The BIG 4: Aspects of Architectural Education You Just HAVE to Focus On.

Today is a short lesson in efficiency – getting the most bang for your buck with regards to your time invested.

Time and effort is precious in architecture school – so knowing where to focus your energy will be valuable in establishing a solid foundation.

And out of all the different skills and courses you’ll be dipping your toes into, there are 4 that I feel you should pay special attention to.

Naturally this meanders into the subjective realm, but these four are the intersection in a cosmic Venn Diagram of all my learning from my mentors’ – which is essentially centuries worth of experience. In other words, by age old wisdom, these are the four aspects that are largely responsible for driving your trajectory forward – both school-wise and career-wise. 


Underground Building
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

This should come as no surprise. Design subjects are the bread and butter of our architectural education. And they’re also the umbrella course that basically asks us to apply all that we’ve learned in other subjects.

Chances are, you’re already devoting most of your efforts in bettering the ways to conceive your forms, volumes, and arrangements of space. You might have already realized that an integral understanding architecture is tied to how it fits into the design process.

Basically no matter how you spin all the different courses: project management, structurals, utilities, construction – the bottom line is how they all relate to your designs.

So it goes without saying, this will be your prime road for improvement. But exactly how do you go about traversing this road? What are the things you should be keen on absorbing?

Many will agree with me when I say that honing your skills in design is a process of finding all the right reasons to get the right effects. 

In other words, learning design is a journey in finding and synthesizing more and more design considerations into your process. “Like what?”, you may ask? I give a couple of examples in “What Can You Expect in Architecture School? – Part 1“.

Little by little, you should be ready to unravel the different initially hidden layers of architecture, giving you more ammunition to hit different kinds of targets as you design.

It’s an exciting and enlightening process, especially if you’re committed to really absorbing the information you come across in everyday life.

Stay diligent, never lose grasp of this important backbone.

More on Design:


(c) Aldo Mayoralgo
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

Detailing, one the other hand, is something not a lot of architecture students give enough thought to – because they are too preoccupied with broad strokes and form generating.

It’s natural to be this way, but any wise architect will tell you that God is in the details – and the earlier you become fascinated by the details, the better. Sure, just focusing on schematics and form will get you through architecture school, but it won’t be the best for instilling a more mature and practice-ready foundation.

Sometimes, small things like the placement and specs of an accent light, or the termination of a wall can spell the difference between a great work of architecture and an uncomfortable eyesore.

If Design tells you of macro spatial arrangement and large formal moves, a penchant for detailing will make you adept at connecting all these moves on the fundamental level.

Yes, it is highly technical, and yes, some people get bored when talking of lintel beams, bullnoses, substrates, tile alignments, and drip moulds. But the people that will really excel and become kick-ass in practice and on-site are the ones who can make sense of the small things that are happening.

For instance. Do you know the key differences between interior stairs and exterior stairs?

Interior stairs tend to have slower foot traffic because people are already contained in a shell for dwelling, while exterior stairs tend to carry people who are rushing more to get to place to place, or sitting down to wait.

Due to these factors, exterior stairs will tend to have lower risers, be clad in materials with greater slip resistance, slope downwards to prevent water from pooling, and have provisions for integral waterproofing. If it’s an iconic public stairs, then the tread dimensions might even be carefully shaped to consider that people will be sitting on them for long periods of time.

The point is, getting as smart as you can about the nuts and bolts of architecture will give you an enormous advantage and insight – in your design subjects, in your internships, and beyond.

Related to Detailing: What Can You Expect to Learn in Architecture School? – PART 2

History, Theory, and Criticism

(c) Aldo Mayoralgo
That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history. ~ Aldous Huxley

Your prowess in the technical aspects might show you’ve got brains, but architecture is about heart too.

Different schools call them different things, but one of the most thrilling and formative courses in your education will be those on Architectural History, Theory, and Criticism.

And these courses will expose you to the whos, whats, and why-s that developed the world of architecture over time – with you formulating your own critical opinion of them.

There’s one interesting insight I’ve learned from working with foreign consultants and local Philippine architects – they gravitate towards different design sensibilities.

The local Philippine architects have design moves that are more pragmatic and efficient. They would justify a design move by its cost-effectiveness while still achieving a good aesthetic quality. This is great in terms of economic implications, but it also can result in a self-limiting design.

Foreign consultants tend to justify their designs out of ideology, theory, and influences. You ask them why “It’s a response to Le Corbusier’s assertion of so-and-so“, or “the angle of the canopy is an allusion to this-and-that” or “the bare but experiential quality of the space is harmonious with Zumthor’s dictum that etc-etc”.

