Architecture Or Archi-torture? (Part 1 Of 10)

One of the hardest university majors to pursue is architecture. From an outsider’s perspective, one might not see the weight and pressure architecture students are carrying. Because every design or drawing comes with a price of sleepless nights and constant doubts. You can see the efforts a student puts into the final product. But there is so much more other than hard work. Behind their weary souls, is something their parents don’t even know. The harsh life of architecture students or what we call it, archi-torture, is something that I myself have experienced. Are you ready for the thrills and dramas?

Architecture floor plan blueprint.
Architecture majors study how to creatively design spaces that are functional, flexible, and aesthetic. They work with a lot of 2D drawings such as floor plans.
Image by Lorenzo Cafaro (ID 3844328) from Pixabay

Falling Into The World Of Archi-Torture

How did I get myself into this world of archi-torture? Believe it or not, I dreamt of pursuing a career in architecture during my secondary school. I had a passion for art and I was so confident that architecture was going to be the same as oil painting… but I was only .001% correct. It gives me thrills whenever I read stories about architecture being a major cause of sleepless nights… until I experienced it myself.

Architecture: a picture of Atiqah during her presentation in foundation.
This was one of the final year projects for the Foundation in Natural and Built Environment course, where we were given a lego character with the task of creating a home for it (I am the one with the brown headscarf, giving a presentation).
Picture courtesy of Mr Paul Nickson Atia, Atiqah’s former lecturer

I took my first step into architecture when I started the Foundation in Natural and Built Environment course in 2015 at Taylor’s University, Malaysia. In the beginning, it was all about learning the basics and how to unleash our creativity. We made scrapbook journals, videos, posters, models and drawings to practise the use of our creativity. It gave us a simple head start for Bachelor of Architecture, or what I call it, the next ‘deadly‘ three years of my life.

If Architecture Life Is A Reality Show…

All university majors have their own struggles. Whenever I hear the challenges that a medical student has, I know that I wouldn’t be able to handle them. In a way, it doesn’t matter how hard the course is because everyone is suffering just the same. But each of us experiences the struggles differently and tackles them our own way. It affects us physically and mentally, and changes our outlook on life. If architecture life is a reality show, it would be an unending show of constant dramas, complaints, frustration and unexpected plot twists. On the other hand, there’s a whole lot of fun too!

A picture of my final studio design model with lights penetrating.
During the first semester of my bachelor’s degree, we had a project to design a ‘personal space’ to understand ourselves better. The personal space can be in any form whatsoever that depicts the theme that we want to convey but represents a ‘home’ that is between two buildings (hence the two acrylic glass shown in between my model). I used an idea that is close to my heart, which is my family. Despite being far away from my family and homesick, my family would always try to make my day. My ‘personal space’ lights up in the dark, symbolising how my family are always supportive and guiding me no matter where I am.
Image by Atiqah Ghazali

Archi-Torture And Its Bad Reputation

A picture of the architecture studio at Taylor's university.
This picture was taken during a time when the new semester had just started at Taylor’s University, hence the empty hallway and studios. Once we get our assignments, this space is packed with materials and students working on their projects.
Image by Atiqah Ghazali

Architecture has a reputation for being its students’ torture chamber. You could just pass by a studio and see students sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor, eating instant food, playing games, watching movies or doing work. Most people might think that we are constantly working every day without taking any breaks. But we actually took a whole lot of breaks that we always ended up regretting. The culture of being in the studio became a way for us to feel supported and accompanied by others who were in the same situation. We used it as a space to help each other out because everyone one of us has unique talents and characteristics that we could share. To put it plainly, we created lasting memories in that smelly and cold, but cheerful room.

Architecture: A picture of students sleeping in the studio.
The studio was packed with students sleeping and surrounded with model materials and food, after having stayed up the whole night working.
Image by Atiqah Ghazali

The Nightmares Of Every Architecture Student

Every week, we had about two tutorial classes. In these tutorials, we had to show our design progress of the project. We were constantly producing drawings and study models to show to our lecturers. I would always dread the night before the tutorial class. “What am I going to show? I have nothing good to show.” You’d never really know what might happen until you present your ideas to the lecturers. We even got our ideas rejected and scribbled on, on some occasions. If we were lucky, we got feedback that helped us to proceed to the next stage. But if we weren’t, then we would be stuck in that early stage and fall behind.

