Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Is Maths A level necessary for architecture?
A. Some universities will strongly recommend maths, but most universities like to see a range of subjects - a 'technical' subject (usually maths or physics), and humanity (geography or history) and an 'art' (art or graphical design). The 'best' combination is usually a blend between the arts/humanities, and the sciences.
Q. What should I read before starting university?
A. It's likely your university will send you a book-list. More often than not, they recommend books which are a thousand pages long and don't have many pictures - you can buy them, but not many students ever manage to read the whole thing!
There are quite a lot of architecture journals which are like magazines that cover the latest news in the architecture world. Your university's architecture library should subscribe to these, although you can take out your own student subscription (which costs much less than it does normally!). The Architect's Journal, Blueprint, Detail and Architectural Review are all good reading material. The likes of ArchDaily and Dezeen also make for some interesting reading, and these are free to access, so could be worth investigating pre-university.
Q. That's all well and dandy, but I want real books! Recommendations?`
A. Hehe.. okay! I have a list of books I recommend on Amazon - they're vibrant rather than full of dreary text, and are bursting with inspiration and ideas - Amazon Book List.
They're all fantastic books, and I have little doubt that over the course of your studies, you'll come across most, if not all of them.
Q. Help! The university I'm applying wants to see a portfolio! What do I put in there?
A. The university you applied to will generally specify what they're looking for in the portfolio, and it's usually best to stick to that. Put a lot of thought into the work though - remember that this is to show your creative and drawing skills. On the whole, the university just wants to see that you can work creatively and think critically - so play to your strengths in terms of content! They'll want to see that you can draw, and that you have the ability to communicate visually. Also remember to try and present your work professionally.
Jrhartley's portfolio is an excellent example that you can use for ideas.
Q. Is work experience in architecture firms necessary?
A. No, although a keen interest in architecture is very necessary! Obviously work experience demonstrates interest in the field, but if you also demonstrate passion for the subject, this will suffice just as much.
Q. Is it all essays in Architecture, or is it all arty and models?
A. It depends where you are. Some universities have modules on architectural theory which will require essays, and it's likely there will be a final year dissertation or research report. However, many universities encourage your creativity and expression of ideas through art and model making. An important aspect of architecture is being able to express yourself visually.
Q. Are architects well paid?
A. Depends how good you are! :p Realistically, for a course which requires at least 6 years of studying and experience, Architecture isn't well paid in comparison to courses of a similar ilk such as medicine or law. However, if you do turn out to be a good designer, it's not uncommon to get good salaries with experience. A starting graduate salary is typically £22,000 outside London.
Choosing a university
Q University X is higher than University Y in the league tables? Where should I go?
A. University league tables are nigh on useless for architecture, and very biased. The best way is to go to the Open Days and see the universities for yourself - get a feel for the city, and the building you'll be working it. A lot of universities invest in purpose built architecture buildings so you may find you like the way the building you study in has been built. Think about things like facilities, course content and studio spaces. On the whole, different architecture schools have very different focuses, so it very much depends what you're looking for in an architecture course :)
What to bring when you start your course
This is a list was written by a current architecture student at the end of their first year.
Things you will need
A good laptop.
For final projects youre going to want to do a lot of multitasking on your laptop, with programmes like AutoCad and Photoshop running. I have got a HP Pavilion ENVY 1Tb hard drive 8GB RAM, i7 Processor with NVIDA GEFORCE graphics card. -it has got to stay up to date for at least 4 years DO NOT GET A MAC. Yes theyre pretty and you may well be a Jobs loyalist; but the main programmes like AutoCad and Revit are designed for PC. If you get a mac you will need to get a windows converter for £80 odd pounds which is extremely slow and frankly a ball ache. Just dont do it. There are lots of other lovely laptops out there.
Student pack of promarkers
Even if youre not the best of artists they make drawings look 1000% times better. I have Windsor and Newton because they were the cheaper ones on amazon
Mark out all of your deadlines asap. keep an eye on them as they creep up on you fast. first year is an absolute blur. 9 times out of 10 youre going to get a massive one in freshers at some point, but if not you can get one pretty inexpensively from amazon (free student amazon prime is your friend, but make sure you state straight away you dont want to pay the £80 when the 6 month trial runs out).
Ive decided to phrase it this way because this is your one mechanical pencil that will last you all the way through architecture school and beyond. Choose a hardness and thickness you get on with. My preference is 0.8mm 2B. Theyre only about £5 and £1 for lead or something, again, go through amazon.
Also get a nice set of pencils with varying hardness'. the harder pencils are really good for soft outlines and the softer ones are good for adding texture.
Black pens of varying thicknesses
Get a pack of them. They're usually put in packs from 0.1 - 1mm in thickness. then get a thicker felt tip pen for outlines on section cuts of buildings (you will be doing a load of these). You do not need the expensive rotoring pen sets the uni sell. Just get the cheap throw away ones; you'll be fine. These will be used for elevations. a black promarker is really good for rendering the wall/floor thickness'.
