Their eyes are glazed over and their last sips of coffee sit at the bottom of the cup. Tired, yet still functional, an architecture student puts the finishing touches on their newest studio project.
For many students in the College of Architecture, the image above has described them at one point during their time at Cal Poly. The architecture program has been ranked nationally as one of the top three programs to enroll in by DesignIntelligence. The program is also recognized by some students and faculty as having a culture that can often result in unhealthy lifestyles and choices.
The average architecture student will spend 15 hours each week in the architecture studio for class, according to the architecture degree flowchart. Here, students and professors explore and discuss projects. Outside of these class hours, students are expected to spend additional time working on projects. These hours will often match — or even exceed — the time spent in class. Many students work late into the night and on weekends, creating sketches and models and researching and solving complex questions from professors.
Solving these problems is no simple homework assignment.
“Our projects tend to bring up more questions than answers,” associate architecture professor Carmen Trudell said.
This open-ended nature of projects means time commitment varies from student to student.
Creativity and innovation drives these students’ work. They work in multiple mediums and dimensions on different concepts and ideas. For many, the creative element explains why the time they spend in the studio is worthwhile.
“It’s the fact that you’re creating something new that is entirely your own,” architecture junior Ryan Lau said. “Something that can be experienced by others in a more tangible and perceivable way than, I would say, other majors. Personally, I hope to use architecture and design to help people and contribute to society, which to me makes it worth struggling if I can get a better chance to do that in a way that suits me best.”
The students’ hard work is visible, both in the final product and in the time they spend on the project. In some respects, the culture of “studio until you drop” is created by the students, according to both students and professors.
When some architecture students talk about pulling all-nighters and foregoing sleep to work on a project, they say it has become a badge of honor. Working a large number of hours is a point of pride among students. Yet at the same time, many recognize such behavior as unhealthy.
“I get that thing where people say, ‘Oh, you’re an architecture student, you’re not getting sleep anyways,’ and I am like, ‘Yeah, but I still need sleep,’” Lau said.
“We all have an idea of what we want to finish with in mind and if we don’t have what we wanted, we will spend extra time and do extra things just to have what we want at the end,” landscape architecture sophomore Mariella Delfino said.
Each assignment is put on display and discussed as a class. It can often feel like students put a piece of themselves on display, Trudell said.
Students’ self worth can sometimes get caught up in the project, according to Trudell.
“We’re just really interested in talking about the possibilities of the creative work, and all of this other stuff gets sucked into that and it can be a lot of pressure for students,” Trudell said.
There is another side to the studio’s culture: the community feeling that working in such close quarters provides.
“You are in studio all the time, so you get to know your cohorts really well and you get to connect with your professors,” Lau said. “It’s a really good support network because you’ve got everyone around you doing the same thing.”
While projects are individual, the time and space in the studio is shared. For some students, the studio is their social hub and spending time in there does not always include working. Sometimes, instead, they will watch a movie or share a meal.
“We are together and we’re spending hours upon hours in studio,” Lau said. “Through that you have a lot of late nights where you’re all up slaving away, nobody is talking, everyone is plugged in. Sometimes someone makes one noise and then everyone is talking. We even had a sing-along in-studio a couple of weeks ago, completely spontaneous, it was just one of the things you do to cope and pass the time.”
The faculty perspective
Posters in every studio remind students to not only care for their surroundings, but to care for themselves. While some architecture faculty try to discourage the unhealthy habits, they know their students have them.
“I think everybody is interested in the health and the well-being of the students,” Trudell said. “I just don’t know that we have consensus on what should be done.”
Some professors have tried to address the issue by including sections in their syllabi that promote the importance of healthy habits.
“Each of us is responsible for our own well-being, which means eating well, getting enough sleep, and managing time efficiently,” the poster reads. “Be patient with yourself and your peers.”
Faculty frequently meet and talk about what they see students struggling with. Oftentimes, the goal is to create a balance of assigning relevant and impactful coursework, while not overworking and exhausting the average student.
Trudell’s advice for students who may feel overwhelmed is:
- “Remember to be kind and loving to yourself, remember to be forgiving and merciful to yourself.”
- “Creative work is separate from the person, and if you do amazing creatively, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are a good person. And if you do terrible creative work that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.”
- “Keep your sense of self as something that is distinct from the success of [your] design project.”