A picture of architectural study models made by Atiqah.
Making study models was something that I learnt to love doing as it helped me get an idea of the space that I was imagining but on a very small scale.
Image by Atiqah Ghazali

Procrastination is a no-no in architecture. Although it is a risk to us, we would constantly fall into the trap and panic at the lost time. Even though we had worked on our assignment for days or weeks, we would just leave it until the day before to actually finish it up. Why did we do this to ourselves? No matter how many times I vowed to change my habits, it was just hard to avoid. That was why time became very crucial to us, especially when it is a week before the final submission. If we ever fall back a day, the whole schedule of the to-do list would become a mess. From drawings to 3D modelling, to rendering and to the final board, it was never enough time to complete things. But no one wanted to submit incomplete work, so we ended up making lots of sacrifices.

Architecture Saps Our Souls

I may be exaggerating but architecture can ‘kill‘ us by slowly eating up our mental and physical health. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can get really sick and that can ruin everything that we have put so much effort into. The constant work we have to do pushes our boundaries to the limit until we can’t take it anymore. I am not only talking about missing our meals or lacking in sleep. I am referring to having insecurity, self-doubt, lack of self-worth and depression.

A picture of a girl feeling stressed and covering her face with her hands.
Architecture students’ mental health may start deteriorating when they pick up unhealthy habits like skipping their meals and having insufficient sleep.
Image by Piyapong Saydaung from Pixabay

Architecture is a very competitive major that may lead you to a dark place. Some students are fighting to be the very best but some are trying to catch up to at least the minimum expectations. We look at our peers’ work and use it to learn what we can to improve in the future. But sometimes, you can’t help but feel envious of the ones that are doing much better than you. And this brings your self-worth and self-confidence to a very low level. So in your mind, you are constantly fighting with the bad thoughts of giving up and insecurity. The battle of doubting and improving ourselves as architecture students are never-ending.

A picture of Atiqah's journal about self-care.
I remember keeping a journal to keep track of how I felt every day and learnt more about self-care.
Image by Atiqah Ghazali

If you are an architecture student or were one, pat yourself in the back and say, “Well done. You are amazing and wherever you are now, you have survived. Don’t let anything get to you because you are already at the finishing line. Keep it up, yeah?”

The Pleasure Of Archi-Torture

Archi-torture definitely has its own pleasurable moments. After working for months on your project, you get this sudden wave of satisfaction and happiness whilst looking at your final product. For that moment, you feel a sense of pride. It is such an amazing feeling to see an idea that has started out in your mind, transitioned to sketches, and to something three dimensional. It might not be a real project, but the idea of treating it like one creates this dream of making the project alive one day.

Architecture: A picture of Atiqah's final presentation in Semester 5 with her A1 boards pinned up.
My final presentation for the project of an Elderly Community Centre in Klang, during my fifth semester (third year) of Bachelor in Architecture.
Image by Atiqah Ghazali

Another pleasurable moment is to finally hibernate. Sleeping after days of only getting two to three hours of sleep was something I always looked forward to. The moment my head hit the pillow, I would have drifted to dreamland. And once I woke up, I would eat a nice hot meal and catch up on some Korean dramas. I mean what better way to fuel your drama life than watching more dramas!

Is It Worth The Torture?

Is architecture worth the countless pressure and sleepless nights? For me, I can say that it is worth it, but only to a certain extent. Because in life, no matter where you go, nothing is easy to achieve. It can really affect your mental health and entice you to pick up unhealthy habits. Due to the never-ending thoughts on my projects, I would constantly feel tired and be deprived of sleep. It got to the point that I would bring those thoughts with me to sleep so much so that they appeared in my dreams. No matter how much I slept, I would never feel like I was fully rested.

Architecture: A picture of Atiqah presenting her final presentation during her bachelor study.
After graduating with Bachelor in Architecture, the fact that I survived the whole three years was enough for me to feel proud of myself. This picture was my last presentation (I am the one with the black headscarf) during my final year at Taylor’s University.
Image by Atiqah Ghazali

On a positive note, architecture has taught me to be more observant and critical in my thinking. Wherever I go, I see architecture. It revolves around almost everything in the world that it becomes impossible to not relate architecture to it. So, if you are interested in architecture and are contemplating to pursue it, please check out Dezeen and ArchDaily. These online magazines and blogs compile works of design and architecture from all over the world. You never know that this might be your pull to the world of archi-torture. Let’s just say that I did warn you…

More Stories Coming Up Next

If you want to find out how other architecture students think about their outlook on archi-torture, stay tuned to the next part! I will introduce you to different people with unique stories and life-changing experiences. First up is Natasya Jasmin, a very happy-go-lucky gal who learnt to never give up despite all her setbacks.

Atiqah GHAZALI

About Atiqah GHAZALI

Grew up overseas in a melting pot of global culture to expat parents, Atiqah is well read, and expresses herself best through writing, art and photography. Architect by qualification, but makes a living as an interior designer.

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