Architecture student success, top tips and proven strategies for excelling in university

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Architecture student

Being an architecture student requires passion, dedication, and commitment, but above all, awareness. In this post, we will explore a series of suggestions ranging from choosing the type of professional you want to become to the importance of learning to use modeling or organization programs. Additionally, we will present advice on how to interact with mentors and professors, the importance of participating in exhibitions and conferences, and how to leverage online resources for architects.

First of all, I extend my warmest wishes and sincere best of luck on the path you have chosen to pursue. Being an architecture student requires effort and dedication (even more so than any other degree, according to this study).

Throughout your reading, you will receive the best advice and recommendations, including those you can find in my other article on “things I wish I knew before enrolling in architecture.” However, never forget that your passion and dedication will always be the most important.

Before we begin, I will answer a question that you might be asking: “Who am I to give you all this advice?”

In addition to writing content for Marketing for Architects, Archiobjects, Objects, etc., I have also done and continue to do other things in life (unfortunately). I graduated in 2015 from the Politecnico di Milano in architecture, with a specialization in Technological and Environmental Design, for example. During university, while trying to survive between one course and another, driven by a strong interest and an “invading” passion, I decided to create a series of online entities, including the ones I mentioned earlier. They have grown with me and continue to accompany me today.

However, these were only my studies and my “hobbies.” In the meantime, I also started a career in the field of communication-related to architecture and design. In recent years, I have collaborated with various international firms and other entities in the world of design and art. To name a few: One Works, EPTA, MMA Projects, Valente Contract, and, for some time now, Cino Zucchi Architetti.

This journey and experience do not make me a “guru” to be blindly followed. I do not claim that right now. However, what I really want to achieve is to pass on some advice or simply some input that might be useful to you sooner or later in your journey.

My best advices for an architecture student

Before we start, I want to mention a small publication I made some time ago. It’s a little book that gathers dozens and dozens of tips collected over time by me and the people I encountered during my university and professional career. It’s not a repetition of what you’ll find in this post but offers some insights and reflections that could be useful to you!

Publication: “Quick Tips for Young Architects” available in Mfa’s shop (it’s free! But unfortunately only in Italian for the moment. Be patient).

But now, let’s get into the advice for architecture students.

Ask Yourself: “What Type of Architect am I?”

The immediate question before this would have been, “Am I suited to study architecture?” but let’s skip that because we’re here now, or perhaps we’re just too afraid to face it. In either case, let’s move on.

So, what you need to ask yourself now is what kind of architect you are or want to be. Answering this question is essential. It will allow you to develop your skills and aptitudes to excel more easily and with a greater chance of success.

Speaking of “success,” in the world of work, excelling and standing out from others makes a difference. So, try to find your path from the beginning. Find what you like the most, what you do best, and what requires the least effort. Once you’ve found this focus, strive to become the best at it.

“Be Cautious in Accepting Advice”

Coming from the person writing this post, it might seem contradictory, but what I mean is that you should listen to the advice and guidance you receive, but always remember to process it with your own thoughts. There is no one who knows you better than yourself.

Immerse yourself in architecture

If you’re looking to make your mark in the world of architecture, it all starts with developing a genuine passion for the craft. Get excited about architecture by exploring its many facets. Immerse yourself in its history, and don’t forget to check out the fascinating biographies of influential architects. Visiting iconic buildings is a great way to draw inspiration and see design concepts in action. And why stop there? Attend architecture lectures, workshops, and seminars to expand your knowledge and connect with others who share your enthusiasm.

Staying up-to-date with the latest trends, sustainable practices, and tech advancements in architecture is a must. Dive into architectural magazines, follow blogs, and tune into podcasts. These resources are like treasure troves of insights that can help you stay in the loop and develop a well-rounded perspective on the field.