Try to get a subscription as an early Christmas present or something. just get the most mainstream ones going like the architecture review. Lots of pictures and food for thought. Its always good to have some for inspiration when you've got a creativity block. If you cant get the subscription as they can be pricey just get a couple on the off and give 'em a read.
A copy of Architects pocket book
This will have a lot of the rules of thumbs and information that keep the guess work to a minimum, e.g. stair heights widths and treads (depths). it is also good for any construction technology work you will have to do. It does not cover everything but it does help fill in a lot of blanks - see in books-
A large adjustable set square
Keeps all your angled parallel lines parallel. Great tool
Youre going to want earphones instead of headphones because you can just shove in one enabling you to listen to your tunes yet stay approachable. which you'll be wanting to do in first year. studio goblins are the best friends you can make on the course. they have a good work culture you are going to want to adopt.
University end of year books
These can be picked up for free from uni visits. accumulate as many as possible as these will help with the graphics-ey part of the course. the actual final pieces and presentation techniques. there are also lots of good ideas from people in the same situation as yourself. well worthy of some space on the accommodation book shelf.
This is an absolute god send when drawing straight onto your A1 sheets in the studio. also everyone loves the guy with masking tape, hes like the guy that always has gum in every other social situation. - They're good for models too - You can about 5 rolls from Poundland.
A couple of sketchbooks
Theyre good to have right from the start of a project. fill them with bubble diagrams and initial rough sketches. seminar leaders love all that ****. Also they're marked along side the portfolio hand in. well... ours was...?
A couple of plain A4 pads with nice paper
Use this as an idea book. a problem with first year is that everyone gets excited by ideas, and tries to pump their project with all the ideas that come into their head. just chill and save them for the next project. This one company I cant think of did this, showed this Chinese bank their idea book. Turns out one of their designs was in the shape of the Chinese 'word' for happy or something like that... anyway, keep one. Wish i did this year. Will definitely be doing this next year
- update *
Building designed by BIG architects. Its called 'The peoples building'. Located in Shanghai, Ren. Its a Hieroglyph for the word 'people'. (not 100% sure if its actually been made yet/ is going to be made.) http://jdsa.eu/ren/
Get the one with 3 spokes. this is a necessity and makes things a lot less complicated when you stop overthinking measurements.
Couple of lined paper pads
Get one for each subject. dont have loose sheets knocking about, they literally always get lost even if you do file them perfectly in chronological order. You will more than likely being using pen and paper for lectures. No one likes the guy loudly tapping away on their laptop whilst everyone else is slaving away trying to scribble down every word the lecturer says.
These are great for making models and they wont deform your scale ruler making it all bumpy when you accidentally cut away at it.
A comfy craft knife is an absolute god send. I have an Xacto, because they have a good brand name and it was like £3 for 40 replacement blades. I would suggest getting a stanley blade as well because they produce much better straight lines than smaller craft knifes.
You'll get about a million during freshers week but get one or two that are comfy for writing a vast amounts with. Some days you could have back to back to back lectures, and no one wants a sore hand 30 mins deep into lecture one.
Get a decent one that will last you a couple years, try to avoid the ones from poundland, as you dont want it breaking when youre deep in the model making zone.
Youre going to want to be the comfiest you can be when youre blitzing your all-nighter. I have one and havent had any back or neck problems...?
Obvious but you're not going to want to do any cad without one. get one that fits your hand nicely. look for reviews on amazon like, it was too small if you have smaller hand and vice versa (obvious again but y'know'. Again you're going to want to be as comfy as possible cooped up in your flat for 48 hours without sun or human contact.
A3 drawing board
Good for drawing elevations etc, handy and not too expensive. I wouldnt splash out on this as much.
A2 cutting board
Good to have if you bring/start your model at home.
Really good for adding levels and adjustments to your design without having to constantly redraw the floorplan/site. useful for seminars as its a really good way of showing how the components of your design interact with each other when the floor plans are lines up. Buy in rolls from amazon, this is so much cheaper.
3 in 1 printer
Really good to have come hand in as you can print off screen shots of your sketchup model (its quick relatively precise and you can import a load of good stuff from the warehouse) in which to trace over. Tracing paper scans well if you back it with white paper.
These are books I have purchased during the year, but having them at the start of the year would have been really helpful.
Architectural drawing - David Dernie
This book is really good for ideas on presentation. It takes pages that established firms such as Zaha Hadid Architects have released on presenting ideas. It also has sections with a couple of basic program guides e.g. photoshop and 3DS max. It covers everything from sketching to collage. Get it. It'll give you some much needed direction at the start of the year.
