graduate school rules, from an architect

I recently read Matthew Frederick’s 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, a beautiful, concise book that compiles, in the form of a list, a surprising number of truths. Each lesson occupies one page, and each is accompanied by a witty, whimsical, or perfectly revelatory drawing. The book does not try to speak to everyone, and, in fact, some of the advice is very practical stuff written strictly for architects (#79 “Always place fire stairs at opposite ends of the buildings you design”). But I was surprised at how appropriate it was not merely beyond architecture but particularly for sociologists.

In the following, replace “designer/designing” with “writer/writing,” “architect/architecture” with “sociologist/sociology,” and “building” with “dissertation” or “book”, and you’ll have some pretty effective advice for surviving graduate school (and beyond):

  • #86. Manage your ego. If you want to be recognized for designing a good or even great building, forget about what you want the building to be; instead ask, “What does the building want to be?”
  • #48. If you can’t explain your ideas to your grandmother in terms that she understands you don’t know your subject well enough. Some architects, instructors, and students use overly complex (and often meaningless!) language in an attempt to gain recognition and respect. You might have to let some of them get away with it but don’t imitate them….
  • #29. Being process-oriented, not product-driven, is the most important and difficult skill for a designer to develop. [The discussion of this one is a gem, too long to post.]
  • #84. There are two points of view on architecture: (1) Architecture is an exercise in truth. A proper building is responsible to universal knowledge and is wholly honest in the expression of its functions and materials. (2) Architecture is an exercise in narrative. Architecture is a vehicle for telling stories, a canvas for relaying societal myths…. [Pick one and move on?]
  • [And possibly my favorite!] #101. Architects are late bloomers. Most architects do not hit their professional stride until around age 50. [Accompanying drawing: Zaha Hadid, b. 1950.]

See mini reviews here and here.

Written by mariosmall

April 22, 2008 at 10:59 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Very cool. I am a sucker for good architecture books (and, you’re right, some translate nicely into the orgs setting), this one’s now on my list to buy.

    (And, architecture’s come up lots of times here at orgtheory).



    April 23, 2008 at 2:01 am

  2. […] Matthew Frederick: 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School […]


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