Restructuring studio culture: The college of architecture looks to build healthier habits

Architecture students work on assignments during their studio time. Located in Seaton Hall, students spend several hours a week in their studio classes. (Haylee Haslett | Collegian Media Group)

“I think it is an issue that it’s high time we start talking about it,” McClure said. “It’s of utmost importance that we are forthright and earnest with our students and with ourselves.”

The studio is where architecture students spend countless hours working on their next project, and according to the American Institution of Architect Students, studio culture refers to the environment, attitudes and habits that surround architecture programs across the country.

“We don’t use our knowledge of critical thinking to really evaluate what’s going on in the studio,” McClure said. “It leads to a lot of great outcomes, but it also leads to a lot of really inhumane and toxic outcomes.”

McClure said he believes putting in the time is important, but there should be more attention turned to how to help students work more efficiently.

“We should be giving them the tools to not have to stay up all night, giving them the tools to understand the different ways of thinking and the different ways of working so they can get better at it,” McClure said. 

Aidan Brumley, senior in architecture, says it’s normal for him to be in the studio for multiple hours a day.

“I was here for probably about 10 hours yesterday,” Brumley said. “On a production week, I’m here 16 hours a day, and then going into the final presentation, I’m pulling all-nighters.” 

McClure said he believes time spent on a project can be confused for its quality.

“If we are evaluating students’ work on how long it took them to do it, then we’re doing it the wrong way,” McClure said.

Brumley said he believes the bad habits of architecture students are normalized within the college, but are often strange to outsiders.

“Whenever all of your friends aren’t always in this environment, it’s kind of weird to them, so then it is kind of weird to you,” Brumley said. “Then as soon as you come in and see other architects, you’re like, ‘Oh, okay, it’s normal.’”

Ally Siebels, junior in interior design, said keeping up with studio work and cross-disciplinary classes can be difficult.

“I think our studio professors are excellent at supporting our needs,” Siebels said. “I think our lecture professors — because we’re IA [interior design] and not ARC [architecture] — could do a better job.”

McClure said he believes studio culture can also favor forward and out-going students while reserved personalities are overlooked.

“I think that our old way of teaching privileges a certain personality type,” McClure said. “During COVID when all of a sudden it wasn’t face-to-face and you didn’t have to stand up in front of your peers and talk about your work, other different learning types came forward. I thought that was really exciting.”

Despite the hardships of studio work, McClure said the students have a positive attitude about their education.

“I know the students are weary and they’re overworked,” McClure said. “I also know that they’re excited and they love what they do.”

McClure said when talking to freshman students, he assured them the studio is a collaborative space.

“It used to be that you’d go into college and the professor would say, ‘Look to your left, look to your right. Two thirds, those people aren’t gonna graduate with you,’” McClure said. “There was this sort of idea that we’re gatekeeping. I told them to look to [their] left, look to [their] right. Those are the people that are gonna help you through this.”

Siebels said the collaborative environment is a strength of studio culture.

“It’s encouraging,” Siebels said. “Like if I were to go do all the stuff that I do here at home, I think it would be of lesser quality because I’m bouncing ideas off others and having positive interactions here.”

McClure said he is hopeful that the faculty and students of the architecture program are moving toward a better future.

“We’re training them as well as we can,” McClure said. “We’re being humane and we’re not carrying on bad traditions just because that’s the way we were taught. My generation is a little bit better than the generation before me, and hopefully better than the generation before that, so I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

The Farris Family Fabrication Lab is where architecture students work on
their many different projects. (Haylee Haslett | Collegian Media Group)