Useful items for architecture students

Items for Architecture Students

Let’s start with the premise that the life of an architecture student is quite tough. I’ll explain it thoroughly in this post if you want to get an idea—or a good laugh. As with all things, though, it would suffice to arrive more prepared, more “trained,” or better equipped. Would it? Maybe not. But perhaps it helps.

In addition to what I just mentioned, I’ve written other articles concerning architecture students. In those cases, as in this one, the purpose is always the same: to share my experience (I too was an architecture student, alas) and try to brighten up university life for my readers, at least a little. It’s the least I can do.

Without discussing high systems or education, culture, and various anxieties; this post humbly aims to provide some advice on the best tools an architecture student—male or female—can equip themselves with to tackle their university career. Whether it’s a desk lamp, those hard-to-find tracing papers (when needed), or a convenient spacer, these tools are not absolutely necessary at all costs. Some might call them “essential,” yet having them with you at all times or nearby allows you to stay focused on your daily work and the problems and solutions you’ll constantly face.

Simplifying life, in short. Focusing on what’s worth focusing on.

Yes, because the road to excelling in university also passes through here. Imperceptibly perhaps, but as Jonah Hill said in Moneyball, “every dollar is on the field, you don’t see it, but it’s there.

But let’s get to the point. Scroll through this list and see if there’s anything you can add to your wish list or suggest to Auntie when your birthday comes around.

In any case, even if you decide to stop reading this post right here and now, remember that tools (not just these, but also online ones, etc.) won’t do the dirty work for you. So always and above all, focus on yourself. On your personal growth, productivity, and creativity.

What should be in an architect’s backpack

I compiled this list of useful things for architecture students, recalling my days as one. I racked my brain trying to remember what I always needed, what I lacked, and what I wished I had when I needed it most.

However, I might have left something out. Or you might need something else not listed here. As I say every time, take my advice only as a starting point. Don’t hesitate to create your own personal “survival kit” for architecture studies. And if you feel like sharing it, don’t hesitate to write in the comments!

A Wisely Cautious Yet Fruitful Collaboration with AI Tools (Midjourney and ChatGPT Primarily)

I expressed a similar concept in an old post titled “Things I Wish I Knew Before Enrolling in Architecture!” regarding using a pencil rather than modeling programs— the fact is, you should be wary of blindly trusting these AI tools as much as those who strongly advise against using them.

The truth is, you should learn to use them as effectively as possible and use them only when they can actually contribute to your work or thinking. There’s no point in depriving yourself of these technologies just because you listen to those who are afraid or those who feel too smart. So, experiment, try, test, and leverage Midjourney or DallE or similar tools, just as ChatGPT or the AI integrated into Photoshop!

*I personally use Midjourney, ChatGPT, and Photoshop AI.

A Collection of Tips Specifically for Architecture Students

Publication “Consigli per giovani architetti” available at the Mfa shop (also for free)

Probably among the best companions you can derive from this list. This small publication, available on Amazon at the minimum allowed price or digitally for free, is a collection of selected tips put down over the years by yours truly. They stem from my personal experience (I too was an architecture student), but also and above all from discussions with former classmates, professional architects, and other industry bloggers. The result is a series of ideas, sparks, and reflections that, worst-case scenario, will bring a smile to your face, or perhaps could truly propel you forward on your path.

If you also want to explore other paid products, such as the Instagram guide for architecture or Digital PR for architecture and design, then I suggest visiting our Shop.

Desk Lamp

The essential is invisible to the eye. Especially if you’re in the dark. For all those nights you’ll find yourself working late, having good lighting (for you and others) is crucial and not at all a secondary aspect. It will benefit your sight, your mood, and perhaps even your productivity. The design of the lamp is up to you. You can opt for a classic like the Tolomeo, or for a smart and rechargeable lamp like the one in the image. If you’re feeling bold, you could even consider designing it yourself. In that case, it’ll be a great experience and will certainly boost your self-esteem.

Adobe Creative Cloud

The Adobe Creative Cloud package is something I find impossible to replace. Whether it’s Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, or After Effects, each of these programs will serve you at specific moments in your journey. You could do without them, of course; there are alternatives for each. But if we’re talking about tools and tips for an architecture student, then I can only suggest finding a way to access the Adobe suite. They are all “travel companions” that will also be useful in the working world. Therefore, all the more reason to learn them as much as possible and have them permanently listed on your winning architecture CV.

A Good Chair

If they told you how many hours, on average, you sit, you probably wouldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t either… Yet, the truth is, we spend most of our time in a chair. So you’d think this object should be comfortable—perhaps even healthily conducive to better work. The Polimi stools, no way. Definitely not. While they may not be beautiful, gaming chairs are perhaps the best from these points of view. But if you prefer a classic, then just be mindful of the prices. Another option is a classic office chair that offers a good balance of quality, price, and aesthetics.

T-square and Set Square

It doesn’t matter if everything is drawn by computer now, a T-square and set square are tools that should not be missing on an architect’s desk. Even more so for an architecture student. In general, a T-square can also be used to get an immediate idea of the dimensions of an object, text on a panel, or anything else you want to use as a reference for design purposes.


There will come a time when you need to retrieve old projects, and that will be the moment when folders will save you. Always assuming you’ve used them before, of course. Folders serve the sole purpose of storing and organizing your materials in the best way possible. A strategy that will prove to be an extremely winning weapon in the long run.

So remember, it’s always better to have one more folder than one less, as sooner or later, you’ll have something to put in it. Lastly, remember to always have two more things with you: transparent sleeves and labels. Done deal.