They are more well-read in the significant architectural movements and people, and they use their work to test and respond to these ideologies. It’s lovely for pushing the envelope, but it can sometimes result in compromising the actual spatial quality of everyday users.

Sure it may something to do with the 3rd-World and 1st-World economic conditions (think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs maybe), but who says that you, as students, can’t work to be cognizant of both rationalizations?

Related: One Simple Tip to Give Yourself A HUGE Knowledge Boost

Be curious and start scratching your History itch. It will not only allow you to stay in the discussion when talking with the culturati, but your knowledge and understanding of architectural movements and styles will give your design process so much more integrity.

Don’t be that assuming student that incorporates a style into his or her project without knowing for sure what the said style is really about.

(c) Aldo Mayoralgo
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

You might say: “I decided to use a zen style for the house. Which is evident in my white walls, clean lines, modern furniture, and a rock garden at the back of the house”.

Be careful. Zen is not merely an aesthetic. It’s a way of living. Zen Buddhism (from which the “style” sprung) revolves around meditating while focusing at something living, like a flower or tree. Zen architecture will allow you to find views of life in many spaces, allowing you focus and reflect when you want to. If your design is not conducive to this practice, then it isn’t really zen, regardless of minimalist aesthetic.

You might say: “My building is a testament to modernism and I infused my modern form with a curtain fabric that reminds you of a bird’s nest. If you look closely at the walls, you will also find engravings of traditional Filipino characters”.

Be careful. That’s not modernism. Your approach actually goes against the philosophies and rationale of modernism. It’s post-modernism, where you’re infusing meaning and semiotics in your design. You’re more Robert Venturi than Mies Van Der Rohe

Don’t assume. Read up.

Don’t just limit yourself to architectural magazines and blogs. Look for the actual manifestos of prominent architects, absorb them, and decide whether or not you agree with their assertions. And from this knowing, then you can be sure you have a better informed opinion.

Be committed to travelling back in time to diligently understand how our architecture and cities developed over time, and you’ll be able to see the world today in a more enlightened manner. And you can bet that your designs will be a whole lot more meaningful and guided.

Presentation and Interpersonal Skills.

(c) Aldo Mayoralgo
Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large. - American Marketing Association.

Surprise surprise. You might have all the skills when you rock your personal design sanctuary, but the real world necessitates a lot of human interaction in order to get your projects realized. And if you don’t develop your skills in relating to others, you’re in for quite a dilemma in the future.

Presentation. Branding. Marketing. Dealing with people in order to move forward.

Yes. I said it. The M-word. The word that artists from all over cringe at because it strikes them as analogous to “sell-out”. The truth is, marketing isn’t really about trying to swindle people into buying your products or services. It’s how you are able to effectively communicate your worth to be able to do the good you want to do.

It’s a big tragedy when you see a brilliant designer lose a commission to someone who promises the client the world, but doesn’t have to capability to follow though. It’s a sad truth, but you will have to sharpen your skills in selling yourself and the value that comes with you.

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Especially when you know you have a product that will benefit the world. 

The aspect of this that entails the least amount of human interaction is your presentation materials. How professional, cohesive and put together your boards, powerpoint, or images are will already speak for themself. But their voice will be drowned out by the sloppiness of someone who presents, well, sloppily.

Take every presentation opportunity as a means to see how well you organize your flow, highlight your proficiencies, project yourself, showcase your abilities, and strengthen the weight of your materials.

Take every group work as a chance to develop your abilities to work in a team, get points across, and absorb other people’s points.

Also reflect on the times when you conflict with the personalities of others. You’re going to be having misunderstandings with a lot of people, and you’re going to have to learn how how to deal with them in a positive light. You’ll succeed at times, and fail in others. No matter what happens, learn something and move forward.

Work on improving how you sell your product, but don’t forget to reflect on your own motivations, incentives, and integrity. Because the core of this, it’s all about personality and character development. You have to genuinely mean what you say, and keep what you say as positive or constructive.

It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action, and discipline that enabled us to follow through. ~Zig Ziglar

We’re all constantly developing in this department, and it’s always good to start the earliest you can.

Related: As Promised: My Personal Life-Plan at Age 23.

(c) Aldo Mayoralgo
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

In the immortal words of Zac Efron and his merry posse of dancing teenagers,

“We’re all in this together”.

So let’s grow together. Let’s get focused and climb this ladder.


End Sign

 Any insights, comments or questions? Don’t hesitate to comment below or send me a message!

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