the differences mean for students, recent graduates, and the profession.

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Highlights & Timestamps

The difference between producing school architecture projects versus buildings that are constructed and what that means for the designer/architect.(01:45) 

[People] realize architecture is not for them because it takes so long and they don’t have the patience for it. In school you are working at a pace where you’re getting creative satisfaction every 3 months, because the entire project is complete. In reality, the project is the building and it’s not done until it’s open and in use. One of the big differences is that when you start practicing, you start to lose some of that [more immediate] creative satisfaction. (04:28)

Project concepts and project context: Why having a concept is prevalent in school, but not in practice.(06:52) 

In practice, most of the projects do not have a concept behind them… not in the way that you do in school. […] Practitioners will think conceptually, there’s conceptual thinking, but there’s not a capital “C” Concept behind the project a lot of times. It’s more about making sure there’s consistency in the aesthetics of a project, the gestures, the spirit, but not necessarily all of that is being guided by this large Concept. (07:43)

In practice, there are so many things you have to respond to that is what drives a lot of the design process. So a lot times with real buildings, the design process is more responding to these specific things and meeting these different criteria (building code, budget, schedule, client expectations), and making something look good, rather than starting from a blank page and saying, “What is my big Concept?”. That’s a difference between practice and school, in school you have a site, but the constraints aren’t as hard-edged. (09:20)

The insularity of school. Why architecture school projects are more about the students who create them whereas constructed buildings are more about the end users.(15:06) 

The other things that’s a big difference between architecture school and architecture practice is the bubble in which architecture is being looked at. In school it’s very insular, it’s between architects and architecture students. When you step out of that, it’s the world. Everyone is judging the architecture. There’s something very personal about the work you do in architecture school. Every single project you do you take personally… it’s your personal interests, it’s the things you are interested in, it’s questions you are asking yourself to find answers. It’s a very introspective process and therefore there is a danger for students to think that that’s what it’s going to be later on. That it’s be about you. But, it’s not about you actually because architecture is not in a vacuum anymore. (17:25)

Design thinking in school is often higher-level than in practice.(23:22) 

Successful architecture students do not always become successful architects. Personal growth during school and after.(26:18) 

In an academic setting, the challenge is keeping up with the growth that it is expected of you. It’s keeping up with the amount of knowledge you’re supposed to acquire. That’s the challenge. In practice, it’s sort of the opposite because no one is going to voluntarily make you grow once you get out of the university bubble… you have to go find obstacles and challenges [on your own] and over come those so you learn. So I would describe school as being an obstacle course you have to get through and every obstacle you get through is a new unit of knowledge. Because of the schedule of school you are being pushed through this obstacle course. […] In practice, no one is pushing you. There’s no schedule, there’s no first semester, second semester, summer break, etc. You have to go out and find the obstacles and choose your own pace. And so learning and growth for many people in school is very rapid, but after they graduate they plateau, because there isn’t a system designed to help you grow. (27:50)

The different levels of responsibility in academic and professional settings. Being surrounded by educators versus an employer.(30:52) 

Teamwork in school versus teamwork in an office.(39:44) 

The success of a school project is 95% determined by your own abilities and what you do. The success of a building in practice is by many things and your own skillset as a designer [contributes to] probably 30% of that success… Because there’s a lot of teamwork involved. There are many other people that have to be really good at their jobs and you have to convince them to do their job correctly to have the building work. So management and teamwork can be 90% of the job or 100% depending on the phase you’re in. (42:55)

Project constraints and clients. Focusing on the design process versus the outcome (the building).(46:53) 

Understanding who has final say. Working with teachers as a student versus working with colleagues, employers, and clients as a professional.(50:55) 

Career growth and career paths in school and practice.(55:15) 

As you move through your five years of architecture school you start form being a freshman to being the oldest and the one with the most knowledge, then you leave school, enter the professional world, and you’re starting from zero. It’s a frustrating process. (55:20)

Student expectations about working as a professional versus reality. How much fresh graduates should expect to make by working at an architecture office.(01:01:45) 

Theory versus practice. Their differences and how they could be better integrated. Schools that are mostly theory-based.(01:04:40) 

We acknowledge that those [theory-based schools and designers] have value, but they should not call themselves an architects. You’re not an architect. I don’t care if you’re licensed either. You’re not making buildings and you’re not trying to make buildings. (01:05:57)

Working in different environments: Adopting/conforming to an office’s process, standards, and expectations. (01:12:47) 

Check out The Second Studio Podcast’s previous editions.

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