Learn to use modeling software right away

I will never tire of recommending this. I’ve already mentioned it in the post where I talked about “things I wish I knew before enrolling in architecture,” and I’m repeating it here. Both during your university career and in your professional journey, being proficient with software is not just important; it’s fundamental, necessary, obligatory… These skills can make a difference in terms of achievements and satisfaction. It’s not everything, of course, but especially at the beginning, it’s of great help.

Oh, learning to use BIM modeling software is one of the smartest moves you could make during or after university.

Have as many revisions as possible and always stay ahead of what is required

Even when you don’t feel like it, even when you don’t have all the required material, even when you want to go home… etc. Try to make yourself visible to professors and assistants. This way, you will still have the opportunity to “steal” teachings and feedback. Additionally, you will learn to present your project effectively. Today it’s the professor; tomorrow it will be your boss or your client. Navigating through complicated dialogues or meetings will only enhance your professional skills.

Even better if you show up each time with something extra beyond what was requested. You will impress those in front of you and most likely receive more detailed and precise feedback.

All this will also help you to embrace constructive criticism from professors and peers. Use feedback to improve your designs and develop the ability to self-critique and refine your work continually.

Buy more books than magazines

I’m sorry to say this, even though there are excellent architecture magazines out there, the majority of your architectural knowledge should come from books. Both classics and contemporary works. Trust me, it’s worth investing some time in books.

To stay updated on the world of architecture and draw inspiration from projects, use the web. Bookmark the best architecture magazines or follow my architecture-themed Feedly – you’ll find a selection of the best sources of information/inspiration in the design field. I use it practically every day.

Utilize these online tools for architects

Often, you wish the days were 30 hours long or weekends lasted as long as weeks, right? This is only to work on your drawings, of course. Aside from the sadness (don’t worry, we’ve all been there), try to make the most of the online tools that startups, programmers, creatives, etc., make available (mostly for free) online.

I’ve written a post where I gather the best online resources for architects. Trust me, there’s practically everything you can think of, and I’m sure they will save you hours and hours of work.

Learn the basics of everything, but specialize in something

“As an architect, you will be asked to know many things,” and that’s right, but remember that the world of work doesn’t need people who know a little about everything but rather professionals who know a lot about one thing. There’s a joke about architects and engineers about this, which I’ll spare you…

As an architect, you should aspire to know as much as possible about the most important topics related to a project, but it doesn’t make sense to try to be everywhere and at all times. You’ll never succeed. Remember to specialize in something, but don’t become “just” a “technician.” You are still studying to become an architect.

History is beautiful but not necessary

Unfortunately, this is “the story” of society in general these days. Unless you want to become a historian, a professor, a tour guide, or an architecture critic, being knowledgeable will certainly impress friends, professors, and bosses, but unfortunately, no one will ask you about your knowledge of history during interviews. At least not before inquiring about your experience and technical knowledge.

Interact and build relationships with professors

The whole world is a small place, and even at university (or at work), life is based on interpersonal relationships. Right or wrong, that’s how the world works. I’m not just talking about Erasmus exchanges or exchange programs – where you might (I said might) increase your chances of being selected – but also about a future assistant career, for example, or being involved in initiatives, events, or even projects led by your professors.

Attend exhibitions and conferences

Visiting exhibitions and participating in conferences on topics that interest you is an activity that can ignite something within you. The enthusiasm and desire to excel that can sometimes arise from this kind of experience are incredible.

I still vividly remember the “charge” I had when I went to listen to a master of architecture like Renzo Piano, for example. In this photo, at the inauguration of the project in the Falck Area in Sesto San Giovanni.

Participate in specialized workshops and study trips

Workshops are all experiences that enrich you, expand your horizons, introduce you to new people, create new contacts, and are also experiences that you can include in your CV/portfolio under the “training” category. Very useful for impressing those who look at it.

As for study trips, it’s a different story. In this case, you do them all for yourself, for personal knowledge, and maybe to improve/experiment with your architectural photography.

Catalog the references you collect over the years

As long as you are an architect, you will conduct thematic research to draw inspiration, examples, clarifications, and so on. Instead of dispersing everything each time and starting from scratch, use Pinterest. If you don’t know it, I’ll explain it in a few words.

