Is favouritism rife in studio culture?
[Student Shows 2013] Essay 5: The Anonymous Student
People will always have a favourite. Favourite flavour crisps, a favourite film and, for architecture tutors - a favourite student. It is inevitable that this element of human nature will worm its way into studio culture.
Receiving a varying degree of favouritism within my education, I am a Marmite student. Some have loved me, some have hated me. Being the favourite feels great; no one can stand in your way.
But when you aren’t the golden one, you have an additional hurdle to jump.
Favouritism can appear innocently in the form of extra-long tutorials, additional help or support, and guidance on the design of your project. It’s about tutors being focused on particular students who work hard, arrive at tutorials on time and make
an active effort in their personal architectural expedition to gain the best experience possible. In that sense, I understand why tutors have favourites - I would too. However, there are areas of favouritism which leap over the line of fairness.
One example is ‘market day’ - a day at the start of the school year when the harsh side of favouritism smacks you in the face. Unit leaders individually present their project brief for the coming year and ‘sell’ their unit to the masses. Lulled into a false sense of security, you are under the impression that you have the power to choose the unit most suitable for you. You don’t. You wait nervously to be called for an interview with the unit leaders - portfolios in hand - in their chosen order. As the units fill up, the studios begin to resemble a cattle market. There’s a raging sea of emotions and panic as people get rejected and find themselves begging for a place in their second, third, or fourth choices. It is essentially a day when the most sought-after unit leaders get a chance to take their pick of the thoroughbreds and crown those set to be favourites for the year.
I once heard that President’s Medals nominations from the school I study at only come from two sought-after units - one of them run by the course leader. Tracking through the past decade of Silver Medal nominations, it appears that the rumour is true. Constantly boosting their professional achievements, tutors guarantee that their golden child will be nominated for the prestigious medals, which in itself can spring a student towards a successful career. Students become gold stars on their tutor’s track record and put the tutor back in the RIBA limelight. If you are in one of the other units, then your chance of a medal has already been whipped from under your feet on day one.
Pivotal moments within the school year are the ones which bring out the extreme side of favouritism, where the egos take control. The end-of-year show is one of those moments. Some units divide wall space equally among students, while locating the slightly lacking projects in small, dark corners and narrow corridor spaces - an obvious message that your project isn’t up to scratch. Others only warrant the gold star students to display their work. As a VIP you are given the responsibility of decorating an entire wall. Amazing: not only can you show off your year-long achievement to family and friends, but potential employers can see your work, too.
But if you are the victim, you become nameless, with no evidence on the walls that you even existed, and certainly no opportunity of receiving a golden ticket into employment.
Favouritism doesn’t stop at school. Working in practice for four years during and between my studies, it seems that favouritism within architecture schools isn’t too dissimilar to the workplace.
Market days and end-of-year shows are replaced with promotions and project opportunities, and the gold stars are continually handed out to treasured employees. Does favouritism within architecture school simply prepare you for a life in employment and provide the skills and knowledge to generate a strong relationship with your employer? Or can the impact of extreme favouritism stifle your development as a professional architect and prevent you from reaching your potential? Whatever the answer may be, it is evident that favouritism is rife in studio culture and at times students will bask in favouritism or feel the harsh reality of being shunned. n
The anonymous student has just completed their Part 2 in a UK university and is now an architectural assistant at a major UK practice