23 Aug 2012
Today’s post is brought to you by Ulysses Valiente, an author and recent graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Architectural Science from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. He maintains the blog “The Underdog Architecture Student’s Blog“ which is one of the architectural blog sites that I keep in my RSS feed. He wrote this article on his site the other day that caught my attention and with school starting soon and a fresh batch of architecture students about to be indoctrinated into studio life, I thought re-posting it here would be a good thing, possibly even an important thing.
September is almost here! A new batch of students will be entering architecture school again. On a serious issue, I wanted to write this article now, to shine a little awareness of mental illness to those beginning architecture school.
Mental Illness & Architecture School
For some students, college will be the time when some might struggle to cope with the stresses associated with college life. Many do not realize that at the age of 18-24, that the college years, is when mental health as well as learning disability issues begin to show up in people more so than any stage in life.
Architecture school has another layer of stress and rigor placed upon its students – we are in the studio, perhaps for a day or three, our limited time makes it more difficult to uphold a healthy lifestyle and maintain our personal relationships with those outside of architecture. We pull a heck of a lot of all-nighters, might not eat right, and not getting enough sleep – all which can trigger or worsen symptoms associated with mental health. With the highly competitive environment that architecture school has some students feel isolated and lonely.
If you’re suffering: Get Help.
The best advice I can give students that struggle or find themselves in a life crisis in the middle of architecture school is to seek professional help right away, and confidentially. Seek out the professional counselling services your college provides – part of your tuition in university is actually for ancillary services. Get yourself checked. there is no shame in that. You might be able to know if or when you have a personal crisis – your work is slipping up, you’re falling behind, you might not be happy as you used to be, your friends or classmates around you might notice if you`re not at your best.
I know first hand that the architecture school culture can easily mask off signs of mental illness for actual students that have a mental illness. I went through counselling when I felt that I could not cope with the workload normally like other students, and I had to drop courses and fail studio to realize that I needed to learn the right strategies in coping with stress.
“I’m not gonna get this done!” “I’m gonna fail” “I’m gonna suck” - We all say it, and for some of us it works and we move on, and we feel that our pessimism and worry fuels us to succeed. What happens when these words become a self-fulfilled prophecy? The problem is when those students that actually worry non-stop with deeper problems may reinforce it to them as the norm and can hit their esteem, self-worth, and confidence – impacting their mental health.
As a leader in one of the architecture student groups in my school, I met students that struggled and some even opened up to me. I know that the architecture studio culture seems unhelpful and not accommodating to students with mental health issues. There is a stigma going to get help and accommodation in a life crisis. I’ve heard students talk against students who didn’t hand in their assignment on time or did not present their studio. I’ve seen professors unsympathetic to those students, and a little more biased against them. Which is why I suggest to seek out help in confidence/privately, because unfortunately our studio culture and our professors are not accustomed to this and are not welcoming to these issues.
Architecture School: Rigid & Conservative
The culture of Architecture school is very conservative and insular culture. Author Thomas Fisher(1991) points out three aspects in his editorial Patterns of Exploitation*; first, architecture is entwined in a macho cut-throat toughen up approach; secondly, a fraternal aspect of our profession and education that likens the workload pressures to hazing; lastly, how we glorify and seek to personalize ideals of the self-suffering artist.
It is a shame that architecture schools are still stuck in an old school mentality that favours the survival of the fittest and takes the cut throat approach to any student that shows a trace of weakness. The problem is when we lose students who are legitimately dedicated, but were overworked and stressed out to the capacity and forcing them to stop. I personally believe that they still have a chance, and that architecture is a life learning experience – they’ll learn how to be tough and proficient eventually, maybe as clearly defined by a 4-year or 5-year educational track. Losing students because they are unable to keep up or fall behind due to personal circumstances means another voice or perspective lost in our schools and our profession. It reduces the plurality of insights, the limitless opportunities and potential for our field to progress.
Mental health awareness is starting to be portrayed in the media, and this is from years of getting the facts straight. Architecture, as a field, has always looked back and with new knowledge evolved and iterated itself after being informed. The question lies, how does architectural education see itself in teaching our generation of Millenials with different circumstances and needs than before? I think that architectural education needs to reflect and modify itself on what works and what does not – what is effective and what is not in order to maintain relevancy in this day and age.
What architecture students like us can do.
The right studio culture is needed in an architecture program. If professors have a hard time finding ways to lighten the load while effectively teaching and expecting the level of work at the same time, we as students can act as support systems in architecture studio. Yes, students must learn how to manage their time but if we are there for each other and willing to help and learn from each other (I hate to sound cheesy) studio can be more enjoyable and actually encouraging for all to succeed. I’ve seen architecture years that were competitive where studio sections became fortresses for clicks and I have seen years that have been really open to each other. Despite the competitiveness of architecture school I believe that sportsmanship in the realm of studio is of greater value and integrity.
For More Information:
If you know a friend that is suffering with a mental illness or you are:
http://www.halfofus.com/ (US website) I just discovered this link and it actually tackles these issues and informs a lot of students. Also provides some useful help for students to figure out how to PROPERLY help a friend out in a time of need including what NOT to do.
http://www.camh.ca (Canadian Website) also provides resources for help.
This show in Canada, The Agenda, actually sheds light on the growing rate of anxiety among University students and a growing concern for anxiety disorders. Also check out their blog entry that discusses the episode and provides statistics.
Fisher, Thomas. “Patterns of Exploitation” Progressive Architecture May 1991:9. General Reference Center GOLD, Web Aug 2012.
If you would like to contact Ulysses directly, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org