The architecture student is a unique animal with a diverse skillset.
Throughout the course of your academic life, you’ll be expected to perform well in areas both physical and mental. You need to be both a cerebral powerhouse and physical warrior. With this in mind, if you aren’t conditioned for the specific heavy demands of design school, you’ll spend many a day slumped over in an incapacitated, unproductive stupor.
To start of the post series on health and fitness, some goal setting is needed. I’m writing this post to set a good framework so we can establish the challenges that the bodies of most architecture students will face – and from here we’ll know what to aim for when we start on the road of fitness and health.
So then, what are some of the key performance considerations of the Archi-torture student?
1. We can’t afford “brain-fog”.
Architecture students are constant thinkers and visualizers. A big brunt of design work involves imagining 3D instances and rotating them in your head, while reconciling them with quantified data. This kind of thinking is really good for your brain – it keeps so many regions firing and active. By the nature of our thinking process, it’s not surprising why the minds of so many older architects are kept sharp.
But while our 3D thinking dialogues are great brain-exercise, they are also very brain-tiring. The more you work your brain heavily, the more you’re digging yourself into the realm of “brain-fog”. You know the feeling: you’re sluggish, lagging with simple operations, you lose your trail of thought, and your mind just generally feels like it’s going to give in. Brain-fog a normal phenomenon with natural causes like the build up of fatigue-inducing adenosine, but it’s also one we have to minimize or avoid.
So are there ways to prevent the build-up of brain fog on a daily basis? Yes there are. And since our brainpower is our prime asset as architects, it goes without saying that this is a primary target that cannot be ignored.
2. We’re prone to back and neck pain.
Design students are notorious for putting themselves in precarious positions. We’re either seated for hours on end, slumped over a drafting table, napping with our necks twisted in awkward positions, and the like. It’s no surprise that a number of aspiring architects contend with nagging neck and back-aches on a daily basis. Not only is this annoying, but it reduces productivity, compromises sleep quality, and just doesn’t hold well for our long-term well-being.
There are ways to strengthen your body’s commonly abused muscles, tendons and joints so you’ll always be skipping to good comfort levels. So mark it on your checklist: [ ] prevent and remove crippling aches and pains so I can perform my best.
3. High stress levels can get us erratic and messy.
You can never truly know a person until you see them perform under immense stress. Some people crack and crumble under pressure, while others calmly move with the motion of the ocean. You obviously don’t want to be the former.
The thing is, stress levels and responses are not absolute and they vary from person to person. If you’ve allowed yourself to have naturally high baseline stress levels, once an additional monkey wrench is thrown into your life, you can kiss your efficiency and well-being goodbye. However, throw that monkey wrench into the life of another person who makes it a commitment to keep their stress levels low, and you’ll find that they are able to navigate the situation effectively, without going completely bonkers.
Not only can you train yourself to calm down and handle the added blood pressure well, but you can also take measures to keep your natural stress levels lower. The more tranquil and clear your world view becomes, the more tranquil and clear your handling of stress will be. It’s a great thing to develop in the world of deadly plates and projects.
4. Our bodily precision shouldn’t fatigue.
Sure, by the time you get to higher years you’ll be using computer software more often. But for a large chunk of your design school life, you’ll be drafting manually or creating models – with expected accuracy and precision. To be able to do this, you’ll need to build up a solid conditioning level. Yes, as peculiar as it might sound, architects are athletes of bodily precision. The lines we draw and strokes we cut have to be uniform, and our bodies have to be accustomed to drawing the same quality line thousands and thousands of time.
While practice, practice and more practice will make us better at this endurance battle, the means we take to condition our physical bodies outside of the studio plays a large role as well. The best complement to constant practice is to keep your body as a well oiled, calibrated machine.
5. We have to lift heavy stuff and even do some construction work.
Yes, there are times when architecture students have to be strength athletes as well. Some larger scale physical models will require you to carry lumber and use a few power tools. In my university program, we did a few structural studies where we had to lift and pour concrete and bend steel bars for reinforcement. Organizing expositions means carrying around mounting boards and putting together exhibits. If you aren’t strong enough to deal will some of the more physical demands of the trade, you’re going to be burned out from a few loads, or worse – you could get injured.
It might seem like a world’s-away consideration, but a strong architecture student is a smart architecture student. Being physically capable is not only a great asset for the physically demanding instances of studio life, but it will also increase the quality of your life in general. Who wouldn’t want to be less winded doing chores around the house, or faster in running away from danger, or be more capable of defending the girlfriend when out in a shady place?
6. The bottom line is, we can only truly perform as well as we are feeling.
Who doesn’t want to feel awesome and perform awesome every day? In the end, nothing beats the well-being that comes with working towards a healthy and strong body. You’ll make the quality of your life increase tenfold, and you’ll in turn be able to increase the quality of life of those around you.
You can start committing today. It doesn’t need to take an arm and leg to start moving upwards. You don’t need to start living for fitness. You can just integrate fitness into your living.
You can be stronger and better conditioned to stay energetic throughout your arduous physical tasks.
You can have a clear, powerful mind that will readily accept your mental challenges.
I hope this post has given you a good idea of what I think every aspiring architect should prioritize when devising their plans for long-term health and fitness. Succeeding posts in this series will cover the many safe and effective ways to achieve the above goals – backed by peer reviewed medical research and personal experience. Stay tuned for some awesome, eye-opening stuff!
Stay invested in your health, and you’ll be investing in your happiness too.