The last couple weeks have been final reviews for many of the studios, with Master Class next week and although I am not undertaking a studio this year I have made sure to watch a couple to see how some friends went. Watching some reviews, I noticed two key ‘events’ that have prompted me to write this post and I hope it’s something many students start to think differently about. In the title I posed the question, who is my biggest critic? The answer, myself. No matter what a tutor, family member, fellow classmate or whoever has said, I am most critical of my work. I believe critiquing your own work, and even yourself, is a very valuable skill providing it is done correctly.

Many students mistake crits, critiques, or criticism, as something negative and undesired. If you were to Google ‘critique’, you get something like this ‘Critique is a method of disciplined, systematic analysis of a written or oral discourse. Although critique is commonly understood as fault finding and negative judgment, it can also involve merit recognition, and in the philosophical tradition it also means a methodical practice of doubt.” Have a read of that, and more importantly, have a think about that. Final review, mid-semester review, weekly crits, these are times for tutors to critique you, to analyse your project.

At the People 2015 conference in Melbourne, Sean Godsell made a comment that, and I’m paraphrasing, “The good architects will see what they did wrong, not what was right” and he would often be his harshest critic. It would be quite easy for people to misinterpret what Mr Godsell said, so this is what I mean the underlying meaning is behind it. I don’t think he meant you pick apart the project to the point you are disgusted and discouraged from it. There isn’t a single project in this entire world that is perfect, if you have been working on your design for the whole semester, and you can’t find areas for improvement or where you went wrong, you don’t know your project well enough. And that is what I believe Mr Godsell meant, if you can recognize the faults in your design (and there will be faults) you will start to learn from them. If you look at a project and think it is perfect, you’re out of your mind.

There are three things that cause an architect (and/or student) to stop designing;
1 | Deadlines
2 | Money
3 | Death
A project or design is never finished, at best you just hit pause because the client needs to start building, or it is no longer financially viable for you to work, or you die. Without being able to perfect a project, how could you not find faults? Finding faults, mistakes, areas for improvements and the like isn’t a sign that you are a bad designer or architect, being able to recognise these imperfections will help elevate your work.

Quite often I find myself critiquing my own work purely because there is no one around to talk to and I’ll admit it can be difficult to do it by yourself. Sometimes you need fresh eyes to look over it, sometimes you’re secretly in love with an idea and you’ll find a way to make it happen which means overlooking other solutions or sometimes you just want a second opinion. I’m not saying getting your friends to critique is bad, but how often are they honest with you? VERY RARELY, and how do I know? Well, I often refrain from saying what I really think as I don’t want to be rude or hurt your feelings. Is that productive or helpful of me? Nope! This is where being self-critical is very important, it allows you to be honest with yourself.

Today I saw a tutor chat to a student after-hours about their project, and I’m guessing the student didn’t have a positive review. The student said he spoke with other tutors, students, etc today and they all seemed to like it, so why didn’t the reviewers? It didn’t help the tutor they were talking to is someone who is very honest, and is an excellent critic. I know this as I had this tutor for a studio and while they are critical, they are very good at analysing your project and saying the positives and negatives without getting personal. Throughout the trimester I have seen this student stop 2-3 students or other tutors each time I was there, and I’m not sure whether they were seeking validation, positive feedback or reassurance or if they were genuinely looking for a proper critique. However, had this student sat down and properly critique their own project, they would have known where they stood.

How do I self-critique? Some students may not know how to critique their own work, or critique in general. What I don’t do is go “Oh this is a s**t idea” and that’s it, why is it a s**t idea? What could be done to make the s**t idea not so s**t? A critique isn’t just stating what’s wrong with the design, remember the definition from above? It’s about analyzing the project in a disciplined, systematic way. Look at your floor plan for the sports hall you’re designing, why are the toilets wrong? Probably because they are on the other side of the courts. What’s wrong with that? You have to cross the courts, or walk around them to go to the toilet or change, not exactly ideal when a team arrives and there are games being played, or if a visitor needs to duck into the toilet. What can you do? Move the toilets to the entry area of the layout. This was a TAFE project, and I did originally have the toilets in a stupid location. However after looking at precedences and analysing the design I determined the toilets were wrong.

Having the ability to see not only what is wrong with your project, but think of solutions through research, sketching and/or testing, shows a real maturity and skill. I’m not gloating and saying I’m mature and skillful, but I can look at my project and identify where I am going wrong, or where I went wrong and provide solutions. Sometimes you don’t see these ‘mistakes’ until after the deadline, which is fine. Quite often I look at my projects a week after submission and critique myself and make a list of where I can improve. You need to get into the habit of continually being critical of your work, NOT continually trashing your work.