Monday, November 29

National Hug a Stressed Architecture Student Day

Today is National Hug a Stressed Architecture Student Day! (Well, at least on Facebook.) While I'd love to come visit all my Arch. friends slaving away at their desks, with hugs and chocolate-covered espresso beans, I'm stuck here in Sveeeden and I'm going to have to settle for a virtual hug. I'll preface this post by insisting that not a single word of it is made-up, nor even exaggerated (anecdotes sampled from friends' and my own experiences).
Let me briefly explain the setting of Architectural Education, for those of you who aren't familiar. Within a towering campus building dedicated to Architorture (and sometimes Arts/Art History), there are classrooms called "design studios." In each studio, every student has their own desk where they store their supplies and work on their projects. Often, a decades-old, tear-stained couch is tucked in the corner to provide relief from our voluntary insomnia.

Since I graduated, I've been wondering what, exactly, makes architecture school so stressful. I've met Law School students who pity us, for goodness' sake. I think the stress comes from the personality traits that Arch. school attracts into its exacto-blade talons.

First of all, most of us are crazy, OCD perfectionists.* Second, we are viciously competitive (yet strain to not let this show). Third, we have Jack-of-all-trades, Renaissance-Man brains that yearn to perfectly integrate every last detail and function of the building we're designing (down to the drain spouts and sidewalk curbs. One sleepless night, I was moved to tears by my friend's perfect perspective-drawing of her gutter outlets. I am. NOT. kidding.)

Every term, you picture your finalized project as The Grandiose Production to End All Grandiose Productions. As the ten-week deadline looms closer, the time-intensive reality of eating, other classes, and personal hygiene slowly chip away at your dreams. You struggle to keep them afloat by sacrificing sleep and social interaction. Suddenly, you realize you've allotted yourself five weeks of work... for the last two weeks. At this point, most people would admit, "Wow, my over-achieving goals for this project were so naive. This happens every term; I guess I'll just have to take it down a giant notch."

Architecture slaves students buckle down and say, "I'm going to have to take this UP a giant notch."

Well, HELLO, little snuggle buddy.

"Taking it up a giant notch" denotes an even more depressing priority shift. You draw an hourly schedule for the next two weeks, penciling in an optimistic four hours of sleep per night. You calculate that going home is about a 30-minute round trip, which, if sacrificed, could add 12.5% to this nightly sleep quota. You sleep on the aforementioned couch (which, as you have just learned in your ECS** class, is now approximately 20% dust mites/dust mite feces by weight).

Later, you dash home to collect a few changes of clothes, and every can of food out of the cupboards (mostly corn). You forget your toothbrush. Your roommate graciously brings it on her way to class, where you instantly shove it into your plaque-overrun mouth, and make noises that cause your studiomates to poke their heads above their computer screens to investigate... ehmm... who's watching something they shouldn't be.

You take showers at the school gym. The whites of your eyes slowly, but surely, become the same shade as the rest of your face. Coffee becomes a strategically-administered design tool. You pass out in your seat mid-sentence, and start sleep-talking about Sketchup.*** You try to drive home with one of your studiomates, and BOTH of you simultaneously fall asleep at a red light (aHEMMM, Kody & Adrian).

Much of this perfectionistic hysteria is fueled by the amazingly skilled people who surround you in studio. The selection process for Architecture School is a vicious one, and most who make it through are accustomed to being The Best of the Best. You arrive with a padded ego, only to be knocked flat on your back by the talent that joins you there.

At the same time, these people share a certain insanity that you once thought was your own sole burden to carry. Their attitude swoops up & down between killing themselves with criticism, and a taunting, playful arrogance. Their brains are on fire with creativity, leading to 4-AM studio dance-karaoke parties, exacto-knife-flinging contests, and jumping in the courtyard fountain to pull themselves through 48-hours straight of consciousness. Within a week, your shock and intimidation has morphed into a profoundly genuine enthusiasm for your classmates' success.

For those of you still in school, I know you'll ROCK Review Week over the next few days. For those of you who graduated before me or with me, I hope you're happily employed. And to all of you, I want you to know that going to Architecture School was like meeting 100 of my long-lost brothers and sisters. We're masochistic, music-obsessed, expensive pen-collecting, visually-driven freaks who reacted like Portland cement and water. And-- you know this-- the result is a lot of warmth and a permanent bond.

HUGS to you all.

*If you're an Arch. student, take this quiz. Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, yes?!
**Environmental Control Systems. Here is a little song about the class's textbook. And I AM NOT KIDDING about the dust-mite fact... same goes for the pillow in your bed.
***Sketchup is a 3-D computer-modeling program. (And sadly, this anecdote was me... ask Jason and my dad.)

I should acknowledge that the whole 48-hour sleep deprivation isn't every Architecture student's experience. About 1-in-30 possess a magical talent for perfect focus, realistic expectations, time management, and knowing where to get illicit supplies of Ritalin (I kid, I kid). Seriously, these people astound me. And I suppose they can have a hug today, too.


Mike said...


And here is to all the civil engineering students as well! (I'm sure you guys love eachother)

Kristie said...

Portland cement... that is the worst/best joke I've heard in a LONG time.

Also I took your little personality test-- another 'high' for OCD! (And not surprisingly, a 'moderate' for paranoia.)

April said...

Mike-- every one I've met has been pretty cool, but... it's kind of a running joke that they're our dream-crushers : )

K-- I know. It pained me to type it... but I had to! And I totally should have seen your "paranoia" result ahead of time! haha I love it.

Sam said...

This makes me feel bad for complaining about Info Hell, which is no longer in existence (total crap).

Anyway, I send my love to all the architecture kiddos out there. Stay strong my friends.

I wish journalism students shared more of the bond that you described. They tried to bread unhealthy competition into us, and I refused to accept it. However, this was not as true for the magazine majors or the print majors in general. We were the rare, pure-hearts (not to be confused with the sleazy P.R. and ad major--scum bags!)

April said...

Sam, at UO they purposely make all the studios Pass/No Pass-- because at the schools where they're graded, models get sabotaged the night before reviews, and people work at home so no one steals their ideas : ( We were very lucky.

It was totally legitimate for you to complain about Info Hell; it was only when I heard people complain about "200 pages of reading per week! Don't they realize we have other classes?! And that we want to have fun on the weekends?!" did I want to light things on fire.