Architecture Student Work Desks

March 15, 2012 — 31 Comments

Rice Architecture studio photo montage from Chris Duffel

Architecture studios in college have changed a lot over the last two decades – for the most part, computers and mouse pads have replaced Mayline parallel bars, Borco table covers and drafting eraser scumbags. A while back I asked practicing architects to send me a photo of their work environment (here) and the response was really fascinating. Thinking that it would be equally as interesting to see the work environment of architecture students, I sent out the same request. While the response was not as overwhelming (I suppose a considerably higher number of practicing architects read this blog than architecture students), a few brave souls sent in some photos for us to see.

I suppose I didn’t know what to expect other than I thought the images would closely resemble what my college studio looked liked – junky but in an awesome sort of way. Once you got past 1st year, the number of people in one of my design studio’s was around twelve people and we generally had a lot of space to divvy up between us. I seem to recall that each person could plan on having 2 large drafting tables and enough 4′ x 8′ homosote covered panels to create your own biosphere. People tended to populate their new workspace with couches, bookshelves, cutting tables – even refrigerators … it was kick ass.

I kinda recognize some of that in these new studios but there is definitely a different vibe being thrown down these days. A majority of the images I received were of students work spaces in their apartment because they said they could get more work done at home then in the chaotic environment that was studio. What?!? Work at home?? You were a pariah if you did that back in the day (twenty years ago).

I had a jambox “re-purposed” from my space once when I was in 2nd year and I remember being particularly irritated about it because I had just made a brand new mix tape that I had left in the cassette player (does anyone even remember cassette tapes?). I found the jambox two years later in one of the other architecture school buildings, sitting there on a table as if that’s where I had left it two years prior…

… no mix tape.

I look at these pictures and I think my jambox is the last thing that would get “repurposed” from one of these studios.



Chris Duffel Rice University

Photo: Chris Duffel



Kyle Heying from OKState

Photo: Kyle Heying



Bilal Muhammad student desk Comsats Institute of Information Technology Islamabad Pakistan

Photo: Bilal Muhammad



Robert Pivovarnick student desk

Photo: Robert Pivovarnick



Aaron Hollander desk

Photo: Aaron Hollander



Thom Church home office in Scotland

Photo: Thom Church



Rafael Ian Pinoy Philippine architecture student

Photo: Rafael Ian Pinoy



Mike Gorrell Univ of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

Photo: Mike Gorrell



Nicholas Dalziell student home desk

Photo: Nicholas Dalziell



Lubna Chaudry from University of Maryland

Photo: Lubna Chaudry



I still see homosote, blue insulation board, cutting mats and coffee mugs … but I don’t see my youth in there. I am feeling old at 43 but I’m nostalgic for the time I spent in these types of highly charged environments. One of the chief knocks I hear about architecture studio is how much work they demand, that you have no social life, all the things you have to give up in order to be in studio. Twenty years in my rearview mirror, I miss it – I had fun despite the stress and time requirements, maybe even because of them.

So, did you see what you thought you would see? While a few of the pictures I included here look like an art supply store exploded on the table, far more of the images I received were of relatively clean desks with Mac computers sitting on them, desktop printers and obviously internet access. I am not trying to infer that this is a bad thing, just an indication of how things are evolving. I don’t ever want to be labeled with “good ol’ day” syndrome so I was entering into this exercise with an open mind. There were still the familiar sights of different types of glue, Starbucks, headphones, etc. but clearly things have evolved.




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  • Tired student

    Gosh, we don’t have our own space at all in studio, it’s just one huge,loud room that you have to make the best of you can and clean up before you leave. Maybe if I had my own space I would spend more time there and less working at home.

    • I would tend to agree with your assumption. We had large dedicated spaces in my studio classes – the last time we had to share work space was freshman year.


  • Tsquare

    What I remember most about Studio was you BETTER use your time wisely… The ones that goofed off, slept, read pocketbooks were the ones that ran out of time and had to scramble at the last minute and beg for help…

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  • IfIusemyrealnameUCLwillkillme

    My Second year architecture studio at the Bartlett is less than 4x4m… for 16 of us, we have to share desks.

  • Silo24

    I’ve spent the better part of 13 years now trying to piece together my architectural education – mostly around years of compulsory work experience – and the worst part is that though we have the obligatory design studio subjects, we have never actually had a designated studio space to work within.
    In the beginning our classrooms had large desks and one or two small wall panels to pin up on, sure, and if you were lucky and brought your tee-square with you there was a spare old piece of board and a chunk of timber to prop it up on, but we were there for the 5 hours per week of contact time and that was it; pack up your kit and move on, the next class is waiting. Whatever studio space/culture/support we desired we had to find ourselves, elsewhere, outside of our full-time jobs and minimum wages (ten years ago we were the ‘lucky’ ones…).
    Nothing has changed (bar the compulsory work requirement in the wake of the GFC), except now the warped, uneven timber warehouse floors are devoid of carpet and we have large tables on wheels that you cannot get the fold-up chairs (also on wheels) anywhere near because of the awkward legs of both modern, whizz-bang ‘furniture systems’. Those measly 5 hours are spent simply trying to defy the natural laws of physics, every muscle in your body tensed in anticipation of spinning and rolling out of control across the room, patiently waiting for your allotted 5 minutes with your tutor…

    • that is crazy – what school are we talking about here?

