Community, Events, Mentoring, Students

If you’re a student diving into a fresh new school year, you will soon find that some things just seem to go hand-in-hand with architecture school. Like all-nighters, coffee, attempts to fit the word ‘undulation’ into reviews – and a general lack of interest in participating in the professional architecture world that exists outside of studio. That lack of participation is semi-understandable. After all, architecture school is difficult, demanding, and super time-consuming. But here’s the thing – the time spent in school and working on projects is only a small portion of your overall training as an architect, and ignoring non-school professional events is absolutely detrimental to your education, as well as your life and career after graduation. Here are 5 reasons why you need to be going to activities outside of school:


1 | You love what you do

You do love architecture…don’t you? You’re expending an incredible amount of resources in terms of time, money and health, in pursuit of getting your architecture degree. The theory, then, is that you at least kind of enjoy what you’re doing. (If you’re not, then please stop and reassess your life goals. Life is too short to spend doing anything other than what you truly enjoy.) So if you really are passionate about what you’re doing, why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of events that expose you to more of it? These events offer differing points of view, new concepts, and new techniques that can invigorate you and inspire you! This brings me to my next point:


2 | You love what other people do

At least, you should. If you haven’t picked up on this yet, an incredible amount of knowledge and skill is gained by studying and learning from things that other people have done. This can come from flipping through a book of Aalto’s work to picking up a copy of Architectural Record, or it can come from simply going to a lecture. Honestly, books and magazines are good, but going to a lecture and hearing new ideas from the designers who created them – their intentions, their struggles, what they thought, and what they felt as they designed – is an incredible opportunity that is astonishingly valuable. It’s inspiring, and I can promise you that the ideas you hear will stick with you. You may not realize it at first, or it may be subconscious and you may not realize it for months or years, if ever. But you are always picking up on ideas and storing them in your mind, where they are ready and waiting to come to the surface when needed. Every lecture, every site visit, and every film screening has the ability to help you grow as a designer a little bit more every time. And what if something hits home immediately and gives you the instant gratification of a major breakthrough? What a sweet feeling that is!


3 | It’s not about getting a job

I get it. You’re going to a new place with a bunch of professionals and you don’t want to be awkward or come off looking like a moron. Totally understandable. But you’re in school. Believe it or not, you have much to learn and professionals know and understand that. You don’t have to impress anyone – in fact, you don’t even have to talk to anyone if you don’t want to! It helps if you do, of course, but there’s nothing wrong with going to an event just for the sake of personally enjoying what you’re going to! I don’t believe in the word ‘networking,’ because it’s a word that makes people immediately anxious, uncomfortable, and act differently than they would if they were out with, say, a group of close friends, instead. Don’t think of these things as ‘networking’ events – just relax. You’re not out to get a job, you’re out to have fun and be a part of something that is educational, informative, and will make you a better designer.


4 | It can help you get a job!

I promise #3 was totally true, but if you are looking for a job, going to professional events and lectures, and taking part in committees and volunteer activities will hands down help you meet people and give you a leg up on finding a firm that’s right for you. I was once told that if you go to social events or participate in committees, as long as you show your face and don’t do anything too stupid, people will eventually start recognizing you. And they may not know who you are or what you do, but they know that you’re involved, and they think, “well, this kid can’t be too bad.” What happens when you actually get the chance to talk to them, then? Better yet, what happens when you get to an interview, and the person interviewing you recognizes you from an event you mutually attended? Forget the resume, they already know your character and you’ve done yourself a huge solid in favorably standing out for them. After all, you’ve already made that crucial positive first impression.


5 | It’s cheap (or free)!

Many lectures and film screenings are free for the public already, and volunteering is obviously going to be free, as well. If there are things you want to go to that do charge a fee, however, most organizations will gladly offer a reduced student rate either advertised or upon request. Associate memberships to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and student memberships to groups like the Construction Specifications Institute, for example, are deeply discounted as compared to the standard professional rate. Membership to campus groups such as the American Institute of Architecture Students is always a great value, as well. On top of the reduced rates, membership will often net you free admittance to regular meetings (meals sometimes included!,) reduced rates on special events, free subscriptions to magazines published by the organizations, and, most importantly, will get you on the organization mailing lists to stay up-to-date on events and activities happening nearby. These benefits all apply to standard memberships as well, but why not take advantage of the same benefits at a reduced rate while you’re a student?


Look, you’re in school and you’re getting an education and you should obviously do your best in that. But sometime in the very near future, you’re going to graduate, your school community is going to go their separate ways, and you’re going to be a part of the professional community. That’s a big transition if you’re not ready for it, so one of the biggest favors you can do for yourself right now is becoming a part of the professional community as soon as you can. Along the way, you’re going to learn incredible things, keep yourself sharp, and meet a wealth of lasting new friends and colleagues with whom you’ll share common interests in the profession, the people, the culture, and the community for the rest of your career. That seems like a pretty worthwhile break from studio to me.


If you’re interested in finding local architecture and design events, get started by connecting with local groups such as your campus American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) chapter and by keeping an eye out for school-sponsored lectures or events taking place on campus. Also check in for upcoming events taking place through your local chapters of groups such as the American Institute of Architects (AIA,) the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI,) National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA,) or Architects Without Borders (AWB.) Don’t forget to ask your peers, mentors, colleagues and professors for information or advice on getting involved, as well!

Image: Timothy Niou Photography