Grades and Architecture School

I hear it all the time: grades do not matter. Or at least so says the one giving the grades.

I understand this principle at the graduate level and I envy my colleagues in other majors while basically receive A’s consistently–and deservedly so. In graduate school, we are all here because we want to be here and we truly care about the field in which we are studying. Some, like myself, have even worked a little in the field.

So I ask the question (or two questions really): why does not each student receive an A in studio? And why does a C constitute a failure? The latter I have heard is consistent between more than a few architectural graduate schools. Have we upped the ante with grades? It seems yes–a C+ is the new D despite what we have all grown up with in high school and undergraduate careers.

But the former question is one for which I would like some answers. Of course, each teacher is different. But I have noticed several differing practices when it comes to grading the architectural studio. Sometimes the grade is based on the final design. Sometimes it is based on the craftsmanship of the final model and drawings. I feel rarely is it based on how hard a student has worked or struggled over a semester. And what about people with a natural talent for the architectural design studio? Should they get a better grade than students who struggle with drawing or model fabrication? Does success in the architectural studio predict a success in the professional practice of architecture?

In past semesters, I know students who have ventured forth with truly revolutionary designs. The penalty for this is that they spend twice as long building the models and twice as long in conveying their designs through drawings. It would seem they should receive the same grade as one who pursues a simple design, executed well. Call me crazy.

The other element which needs to be discussed is time spent in the studio. I realize people live there and I have even slept there myself. Is this reasonable to expect? A fellow student recently slept on a sheet of MDF–“at least there was no broken Olfa blades,” he told me. Should one get a better grade for doing so? Have we created a culture which castrates our free time and provides a future abusive atmosphere in architectural firms? Are we to blame for our own frustrations within the profession?

But I digress. At times I feel that sometimes grades are comparative. That is, the “best” student will get an A, while simultaneously embodying the ruler against which the rest of the studio is measured. But is this be correct? What if that “best” student designed a simple structure?

So here we are–striving for that A-/B+, frustrated that a straight-up A is unlikely. I have to admit: sometimes I feel I am a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. I’m never going to win!

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