  • Brian Boatright

    43?!?  Now, I’m feeling old… just hit 50!

  • Alana

    Hi. I am a second year. In first semester first year hand drawing our presentation drawings was compulsory. My (now) friends and I lived in that studio (in terms of time spent not items left- theft was a concern as the room could be accessed by anybody) and I will never forget those times. I work on a computer now- with trace and pen beside me. I work in ‘the lab’ (computer lab in the 24hr architecture building) as often as possible although not all of the time. So do a small amount of my friends- and if there is nobody I know I will just talk to strangers. There is still the shared experience, excitement, intensity, frustration, late nights, sleeplessness+stress induced hysteria and camaraderie that I experienced in first year first semester- just not as often- mostly only around deadlines when everybody craves the feeling of having 90 people intently working around you (90 computers in the lab vs 20 people in studio- it’s a different experience).

  • Thomas Potts

    What I remember the most was the graffiti wall that ran up the core of the studio.  This was covered with memorable quotes from the profs or students, or whomever. Still remember some samples:

    “consistency is the booger-bear of small minds”

    ” I like to think of my way of designing as frontality in the megaron”- Peter Carl
    “Sounds like a disease.”- Graves

  • Dan

    When I first started architecture school back in 2004, we all drew by hand and used old desks without pin-up boards.  This created a lively studio atmosphere, albeit a distracting one.  By the time I graduated in 2008, the CDesk was developed and rolled out (see While I love the storage and pin-up space, it does cut down on the communal aspect of studio.
    I’m now finishing up my graduate studies at Oregon, and only about one-third of students work in studio.  Since most of the products are created on computers, that allows one to work anywhere.  While I love the power of computers, I feel there is way too much designing/creating happening in programs like SketchUp and AutoCAD.  I don’t feel right unless there’s a sketchbook or roll of trace and a dull pencil next to me.

    I’m curious to hear more about studio environments themselves.  We always seem to get stuck in the draftiest (pun intended), darkest corners of campuses.  Attached is a picture of the best studio space I’ve ever had: an old workshop in Italy, with high ceilings and exposed wooden trusses, with operable 10′ high windows on two sides of the room. Sorry for the low quality of the picture.

    • there is certainly a post to be written about the atmosphere of studio – both as they are now and how they used to be. Maybe I’ll find someone to collaborate with and see if I can pull something together.

      Cheers – thanks for sharing

      • Jolanda Morkel

        Hi Bob, I just joined your blog. I found the discussion about studio space then and now, rather interesting. I am an architect and educator in South Africa. I am 43 too 🙂 so your memories of studio are familiar ones… I am currently researching the phenomena of the digital/ online “studio”, and I am asking how the online learning and working environment may enhance the (changing) physical studio environment. In other words, how can “the enemy” (i.e. the computer) become a “partner” by somehow contributing to (re)establish the (physical) community of practice that we knew as students (before computers). I would love to know your views.

  • Jen

    Great post. As a fellow 43-year-old architect, I appreciated the waltz down memory lane (the good old days of studio in the late 80’s/dawn of the 90’s), as much as the insight into the studios of today’s whippersnappers. However, despite the total fucking awesomeness of Revit, Rhino, etc., I still think all architects need to know how to draw FREEHAND (which, coincidentally, is the basis of my as-yet-unwritten world novel, “Never trust an architect who doesn’t draw”. But I digress).

  • Serena Morphew

    Aw I miss the old uni studios too! There was an inventory of weapons (ranging from AK47’s to hand grenades to nunchucks) lovinging hand crafted from cardboard hung proudly on the wall. Just like Amer’s studio it was more of a social place to be, all the students used to go home to do the work on their laptops!

  • Fantastic post, reminds me of my studio days in Malaysia where we eat, sleep and bathe in the studio. Life definitely evolved around there. It was a great period for socialising etc., but I can’t say lots of work could be done there. I mean it all depends on the mood of everyone else in there. There are times when we all decided to play board games or online computer games trying to be studio champion. It was fun though. and yes, those people working at home we literally hated them. Those are the guys that would keep ideas to themselves. They come to studios to check out the competition. LOL..

  • Oye! Do those photos bring back studio memories for me… except for the laptops.  I hated those all nighters but I miss the camaraderie!

