It’s All Relative

Architecture School, Studio

During my studies I have became acquainted with fellow architecture students across all year levels, especially when I was Deakin’s SONA representative (because, well, that was kind of my role). I started my journey as a 22-year old doing the Advanced Diploma of Building Design (Architectural) with no real formal knowledge of architecture or design. I mean yes my father was a bricklayer but I think realistically speaking it didn’t help prepare me for study. Now as someone who is in their Master of Architecture, a question I have been asked a couple times from those in the undergraduate course is “How much harder is Masters?” And the first time I was asked I had to think pretty hard to come up with an answer, now it’s much easier.

If you’re in your first or second year of study in the undergraduate, Masters is some kind of unknown beast where you have no idea how to slay it. It seems rather daunting, almost scary to think about tackling. You attend the end-of-year exhibitions and marvel at the 5th year’s renders and sections, completely dumbfounded on how they did it. Flipping through their journal/portfolio and you have a slight panic attacking not knowing how you could produce the same level, and amount, of work.

When I was asked “How much harder is Masters?” I took a few good seconds to think about it, trying to compare it to my first year in university, which was technically the second-year of the program. I tried to think about comparing the workload, the studio briefs and my ability to address it, my own successes and failures and just the overall difficulty of the two years. What I discovered was Masters is no-more harder than my first year in university, and it’s all got to do with relativity.

Relax, this isn’t physics nor will I explain Bill Nye’s Theory of Relativity, but more so relative versus absolute. When I was in my ‘personal trainer‘ mode this was always discussed when talking about the amount of weight lifted. Let me explain with examples, mainly for anyone who may not know what I’m getting at. What is more impressive, a 60kg benchpress or a 100kg benchpress? The 100kg benchpress, right? In absolute terms, than yes, the 100kg is way more impressive. However, what if the person who benched 60kg weighed 50kg themselves, and the person who benched 100kg weighed 80kg? The 60kg benchpress was 1.2x the person’s bodyweight, the 100kg benchpress was 0.8x their bodyweight, relative speaking which is more impressive? I hope you’d think the 60kg?

How does this relate to Masters? As you progress through the undergraduate and through Masters the work does get harder, the projects more complex and the expectations are higher in terms of your production. However, as you progress through the course/s your knowledge increases, your problem-solving skills increase and your skill with software improves. I think back to a project in my first year, we had to design a work-live building in the desert, at the time it was a challenging project. Was my latest project, a cultural/public building at Fed Square East, more difficult? I wouldn’t say more difficult, it was more challenging in some ways but it wasn’t harder. It was a very complex brief, tricky site and challenging process but over the last few years I have improved on my knowledge and skills. If I was given this exact same project, with the same level of expectation, as a first year then yeah I could not even imagine how I would handle it. Much the same if I was given the same project from my first year, with the same expectations, it would be much easier to do, or I would produce a much better design.

Another way to explain this is through the Studio CDE system at my university, Melbourne School of Design. To quickly explain, your very first studio in the program is regarded as Studio C, your second is Studio D, then Studio E, then your final studio is Thesis. Straightforward yeah? Our studios are set-up in a ballot, so there may be 20-something studios, at the start of semester you put down your preference and then you’re assigned to a studio. This studio may have between 12-20 students, and they are mixed with Studio C, D and E students, My latest studio had probably 5-6 Studio C’s, a couple Studio E’s and the rest (like me) were Studio D’s. We all do the same brief and we have the same deliverables but the major difference is expectations. A Studio C student isn’t expected to produce the same level of work as a Studio E, and a Studio D project is looked at more closely than a Studio C. Basically Studio E get’s graded the harshest, Studio D is graded harshly and Studio C does have some harsh but not as much as D or E. It’s because of this idea that as you progress through the course your skills and knowledge should be improving, so a Studio E project should (theoretically) have better renders, more resolved plans and sections than a Studio C because they have had a whole-year more of experience.

If you’re in third year and planning on going into Masters straight away let me assure you of something. Yes it is Masters and at the Melbourne School of Design there is a certain level of expectation, but it isn’t a huge spike. There is a jump but it’s quite manageable, providing you got through undergrad relativity unscathed, then Master’s won’t be such a drastic leap. I didn’t finish my undergrad as a top-tier student, my average grade for the whole course was 67, with a few failed classes. I managed to get accepted to the MSD and have found that the leap from undergrad to postgrad has been manageable. What I’m trying to say is, yes it is harder, but you are not the same student from first/second/third/fourth year.

The moral of this post, stress less. As a first or second year student, don’t stress about Masters, you’ll be fine. Once the time comes for you to do your Masters you’ll have more experience, knowledge, skills and ideas under your belt, it’s not like you’re going to be dumped at the deep end and told to swim for the very first time. One way to look at it, think of these studios as practice for Masters, then think of Masters as practice for your Thesis project, and then think of Thesis as practice for the real-world. Just keep chipping along, keep practicing and you will improve and it will become easier.

I want to hear your thoughts, those who are doing or have completed Masters, did you find it “harder” compared to your first or second year? Would love to do a follow up post with some of your responses. Leave your response in the comments below and share with your friends

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4 thoughts on “It’s All Relative”

  1. Thisuni says:

    I found masters alot easier than my bachelor. Mostly becasue I had learned to manage my time and let go of a project quicker when it wasn’t any good. Its just because I just felt like I knew better.


  2. I found that a year in the workplace between undergrad and masters was extremely beneficial. Learning new software, time management and of course, how things are done in the real world, all made masters that much more manageable.


  3. Hey mate, great read, you answered a lot of questions I didn’t know I wanted to ask. I’m just about to finish my [Undergraduate] degree in Architecture at Melbourne. I would love to know what your thoughts are on whether students will benefit from going straight into a Masters degree, or taking sometime away from education to gain work experience etc. ~ Clinton.


    • thatARCHIstudent says:

      Hey Clinton,

      My personal experience is I didn’t take a ‘between year’ as I just want to complete my education and be done with it haha. However speaking to a couple architects and other students, they believe working a year before Masters is definitely worth it. You get great experience which you can take into your degree, connections and some money. It’s definitely something I recommend if you’re considering it.


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