What Can You Expect to Learn in Architecture School? – PART 1

We all know design school is a needed stepping stone to be the successful architect of our dreams. But have you ever stopped to wonder how and why your school teaches architecture the way it does?

Each Architectural School has its own take on how its curriculum progresses, allowing the structure to unravel architecture for you in an intended path. Some are similar, while others are seemingly antithetical. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, after all. It’s good to note that the way your school focuses its teachings and structures its courses tells you a lot about what values it wants to impart on its graduates.

Are some approaches “better” than others? That’s an interesting discussion that we could definitely delve into in the future. (I’ll just state my advanced take on this: There’s no such thing as the best approach to learning architecture, period. There’s only the best approach for YOU) But regardless of approach, there are some generalities that are common to most, if not all schools.

 In this multi-part series, I’d like to discuss what things the lowly freshman or young design student can expect to learn in acquiring their archi-torture degree. Think of it as your first definitive glimpse at what you’re in for – should you take the plunge.

3 - Elevation
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

Architectural Communication.

Many of your early years will be spent on a good amount of skills training. You see, while there’s always a degree of uniqueness to each person, there are certain standards in the profession that you have to be well-versed in. Because architects draw a certain way, think a certain way, write a certain way, present a certain way, heck – we even tend to talk a certain way.

You’ll be practicing your visualization and sketching skills (a lot), get your hands dirty and glued making scale models, ensure your presentations follow a certain logic and order, infuse the principles of color, scale, perspective and composition in your work, and draft out basic plans, sections, elevations, and the like. If your school is tech-friendly you’ll even have courses that will train you in design softwares like AutoCAD, Sketchup, Revit/ArchiCAD, 3ds Max, or Photoshop.

Can you try to be innovative and break the mold? Sure, but for the most part, you’ll be graded on how well you adhere to the principles that have stood the test of time. Be prepared for plates, and lots of them. Expect a bit of a rude awakening if you’ve never drawn for hours on end for a single sheet of paper. But at the same time, expect to feel a whole new kind of fulfillment upon beholding a finished perspective that you poured all your skill and focus into.

(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

History and Criticism.

Here, you’ll learn a whole lot about what the future holds – by looking back at the past. College’s will normally have courses on History and/or Critique, wherein students will learn all about how the architectural discipline evolved over time. You’ll tackle the movements, the people, the styles, and the different ideologies that shaped the architecture, which in turn shaped the people, starting the cycle anew.

If you’re not really keen on studying history or reading a lot, you might be cursing these courses on a regular basis. But if you’re really serious about being a well-informed designer, then having a great grasp of the why-s and how-s of the profession’s past will be an invaluable tool in producing work with integrity and sensitivity.

Personally, the courses I took on History and Criticism were some of my favorite ones ever, because it taught me to always think critically about the built environment around me. The profession is never black and white, and forming your own views about what great architecture is or isn’t is a very personal, intimate, and significant activity in your own formation as a budding architect.

(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

Architectural Theory and Design.

This should come as quite obvious – the process of designing the built environment is the bread-and-butter subject of the architectural degree. You need to know the ins-and-outs and processes involved in designing a building or environment from ground zero. Trust me when I say there are an overwhelming amount of considerations you need to, well, consider when making decisions on the smallest details. Your design courses seek to practice you in synthesizing considerations so your design process is more efficient, effective, and second-nature.

The process of teaching architectural design varies according the school. However, the differences lie in terms of focus – in essence, all the same bases will be covered. You can expect to be taught a whole lot of things including:

Point Line Plane Volume
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

Design Fundamentals – Understanding what exactly design is, and what architecture is. Learning fundamental elements and properties that characterize architecture, and their significance is when you start producing your own projects. While it’s easy to take these things for granted, this foundation is easily one of the most important things you’ll need to mentally retain, forever.


Tambayan Corridor 2
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

Architecture and Human Experience– Exploring how people experience and understand space on a physical level, and creating projects that consider anthropometrics, activity patterns, space bubbles, and the like. To really raise your awareness, your professors might have you go to the mall, sit down for an afternoon, and observe people. Stalker vibes much.


Briefing Area
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

Architecture and Society – Extracting a genus loci or “spirit of place”, and infusing  them harmoniously or contrastingly in your design approach. Architecture is very in-grained in society, and you’ll have design courses that delve into this dynamic relationship, in pursuit of finding new interesting ways to connect communities to their built environment. Expect to do a lot of field work, interviews, and surveys for projects where this is the primary consideration tested. Time to bring out your inner Oprah.


Underground Building
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

Architecture and the Environment – You can’t just visualize the project you want in the air and just put it on the ground, regardless of wherever your site is. The fact of the matter is, designing specifically for your site context is a prime consideration for every project. Your design courses that focus on site context will be testing mainly your adeptness at considering things like climate, environmental impact, site planning, and the like.

If you plan to practice in a certain country or environment, this will be one of the most significant courses for you to focus on. Prepare to be funneling through a lot of information maps to determine things like surface run-off, wind systems, sun path, existing foliage, topography, fault lines, sound and light pollution, views, vistas, and so on and so forth. So come, be a designer that becomes one with the earth.


(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

Architecture and Technology – We live in an age where technology is constantly advancing at a rapid pace – especially when it comes to the building industry. Most progressive schools seize opportunities to ride these waves. Chances are, you’ll be given projects that will have you research on the latest building systems and use them in addressing your design briefs. Expect to be crunching numbers with respect to contemporary buzzwords like energy efficiency, rainwater harvesting, solar and wind energy, systems automation, robotics, etc.

It’s especially fascinating how the current trends of building systems allow you to control a number of things through smartphone applications. It’s best not to get left behind, yes? Get ready to harness your inner techie and experiment with supercharging your buildings once in projects like these.


These are just a few of the courses you can expect to brave in the pursuit of your architecture degree. What other things should you look forward to? Stay tuned for PART 2 and find out!

All posts in the “What Can You Expect to Learn In Architecture School?” Series:

PART 1: Architectural Communication, History and Criticism, and Architectural Design and Theory.
PART 2: Building Materials and Constuction
PART 3: Structural Analysis & Conceptualization 
PART 4: Lighting and Acoustics Design
PART 5: Plumbing/Sanitary and Electrical Systems
PART 6: Mechanical, and Fire & Life Safety Systems
PART 7: Building Laws and Professional Practice
PART 8: Site & Urban Planning and Design, Architectural Research

Did you like what you just read? There’s more where that came from! Click the image below to check out all the posts in the category of FORMATION!


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