Architectural Pocket Book - Charlotte Baden Powell
ESSENTIAL! This book is clearly laid out, easy to use and a really good level of depth. This book really helped me out in between seminars for standard object measurements and general tips/tricks of the trade. Also has loads of drawings and symbol guides to use as references for tasks such as technical drawings.
A book by/based on an architect you like that have the same values and interests as you
I chose: Eco Skyscrapers (Volume 2) - Ken Yeang
This one particularly was very good because it was a solid 90% pictures and diagrams which are good for inspiration when you're in a bit of a creative rut. Its a good idea to get as many as possible of these as although you can quickly search up what you're looking for on pinterest or whatever, its good to take some time away from screens to give yourself a 'smart break'; where you're still getting a break, but you're using time efficiently.
Good things to have
Less Essential, but still very helpful.
Model trees and grass
these are good to have because it means you can get straight to model making without much faffing. grass is good to have. Id opt away from the model train grass as lots of my tutors hate it, but that could just be them. go for a 1:100 scale tree set, theyre relatively expensive for what they are but you can always just blue tack them down and reuse them.
generally useful, try and get a non marking one so you can stick drawings, photos, posters on your wall. Show off the pieces youre proud of! Itll be a constant reminder of what you can achieve.
Wadge of A3 paper
Good to have for mind maps etc. I brought 250 sheets for £8 off amazon. Try to avoid high quality print paper. it doesnt feel as nice when youre skeching and the shading comes out a bit off...?
Good for liking pages such as arch daily which post a lot of useful ****. Also for joining the university architecture page for socials and course updates. I know most people have it but if you dont its a really useful tool.
A medium sized computer monitor and HDMI cable
The primary use for this is to have the tutorials playing on the monitor, and you to be following it on the laptop/computer. Despite the fact the guy that brings a 32inch TV to uni is an absolute flat legend, you may be at this a long time and do not need your retinas cremated after the first video. You will be relatively close to the screen as uni accommodation do offer desks, but theyre not often expansive. -i also like to put on grand designs whilst i work... its amusing enough to keep my interest peaked whilst not being too amusing that i outright forget about work and watch Kevin McCloud shout at a couple of tunnel visioned optimists... but that's just me.
Weird one but as revision/work food goes; I rate these the highest. the reason being is that de-shelling these beauties give you a lot of thinking time to read what youve written, take a step back and assess what work you've done. they are salty but just compensate with a pint of water. Working with juice and fizzy drinks is not ideal for spillages nor sugar highs/lows.
Its a free computer program you download that changes the colour output of the screen depending on the time of day/night. It puts a warmer tone on the screen at night to avoid eye stress and help you sleep better when/if you do decide to sleep.
Join a sports team or society
Architecture has very few contact hours due to all the independent work we are expected to do. Because of this you may find getting started at uni may take a bit longer. JOIN A TEAM! JOIN A SOCIETY! It wont hurt, you don't have to go back after the first one if it was scary. There are socials most weeks in the first term and you meet a load of great new people. I did not and it is one of my biggest regrets. This is easily the most common regret among students: Not getting stuck in earlier.
Get into these. They're great. This is another great use for the dual monitor set up as they're very interesting, reasonably short and you may even learn something...?
Life as Architecture Student
1. You will need to have good time management skills. Sometimes you'll end up pulling all-nighters or losing a weekend as deadlines draw near BUT you can allay these to some extent by treating your degree like a 9-5 job. 100 hour weeks are not uncommon, even in first year!
2. You'll probably moan constantly about your degree despite having no intention to actually drop it.
3. Learn to recycle modeling materials - then you can afford to feed yourself.
4. You may find that non-architects don't understand your workload.
5. Be prepared to take the initiative.
6. Travelling is important for an architecture student - the ideal excuse for a holiday abroad!
7. Part-time work is probably best saved for the summer if you intend to do really well in your studies. Budgeting is a must. Fortunately, alcohol is cheap.
8. Power-napping for 15 minutes every 45 minutes for the 3 weeks leading up to a crit or deadline will not, contrary to popular belief, work. You may end up in a coma.
9. Don't date an architect, unless you are insane.
10. Enjoy your work! If you plan to become an architect, your projects as a student are more flexible due to the absence of fussy clients and tight budgets (but yes, you will have to take harsh criticism from your tutors).
Graduate Destination and Careers Prospects
To be a Chartered and recognised UK qualified Architect, the following needs to be accomplished: RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) - where 3 parts need to be completed alongside 2 years of professional experience.
This can be done by: A 3 year undergraduate degree that ensures a part 1 RIBA exemption followed by a year out (placement year) in a professional environment A 2 year post-graduate degree (usually 2 years) - Part 2 RIBA followed by another compulsory placement year in a professional environment Professional part 3 examination.
The degrees are offered as either sandwich, full-time, part-time. Many people follow this 7 year scheme - but some tend to have a 2 year or even 3 year placement before they complete their RIBA.
Any additional information can be viewed at the RIBA website.