101 Things I Learned in Architecture School

Mar. 22, 2008
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Almost more than any other discipline, students of architecture are overworked (and eventually underpaid), overstretched and, it has to be said, overindulged. So when architect Matthew Frederick recently published his survival guide for architecture students he might have extended the courtesy to the instructors who cause their students’ egos to fluctuate so unhealthily from the miniscule to the gargantuan.

That said, his 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School (MIT Press) is the kind of book I dreamed of getting my greedy, ink-stained hands on when I was a student. Oh how I would have nursed it close to my heart at all times, snickering at my fellow students so wholly deprived of similar wisdoms! It’s enough almost to make you want to go back and live through the same inferno of guilt, defeat and stress all over again.

Within it’s compact, cream colored pages, nestling between covers wrought of the same material from which so many student’s models are forged (and which has caused me so many scalpel cuts in the past my fingers hurt just looking at it), are tips on everything from drawing beautiful lines to correct spatial arrangements. There’s even a bit of Chinese wisdom thrown in for good measure.

In his 101 points Frederick rattles off quotes by famous designers and writers such as Louis Kahn, Mies van der Rohe, Virginia Wolf and Eliel Sarinen. He demystifies common terms like genius loci, figure and ground, positive and negative space, and succinctly elucidates principles of space planning. He offers tips on effective presentations and the value of different drawing and model types in the design process.

Some of the advice is amusing and spot-on (e.g. the avoidance of flowery language in a presentation, others practical (e.g. where to put fire stairs). Some of the pointers are obvious but too often overlooked by designers, for example the function of a window to frame a view rather than exhibit it; others are a little too broad to be useful (#12 regarding the specificity of the design). Despite the majority of sound and sensible advice there are a few hokey parts, for example number 38 that draws parallels between the cardinal points and human virtues. Overall though the book is a treat to flip through and treasure, as much for its simple illustrations as the bits of advice architects should be continually be reminded of whatever the stage of their learning.


In fact number 101 is the most heartening. “Architects are late bloomers,” Frederick says, doubtless lifting a load off scores of fledgling architects. They can safely rest in the knowledge that nothing great is expected of them for the next quarter of century or so.


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