For instance, after almost 10 years, I could retrieve my second-year university restoration lab project in just a few moments. It probably won’t happen even once in my entire life (I certainly hope so), but you never know.

*If you’ve been good, you’ll have everything organized in a cloud just a click away.

Curved Line Drawer and Compass

Okay, it’s true. You might not use a compass for years, but then that day comes when you need it and don’t have it. Nothing can be done in those cases. Therefore, I suggest that an architect’s backpack should never be without a compass. It can come in handy for freehand drawing, especially if you like curved shapes (in this case, the reference is to curve drawers), but also for surveys and various trilaterations.

Measuring Tape and Spacer

Now this is a tool that you’ll undoubtedly carry with you throughout your career. You can choose between a classic rigid measuring tape, one that rolls up on itself, or an electronic distometer (disto). If you can, I recommend also getting an electronic measuring tape. It’s incredibly useful, especially when you find yourself alone taking measurements. Plus, it will save you a lot of time. However, the classic measuring tape always comes in handy.

Set of Pencils and Fine Liners

Whether they’re pencils, markers, or any other drawing tool, having a set of tools capable of translating your ideas onto paper in the best possible way is obviously important. If, like me, you’re used to losing things, then I don’t recommend investing a lot of money in a single pen or pencil—instead, try to find a type you’re comfortable with and keep using it over the years.

Cutting Mat and Craft Knife

I recommend these two tools (even if you’re not a modeler) because they could still come in handy on multiple occasions. Whether for a collage or a study model made of cardboard, having a craft knife and a cutting mat is essential.

Tracing Papers

Get used to drawing, sketching, designing, and then repeating everything on tracing papers. Try to always have a roll at hand to elaborate on your ideas. You’ll use them a lot at university, but also in the working world if you’re asked to design or propose alternatives to design solutions.

Sheets of Paper, Notebooks, or Sketchbooks

Your ideas and drawings always—underline always—need sheets to imprint on. Whether it’s day or night, whether you’re at a desk or on a train, always carry a notepad with you. It doesn’t have to be the classic notepad that just popped into your mind. It can be a ream of blank sheets, a leather-bound notebook that looks nice but is inconvenient to use, a block of Post-it notes, or a notebook like the ones you used in school. The form doesn’t matter. What matters is that the sheets must never—absolutely never—be missing from an architect’s arsenal. Young or seasoned, it doesn’t matter. If I may give you a tip, try opting for dotted sheets so you also have a guide. This way, you can draw directly to scale potentially.

Tube or Folder for Carrying Boards

You’ll often find yourself having to transport boards. The option to fold them is always available, but folds significantly change the perception of the drawing on paper. If they’re not too large, then even a folder for A3-sized drawings could come in handy—otherwise, the classic extendable plastic tube is what you need. You can also use it to transport vintage posters to your new apartment, for example!

A Good Pair of Headphones

With smart working and the need to collaborate remotely, a good pair of headphones with a microphone is essential. Also, during long working hours, you’ll often find yourself listening to hours and hours of music. So, all the more reason to choose among the best Bluetooth or wired headphones to suit your needs.

Items for architecture students that are not necessary, but it’s always bettere to have

Moving on to tools that I’ve used (and still use regularly) but are not strictly necessary (meaning you can still give your best without them); below is a second list.


What can I say about tablets… They’re tools where you can do anything, just as easily as nothing. It depends. Right now, for example, I’m using a tablet to write this post. This is just one of the many ways I use it. You can surf the web, read, draw—using it as a real drawing tablet. Or you can show presentations, brochures, or project videos. Needless to say, it’s an empowered and expanded smartphone.

Graphics Tablet

With a graphics tablet, you can draw digitally as well as on paper. Two things change for the better: firstly, you have the convenience of a file ready for digital editing; secondly, you always have an infinite set of drawing tools at your disposal. Again, you have to be the type of person who enjoys using a graphics tablet, otherwise, you’ll never feel comfortable. Of course, all these things come at a cost, and a graphics tablet is not a tablet—it’s just a graphics tablet. However, if you buy an iPad, or even a Samsung Galaxy TAB, and also purchase the digital pen, you could have both things together. If you want to understand the effectiveness of one or the other, there are certainly plenty of reviews that explain it in detail.

A Good Book for Staying Inspired

I would have preferred to include this point at the top of the list, unfortunately, we don’t live on culture alone. Culture alone cannot help you win competitions, pass exams, or build a career. However, in architecture, just like in any other job and any other situation, motivation, passion, and ambition are the most important things. What drives you forward. Reading about past masters, present masters, or tackling topics you’ve only heard about but want (and probably should) know more about, is probably the best way to broaden your horizons and grow. My advice is to never stop reading.

Great Websites Bookmarked!

I don’t know how many people use the bookmarks bar properly; I have hundreds and hundreds of sites all neatly categorized into various subfolders, for example, but most of the time, I see browsers that aren’t so organized. Beyond whether you bookmark the various sites or not, a piece of advice I can give you in this second list of useful things for architecture students is to get into the good habit of using your browser’s bookmarks to archive (and therefore always have available) everything good and useful you find on the web.

Some clarifications…

Consider that this list does not take into account the entire world of architecture models. For that activity, there would be a whole other set of tools that an architect should have.

I hope this article about useful things for architecture students can be helpful to you. What you’ve just read may seem like trivial, predictable tips and tools, but remember that “nothing is trivial until you complete it,” as someone once said. If you happen to not have one of these tools when you need it most, you’ll understand that you should never take anything for granted, not even the simplest things.

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