And where is everyone? That was my initial thought when I first entered our studio after a year and half of working from home. It was 8am, so I could have expected that not many would be waiting for the door to open at that time, however, hours passed and it was still just a few of us starting to re-embrace the studio space we are given to use.
It was that moment when I had to realise we are actually in 3rd year as I have passed next to the younger years’ studio which I only knew partly. Bute Building has undergone quite big changes over the time we spent at home, so it is not surprising I felt lost in my memories. As I got to that rooms we used as 1st years, I could see it was not just my year with a lack of attendance but the other ones where unused as well. It was strange. It was almost like we were not supposed to be there.
A few weeks have passed until people have started to use the space. Models have started to emerge; however, there was not many people actually committing themselves to be working from here on a daily basis. It was easy to get to know those who are properly coming in and leaving at around the same time. This started to make me question where are the rest of us and why are there not in?
Comfort. Insecurity. Convenience.
It was interesting to find these common reasons amongsts many students. All of them showed some relation to both the happenings of the past few years and to the way the architectural field has developed.
The first sounded very concerning for me as leading towards online means of learning disables to random encounters, conversations that enrich not only our personal life but our professional development as well. Setting up meetings does not allow for that to happen as that requires organized means of interaction and sharing of knowledge. It also hardens clear communication as half sentences that one might hear in person cannot necessarily be heard via digital platforms. One can never predict what can gain from a conversation.
The latter most feel familiar for all. It is quite easy to get used to walking around in the same dress throughout the whole day. Take zoom calls from the bed. To become more and more efficient with our times. It is quite frightening to see how much we are meant to be maximising our times. This puts lots of pressure on performance as a smaller mistake can lead towards a need for redoing, rethinking and adding on extra hours. The convenience of staying at home can be argued to be suitable for many – those needing to get to many different places after work. Although, it can be questioned how much are we actually losing by having that daily route to our offices/ working spaces.
The constant increase in hours can be easily seen as a lack of confidence with an urge to put more and more hours into work. Many argued, that the environment of a studio puts lot of pressure on them as colleagues can easily see their work and form opinion on them based on what they see. It is interesting to see how the academic performance draws personal assumptions.
Mental illnesses have been highly discussed over the past two years. Architecture students are exposed to a variety of stress related anxieties due to a variety of issues:
1. Demand of the curriculum does not have limitations. It is dependent on the student that how much can be/ should be taken on.
2. Constant progression is required with a lack of chance for break and with a constant exposure to criticism.
3. There is an inevitable comparison between student works that are either emphasized by teaching staff or by the students themselves.
The third can explain the reason for turning away from studio culture as the first two are inevitable. Contradictingly, the studio environment that should bring comfort to students, can be seen as a zone for unexpected and unwanted criticism. Without being exposed to such circumstances in one and half year, it is easy to defend ourselves from such scenarios.
This brings back the 2 other causes of stress. With their presence during the whole length of the course, one can easily find an excuse to not want to learn from peer-feedback. This year showed us the need for staying in touch, to be open for criticism and to regain our strength to be able to take it.
Studios are meant to be a platform for conversations, struggles and sharing these with each other. Without exposing ourselves to new ideas and ways of working, we will never be able to grow. It is interesting how many of us finds it difficult to be open for criticism from similar ages and ages below ourselves. We would need to see the benefits of learning from various years as means of creating a mentor-mentee relationship.
Architectural schools should promote the creation of these relationships where the learning process does not stop between professsor and student but continues between students of the same and different years. Studios should become a platform where various years mix, where conversations can become free-flowing.
Studios should be places where one finds comfort in the arms of years above. Where faces the inevitable comparisions within the year. Where one chooses to help someone year below without necessarily gaining from it.