Surviving Design Studio

I firmly believe that architecture school is a hazing ritual.  I’m convinced it is designed to weed out students from an over-saturated profession.  Some students love architecture school.  Yes there were a lot of awesome parts, and I look back fondly, but I certainly would not want to go through it again.  Here are some tips to make it out of architecture studio alive (and with a degree).

Time Management

Architects are notoriously terrible at time management.  If you can get it on your side, your life will a lot better.  There’s always that one guy in studio that always gets his work done and a full night’s sleep.  Be that guy!

A large part of time management in studio is understanding that architecture is never finished.  We are perfectionists by nature and the task of design will grow to fit the available time.  Give yourself intermediate deadlines and stick to them.  Realize that your project isn’t going to be perfect and that you will probably have to redesign a significant portion of it anyway after meeting with your professor.  Good enough is good enough.  Perfect doesn’t exist.


It’s really important to stay on as normal a schedule as you can.  There’s a lot of stress in studio classes and if you’re eating/sleeping schedule is out of whack, you’re wreaking all sort of emotional and physical havoc on your body.  Not to mention you’re asking for a breakdown.  Studio is a marathon.  A few sprints are fine, but be aware of what you are doing to your body.  Remember you aren’t at the top of your game when you don’t sleep.  Often you’ll get more done if you sleep a few hours before working than if you try to work straight through without sleep.  You’re more likely to make time-consuming mistakes if you haven’t slept, and you’re risking giving yourself serious injuries if you’re model building.  If you drive to school, realize you are putting yourself and the general public in harms way when you don’t sleep.  Prioritize sleeping and manage your time wisely.


This is often an architecture student’s lifeline.  Use it wisely.  Be especially careful with energy drinks.  Caffeine dependency is common in studio, and its not healthy.  A little caffeine is probably necessary, but I’ve seen some people end up really tripped out from too much coffee combined with sleep deprivation.


Seems crazy, but sometimes you won’t have time to eat (or at least you won’t think you will) and when you do go for food, you’ll go for the fastest, most convenient thing you can.  You’ll learn all the nearby eateries that are open late, and you’ll alternately skip meals and eat fast food.  This is bad.  Try to keep your studio desk stocked with healthy snacks–nuts, dried and fresh fruit, granola bars, etc.  If your studio has a fridge and a microwave, stock up on TV dinners (I found Healthy Choice had some pretty good ones).  If your studio doesn’t have a fridge and microwave, have your studio chip in and get them.  Stay hydrated with something that doesn’t contain caffeine.  I found gum was a good way of kicking late-night munchies.

Make (Non-Architecture) Friends

Not only will they help keep you sane, but they can also be a big help.  Ask them to bring you meals when you know you’re going to have a late night.  You might even be able to sweet-talk roommates or family into taking your chores.  Also, in most classes its completely acceptable to have people help you with your models (and sometimes even renderings and drawings).  As long as you are doing the designing, they can help with production.  If you’re not sure if its Kosher, check with your professor.  Of course you need to make sure you are not using these people.  Return the favor, buy them dinner when they come help, or take them out for drinks at the end of the term.

Invest in a Good Computer

I am not a techno wiz, so I can’t tell you what exactly to get, but get as fast and reliable a computer you can possibly afford.  The programs used in studio are super heavy and files get huge.  You will be cursing your computer a lot, even if you have a good one.  Renderings take hours of computation time and if you can speed it up with a better computer, you get a little bit more precious sleep.  Also consider setting up multiple computers with some of the software (ask friends and relatives if you can borrow computers if need be).  That way you can render on one machine, while draft or model on another.  Campus computer labs can also be helpful for this.

Backup Your Files

Seems pretty obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many people screw this one up.  Last thing you need mid-term is to lose your files.  I recommend using Carbonite in addition to an external hard drive.  Carbonite provides an online backup of your files automatically.  Once you set it up initially, you don’t need to worry about it again.  Plus its a remote backup–so if somebody ransacks your desk and gets your laptop and external, you’ll still have your files.  The only problem is that if your computer does crash, Carbonite takes quite a while (i.e. multiple days) for your files to download.  That’s why I also suggest you periodically backup on an external hard drive.

Put Your Name on Your Thumb Drive

And put it on a big key chain that you’re unlikely to misplace.  These things (and the files on them) get mixed up and lost all the time.

Organize your Files

It will take some time to come up with a system you like.  Set up folders the first week of studio (before you need them).  I recommend something to the effect of Case Studies, Site, Program, Research, Digital Models, Renderings, Physical Models, Drawings, and Presentations.  Obviously your needs will vary a bit.  Also, save multiple copies of files as you progress and put the date in the file name.  For example: floorplan20110317.dwg would be a floorplan saved on March 17, 2011.

Get a Wide Format Printer

If you keep an eye open, these will occasionally go on sale.  Having something that will print 11×17 is well worth the investment.  Its a pain having to run to the computer lab or print shop for prints.  You will save a lot of time and hassle.  If you’ve got some extra cash, also consider getting a plotter.  I do not think a plotter is necessary, but it would make life easier.  You can also consider having your studio chip in for one.  I know one guy who bought a plotter during school, and he ended up paying for it by charging fellow students to use it.  After graduation he was able to turn his printing business into a full-time gig.


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