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A Trade-Off of Educational Experience // Chenyu Lou


Branding meeting with KCAI graphic design students at el dorado inc.

Abstract: Architectural education is a necessary path for people who want to become a part of the architecture field. Nowadays, we have all kinds of architectural education programs. With so many options out there, what is the critical element that we must consider when organizing or participating in architectural education? What is the best option to wrap up the 5-year education program? A hands-on project? Or a theoretical project on a bigger scale? In this blog, I’ll try to argue the hands-on experience is more valuable at this moment.


Audience: Incoming graduate architecture student and architecture professor

"A Trade-Off of Educational Experience"


Since architecture profession has become increasingly popular recently, an increasing number of students choose an architecture major as the first career step. Architecture is a major that will involve many different fields such as art, psychology, construction and so on. The complexity of architecture determines its specialty and makes architectural education unique. The architecture studio is a synthesizing space where students will need to incorporate their studies from the broader curriculum into their design work. Thus, a different educational curriculum will lead students down a very different path.


Typically, architecture studios will have projects with a real site and a hypothetic situation, a story or a job statement that does not really exist. This process is quite traditional but very effective. It gives both the students and professors enough space to teach and learn. Inside the studio, there is no constant role as a teacher or a student. The learning experience can be a mutual way. Sometimes the professor is better at a certain area, sometimes the student can also teach the professor a lesson. The object of architecture and the approach to problem-solving are the critical elements of the educational experience. 


The main purpose of architecture studio is to help the student build a wide knowledge, improve the skills, and learn critical thinking to gain a successful career in architecture. As the level of grade goes up, the students will face projects which will be increasingly challenging. Systematically, by accumulating the experience throughout the program, young architecture students will be able to learn how to handle a more complex project. However, the same pattern of architectural education program has already lasted a few decades. Even though students can have a better understanding of some necessary design skills, they are still not ready for a professional career. The reason is because the architectural education system has been so obsessed with keeping current situation that people are ignoring the fast change of the real world. The new essential qualities of being a successful architect are good communication skills, good sense of business, strong collaboration ability and good problem-solving ability. Although these skills are told in the studio, not every student understands the real meaning of them. After all, only students and professors are involved in a traditional architectural education program. There is no opportunity for students to practice their communication skills. The absence of real-time communication with client leads to a lack of professional experience. Thereupon, it is very difficult to simulate reality in an academic setting.


After my experience with the Design+Make studio, I gained the opportunity to work on a real project and hands-on experience on other aspects of architecture. The benefit of being a part of the Design+Make studio is having a tremendous advantage to communicate and collaborate with a real client, a real contractor, and several consultants. The project of our studio is not a big one, it is a duplex located in Kansas City. But the scope of work in this process extends to a much broader scale. For this project, we are learning by doing, hands on the programs and cooperating with many other groups. We gain much knowledge about on-site construction, cost analysis and the business of architecture. Thus, the studio is not limited to an educational program, it is also a real working place that everyone in our studio can learn to act like a professional. We keep close cooperation with our client and other institutions to make sure we can deliver the best solution to the project.

Client meeting at Botwin Commercial Development office.

There is an argument about the final project of the architecture graduate school. Some people believe it is necessary to have a final project that involves a larger scale. Because as the final year, the project will also involve landscape design, urban planning, and more other aspects. Each different project with different scale requires the designer to have an overall control accordingly. Theoretical architecture project like this is a stepping-stone to a higher level of architecture knowledge. After all, not everyone can have the opportunity to be part of a very big scale project. Therefore, the experience of this program is valuable to an architecture student.


However, young architecture students are criticized because of the lack of knowledge about architecture project delivery. The criticism is not only aimed at the student, but also the whole education system. One cannot become a successful architect without a hands-on experience of every aspect of architecture project delivery. Being an armchair strategist is not a feasible way to design or build a successful project. Only with the design and build experience, the student can be fully prepared for the professional career as the design process and the construction is very different than doing a line drawing in a 2D media.


In my opinion, hands-on experience can give me an invaluable insight into the design and build process. It is exactly what young architects are lacking nowadays. The lack of understanding of construction, schedule, communication can lead the whole process off the track. Compares to the ability to handle a bigger scale project, it is more important for young architects to understand the limitation of theoretical design and the necessity of the core skills such as communication and collaboration. The missing connection between architects and constructors are becoming more critical. The term “software architect” has come to be synonymous in same circles with “arrogant jerk who forgot what it’s like to code on a real project”. There is no way to give “command” from the ivory tower of architect instead of from the trenches. The hands-on experience is a good step stone to connect to the real life professional.


There is no right answer to this argument. It is hard to value which way is better or more beneficial to architecture student. Gaining more knowledge on the theoretical side or hands-on side is more like a way to figure out where your passion is. Architectural education is an approach to learn the ability to adapt the fast-paced modern world. After all, the ability to learn is the most important skill to ensure a successful architecture career.

Written by Chenyu Lou



(1) Cramer, James P. "A Proposal to Improve Architectural Education." DesignIntelligence.


(2) "Top 10 Qualities of a Great Architect."


(3) "Lessons of Failure Humans Software Development = Always Interesting." RSS.

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