The Most Important Lesson in Architecture School

By Tara McCashin, Intern Architect

Architecture school is a stressful, confusing and inspiring environment. At least it was for me. As is the case with most people, I never really came to terms with the most valuable lessons I was learning until I was finished school. I hope that what I’m about to share with you will help you to make the most of your educational experience.

The most important lesson I learned in architecture school is to be curious. Let things spark your interest to be catalysts for discovery. In other words, let your curiosity lead you to resourcefulness and diligence, to recognize what you don’t know and search tirelessly for the answers.

This sounds kind of general, but there are a few ways this applies specifically to architecture:

  1. Observe existing systems or situations and decide what you think about them.
    This refers to functional understanding and critical analysis of things that exist. I call it developing an architectural opinion. Part of this is training yourself to pay extreme attention to detail by having an awareness of your surroundings at every scale and thinking critically about their impact. Learn to have a critical eye for how people interact with their environment and how certain buildings, spaces, objects and behaviours can influence and change those interactions.
  2. Understand the basic concepts behind how things work.
    By that I mean abstract conceptual understanding that will be the foundation for being able to create something new. A big part of being curious in architecture school is thinking critically about where everything is coming from and going to, why things are where they are, and why they are important. Build your ideas with your hands one to one or to a scale, or find ways of experimenting or experiencing concepts first hand. This develops the ability to understand context, and use conceptual understanding to create something completely novel.

These ideas draw on one another, and as you develop you will see how growth in one area affects your perspective in the other. Curiosity shouldn't be laborious. It should feed your mind and lead you to new ways of understanding the world and the field of architecture. To get the most you can out of your education, you have to love learning.

PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Kennedy
Dalhousie University Faculty of Architecture's sustainable and creative contribution to the annual city-wide Christmas Parade of Lights in 2012, in collaboration with the Faculty of Engineering. Everything was powered by humans on bicycles and all materials were recycled.