Pinterest is a social network where you can save everything you find on the web in folders. The useful and interesting thing is that each image maintains its reference link. There are many ways architects can use it.

And while you’re at it, follow Archiobjects, Objects, Good Hospitality, Design Contents, and Retello on Pinterest!

Never procrastinate

In life and in architecture. The sooner you learn to curb procrastination, the better you will live, and the more goals you will achieve in less time. It also affects your productivity. Don’t always leave the most challenging thing for last; instead, tackle it right away and then focus on the things that excite you the most. Everything will be incredibly easier and more profitable.

Invest in a powerful computer

We’re not talking about astronomical sums, but it’s certainly “money,” as someone said. Nonetheless, it’s necessary. Make a few extra sacrifices if needed, but try to get a computer that matches an architect’s career. There’s no point in pretending otherwise; having a high-performance machine will not only help you with deliveries and everyday work but can also prevent nervous breakdowns caused by “the application is not responding” or “irreversible error,” etc.

Be demanding of your academic internships and do more if you can

If you can, choose a reputable studio or one that allows you to work and learn seriously; try not to get lost in the middle ground. Even though it may seem like a waste of time, these training periods are very useful for understanding what awaits you. This way, you can prepare yourself better for the remaining years of university.

Make organization your strength, not a weakness

Just as I strongly advised against procrastination, I also recommend adopting the same authoritative attitude toward organization. Don’t let events pile up until they overwhelm you. They will happen anyway, don’t worry, but at least if you are organized, you’ll know how to handle them and see them through. This can undoubtedly give you an extra boost and the right dose of serenity that your fellow students might be lacking.

So, learn Time management. Managing your time effectively is a key skill. Create a study schedule that’s organized and flexible enough to accommodate design projects, research, and assignments. Prioritize tasks to avoid feeling overwhelmed, and you’ll find that you can handle the demands of the profession with ease.

Look beyond and learn from the best

The world of architecture doesn’t end in your class, your university, your city, and so on. Certainly, learn what you can from the people you will meet in person along your journey, but don’t stop there. Read books, read interviews, attend conferences, observe, observe, and observe.

Try to learn from those you consider the best and don’t waste time with those who want to clip your wings or keep you in mediocrity. Perhaps they don’t mean it maliciously, but the result could be the same.

Don’t be afraid to seek guidance from experienced architects or professors. Their insights and advice can be invaluable as you navigate your career. A mentor can provide you with a roadmap and help you avoid common pitfalls.

Never forget the visionary student you were in the first year

Learn from the best, certainly, but never allow your creative drive to be stifled. Don’t make the mistake of abandoning your ideas in favor of what others want. Of course, you will often be “forced” to compromise, with demanding groupmates and professors, but never forget your own ideas.

Presentation skills

In architecture, being able to communicate your design ideas effectively is crucial. Work on your presentation skills, both in terms of visual aids and public speaking. The ability to convey your concepts confidently can make a huge difference in how your ideas are received.

Balance and self-care

Lastly, remember that a work-life balance is essential. Architecture can be demanding, so taking care of yourself is a must. Make sure to find time for relaxation and self-care to stay energized and motivated.

Be humble, be consistent, be determined

Being humble is not so much advice; don’t even consider it, just know that I don’t like people who aren’t humble! Being consistent, on the other hand, is extremely important in the world of architecture, both in the academic environment and in real life. Your credibility in the short and long term largely depends on your consistency; remember that.

Determination will help you convince others of the validity and effectiveness of your choices. A fundamental aspect if you want to make progress in the small or big daily challenges.

I hope these tips can inspire you. They are all points I understood after completing my studies. That’s why they are sincere and selfless. If you want to ask me anything else, feel free to write here in the comments. Remember that becoming a good architecture student is a continuous journey. Stay open to new ideas, experiment with your designs, and strive for excellence in all aspects of your education and career.

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