  • Khogue

    only if it had been 20 years Bob.  I graduated in 1976 and we did a lot of nights that lasted into the morning.  no computers, but we did have calculators!  Some even did 4 functions.  The last time I dropped by UT to visit the architecture school i could not even get in.  A card key was needed.  I recall that the architecture building was the the only building on campus that never locked the door. 

  • am

    when i started school 6 years ago we use to have the night time studio workseesions that started off with everyone working on ther projects…. as the hours passsed by and the caffiene started to kick in, the studio atmosphere became one that was very unique. this could only be experinced in the under pressure, overtired, over-caffeinated and dirty lifestyle that made up0 studio life.

    now that i am graduating i ve been looking at the “freshys” and i think with some of the modernization that had occured in just the last couple of years has affected that bond the studiomates had i dont feel the we survived the trenches together attitude as much

  • AH

    Wow! I’m glad you got this post done.
    I love that you zoomed in on the banned words list. While not done by me, it was just hanging next to my desk, it was kind of a studio collaboration. We had quite a bunch of stuff like that hanging on the walls.

  • David Garner

    I’m only 7 yeas out of school, but I was the last class that did not require a laptop for studio.  No drawings at any stage of our designs could be computer drawn till after 3rd year.  We only had a few pariahs who dared to work at home.  Our studios looked much more lived in and messier.  Though the last photo does look familiar.  I remember studio like I remember basic training, I am glad I did it and would not trade the experience for any thing, but I would not want to repeat it either.

    • shtrum

      Agreed about the ‘no trade/no repeat’ comment.  A shame that some aspects don’t migrate beyond the college studio, however.  i remember several nights working late on designs or competitions at firms, often being the only one and getting on a first name basis with the cleaning crew.  Then that look of surprise when people found out how late you stayed.  The real difference between a profession and a job.

      There’s a raw honesty and camaraderie in studio that’s probably eerily similar to medical residents and soldiers in combat.  Part of me misses it.  Or put another way, it ain’t a party unless something gets broke.

  • While I do embrace the changes of technology( I’m a “two decade-r” as well), I think the most disturbing thing about current day studios is this work at home concept. I think it does not foster a sense of collaboration that is sorely needed within the future generation of our profession. We have enough issues currently with a lack of collaborative process. The notion of proliferating this through the educational process is not pleasing to me. But my professional desk was never much like my student desk. Even way back then my work desk was a more techno advanced space than my student desk…..

  • Peterln3

    Hi Bob,
    Weeeelll…, I have two additional decades on you and am headed for 62 this year… I got my first computer in 86, my first copy of AutoCAD in 96 (after trying all the others that cost much less) actually I started computer drafting in 92 on MicroStation (ever used that?). In 96 $1400 would buy you AutoCAD II which drew lines, filenames were limited to 8 characters, and as I recall, you were limited to 16 layers, these days that $1400 is equal to 10K and for 10K you can get 2 seats of Revit Suite Upgrades. Also, today I have everything on my laptop; Autocad is now called Building Design Suite (includes MEP, Str, and Arch 3D) as well as stuff I don’t yet know how to use…? I have loved keeping up with technology, but I miss the tactile feel of a pencil and paper, oh sure I use them still, but if you cannot send it over the internet, no client wants it… The only next step as I see it is BDS will plug into your head and design from there… YEA, NO COMMANDS TO LEARN! How about Design-in-your-sleep… I’ll call it “Deinyos”! Later Pal…

    • gfc74

      I graduated in ’74, so not only didn’t we have computers, most of us didn’t have a calculator…can you say slide rule? the land rush at the start of the semester was always for the best spots in the studio and the best drafting tables and lockers, and whatever other stuff we could lay our hands on to make the place our own…few worked at home, only the one married guy, and few few others that had a life…our life was the architecture building, which was open and ablaze with light 24/7… hated to go home for the summer…as I have been in real estate since pretty much leaving school, I don’t know much about the hands on of the technology…but I can tell you, as a client, when an architect won’t sketch in front of me, and tells me he has to go back to the office to get it on the computer I an ready to explode, and more often that not, I will take out a pencil, sketch it out and throw it at them…

  • Sam

    Kids these days… what with their fancy computers and whatnot.  Kidding, actually I loved the photos.  Very cool.  Makes me miss the studio.

  • architectrunnerguy

    Work at home! What’s up with that! We (Va. Tech) usually had a group project or two during the year. And also our professors would drop by at any time day or night to wander through the studio where one might benifit from an impromptu crit.

  • Toya Barnett

    I’m a second year architecture student and my school is very “old school” with their approach. We still do drawings by hand (it’s all about line weights!) and are definitely encouraged to work/live in studio and engage with our peers. The above pics are way too neat!