The ‘crit’, critique, review, whatever you want to call it, it makes architecture school unique. Not too many other university courses require its students to be on display and judged in such a manner. Like many of you, I’ve had good crits, I’ve also had my share of not-so-good, and I’ve also witnessed some really bad crits. Thinking back, the best crits I have had was when my tutor didn’t tell me I was amazing but more so where my project is lacking and what can be done. I’ll be honest, at the time I wasn’t thinking this.

If you haven’t watched ARCHICULTRE, well I suggest you do [here], but one of the students was dead on point with the crit….

One thing that I always have an issue with is like, students get so frustrated if they don’t have a good critique. I think they misinterpret what a good critique is. I mean, by definition it’s a critique. It’s a criticism. So, if you go into a critique and all the critics, all they can do is blow hot air up your ass and tell you how great the projects looks, to me that’s not a good critique……

I have seen some students get visibly upset if the tutor told them their project isn’t perfect, and I’ve heard stories of students crying from similar remarks. I have witnessed some students actively and forcefully defend their project when being criticised. It’s this that frustrates me, when a student doesn’t listen, or doesn’t want to hear anything negative and tries incredibly hard to defend their work.

One thing that many students forget is, it isn’t personal. All the comments tutors or reviewers make about your project isn’t personal, they are merely commenting on your project. You may interpret it as personal, or an attack on your skills, but remember most architects don’t hit their peak or stride until they are 50+ years old! For a 20-year-old to act like they know everything about architecture and design, not willing to listen to those with more experience, is rather worrying.

At my school, which may be due to the culture, you rarely see students critiquing other students. Last year I was in the studio a lot (probably way too much, but that’s another post) and very rarely did a classmate come over and we would discuss my project. Quite often I would have to ask, and even then I could sense they were holding back any negative comments. However whenever I would see how someone is doing with their project, I wouldn’t exactly be throwing out the criticism either, in respect for their feelings.

We had a group studio project, effectively 5 strangers were thrown together and asked to design a live-work building in the desert. Five architecture students, five different ideas, five people who thought their idea was better. What occurred was during some meetings everyone was quiet when someone presented an idea, which usually meant they thought the idea was bad. After several minutes of people (including me) pretending to absorb and think, once one person gave their true thoughts, the floodgates were effectively open. We were effectively “afraid” of hurting their feelings, which shouldn’t be the mindset when ask to critique.

What’s the best way to give criticism? Simply saying “Oh I don’t like this” is a horrible critique, you didn’t critique anything, you just stated you disliked it. WHAT don’t you like, WHY don’t you like it, and HOW can they improve it are the key ingredients to giving a critique.

Quite often I also find critiquing myself is a powerful tool in the design process. You may not have access to anyone who can give you a quick critique, so being able to effectively critique your own work is important. This is where you need to drop any-and-all notion and idea that you are some amazing designer and your ideas are perfect, and look at your project from an outsiders point of view. Look at your scheme, what is good about, what is bad about it, why don’t you like it and what are some other options.

Final reviews were last week here at Deakin, and I’m sure many schools around Australia are around final-week time. My best advice is to absorb any negative criticism and don’t react in the moment. Make notes of what the reviewers said about your project, and the next day (or when applicable) when you are rested and less-stressed, go over the notes and have a look at your project and then you may see what they were meaning. Of course when you are tired from slack of sleep, consumed copious amounts of caffeine and stressed you’re going to misinterpret what they said.