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Twelve things I wish I could say to my students


Student Shows 2014: Essay by the Anonymous Academic

A student receives their feedback after a review…

Student: ‘Why did I get such a low grade?’

Tutor: ‘I think the feedback gives you a clear indication why.’

Student: ‘But I thought it went so well -you didn’t say anything bad on the day.’

I learn just as many lessons as my students. In this instance, I learnt I should stop trying to be diplomatic and just tell it like it is - good or bad. So in honour of all the students who have provided me with enough anecdotes to last a lifetime, here are 12 things I always have a real desire to say to you.

1. Please stop watching Grand Designs Yes, it may have inspired you to start a career in architecture. But I really don’t expect you to mention it, other than in your entry application. You need to be extraordinarily quick-witted and intelligent to achieve an insightful critique on the relevance of such programmes to the architectural profession. I haven’t met any such person yet, so best avoid it.


2. Style up Look at what you have produced. Do you honestly think that this looks good? I wish you sometimes spent as much time designing your buildings as you do your wardrobe. Styling only seems to be applicable to your clothes, for some reason.

3. Practice, practice, practice We are here to generate insight, not teach. Teachers are for schoolchildren. I get bored constantly hand-holding students too lazy to understand that good design takes hard work. Architecture requires practice, dedication, application and curiosity. How much you commit to these will result in whether you drop to the non-league - or enter the premier league.

4. Don’t listen to your tutor (too much) Now I don’t want you to get carried away here; I say this to improve your outlook on the design process. We provide only one perspective - our own. And of course we have an agenda, because the way we think is very individual. But there are many more viewpoints to consider. Some graduates do not perform well once they enter practice. This may be for a number of reasons, but I can easily spot those who do not perform because they only thought through their tutor’s mind, not their own. Challenging tutors is not confrontational, but we turn defensive as our authority is challenged. Understandably so. Architecture desperately holds on to a level of prestige we consider our position holds, whereas the reality is very different. Being in any design team meeting reveals this point. Questioning your tutors might encourage a new generation of architects to wrestle back some of the responsibility in producing good-quality architecture.

5. Get some sleep I don’t want to see your bleary eyes. I don’t want to smell your bad breath. I don’t want to try to understand your incoherent sentences. Go to bed, you’re not doing anyone any favours.


6. Why don’t you start a riot? Hopefully not literally. But political motivation - even inclination - seems somewhat lacking. Students are focused on getting a good job rather than using university as a platform for debate or even revolution. Grow a pair. Ideally, I’d rather you not care about your grades and instead think about what architecture as a subject can really do. Inspire those around you. This gives you confidence, not a letter on a piece of paper.

7. But, having said that … stop trying to save the world The world is too complex to even try this. And there is a whiff of arrogance in actually believing that your little design can have such an impact. You are better off just knowing your place - you are a cog in a very big machine. I’m not being gloomy. Networked activity generates more productivity, shares responsibility and creates more ingenuity while being less egocentric.

8. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you I am due to mark your work. So why do you a) annoy me, b) ignore my advice, c) then think it is ok to ask me to help you get a job? Let this classic phrase be a life lesson that you learn the hard way.

9. Why are you late again? If I were your boss, you would be fired Oh wait. I do say this already. Often.

10. You are a self-fulfilling prophecy Only a handful of students exceed expectation. About 95 per cent achieve the grades we assume they are capable of reaching. I could hand you your degree classification now. Still… you may as well learn a few things on the way.


11. Not another project with shipping containers! This is not original, and neither are you. Then again, nothing really is. So while I may scoff at the sight of another container project, the truth is that it is only because I have to go through this process time and time again that it becomes such a bore. It is still a valid learning experience for students to pursue so again, don’t always agree with what I say (see point four).

12. Eat more chicken One of my students decided to interrupt a seminar to politely ask whether we minded if he ate some chicken. This was relatively inoffensive so we agreed. He then proceeded to take out an entire bucket of chicken breasts and ploughed through them while we debated the virtues of Lefebvre’s The Production of Space, creating one of the more surreal experiences I’ve had in a classroom. For all the strife and struggles throughout the year, it is these oddities and eccentricities that make this job so enjoyable. Keep it up.



Readers' comments (3)

  • Rather you than me

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  • Harriet Harriss

    For any students reading this, I would be very interested in publishing a response/your own '10 things I would like to say to my tutors' in the forthcoming (autumn) edition of OSA magazine. Get in touch ASAP.

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  • As a recent graduate I feel that some of this would have remained better unsaid. While a lot of your points seemed fair, there is an underlying bitterness and a lack of sympathy.

    Your point on Grand Designs seems pretty intellectually snobbish; while they might not be targeted at architects I don't see any harm with watching such programmes. They inform the public perception of architecture, and in our theoretical bubble of the studio can offer some insight into construction and how often things can go wrong in practice.

    The point on sleep is interesting - I know from my own work that I could easily have missed out on a first were it not for late nights before hand ins and crits. I'd argue that this is the inevitable result when you have an intensive, coursework-based degree with incredibly dedicated students.

    I feel a bit sorry for your students. While you remain anonymous they will no doubt realise you're talking about them given how specific the references and anecdotes are.

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