Final Reviews Part Deux: A Critic’s Perspective

First year Final Review at Syracus University, my alma matter, 2009

First year Final Review at Syracuse University, my alma mater, 2009

After reading David’s post from this past Monday (in which he articulately summarized the challenges and potentials of the architectural review from a student’s perspective), I thought I might respond with my recent experience and thoughts regarding participating in final reviews from a critic’s perspective… Feel free to share your thoughts from your experiences as well!

A few weeks ago, I sat on a final review for a first-year graduate program at a local architecture school.  Arriving a few minutes early, I found myself in a big room filled with pencil drawings, balsa wood final and study models, Christmas cookies, and eager/exhausted students, professors, and professionals.

Having graduated from architecture school only a few years ago, the final review is an experience that feels both near and far to me; a rite of passage that architects’ own and endure as a necessary means to what is hopefully a professional end. Perhaps this makes me a more sympathetic critic than most, given my visceral memories of late nights spent trying to articulate my design ideas while navigating learning curves associated with software, theory, and the often perplexing comments from that particular day’s meeting with my professor.

In this case, I sat on a review with five carefully-dressed jurors for a class of approximately fifteen students.  Once the concept for the studio was explained, each student was given about 5-10 minutes to present the evolution of their body of work throughout the semester, as well as a final conceptual model, created as a summation of their translations and ideas.  As critics, we were then given about 20 minutes to respond; a window easily filled by six strong voices with different opinions, critiquing styles, and ways of approaching design.

As this was only the students’ first semester, and literally their first final review in their graduate school experience, our conversations touched upon craft, restraint, metaphor, interpretation, and of course, different qualities of space and their related user-experience.

While daily life and work invokes a fair share of questions, participating in architectural reviews reminds me of the rare mode of thinking and learning architects engage in during their formal education:

How many times a day are you challenged by questions and “problems” that are self-generated?  

How many times a day are you thinking about an issue or idea from the moment you brush your teeth until the moment you fall asleep?

How many times a day do you engage in a conversation that leaves you feeling stimulated and frustrated, excited and ambitious to do something you’ve never done before?

Ideally, our collective and personal answers to these questions would reflect that once we leave academia, we are still challenged by each new project, work environment, and social milieu in which we become a willing participant.  In reality, the nature of the quotidian life necessitates a fair substitution of hypotheticals with pragmatic concerns.  For this reason, I would highly recommend that emerging professionals become actively involved in their local academic institutions’ reviews, studios, and emerging discourse.  Not only is it helpful for students to have their work discussed by professionals that can validate their ideas in a context that translates beyond academia, it is critical for professionals to revisit the bravery it takes to explore and share a new idea, process, and language with six carefully-dressed jurors.

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