Surviving Architecture

By Maria Orellana

For those not familiar with it, Architecture its completed in 5-6 years. The first 3 years are spent completing a bachelor degree, then 18 weeks of work experience or exchange and a 2 years year long Master Masters of Architecture by coursework.


After the HSC and a year of travelling, I started my degree hoping to be challenged by the mathematical concepts involved in construction, different materials and how to handle an angry client. However to my surprise, the degree allows you to ease into the world of architecture introducing the student into the delights of building a model and the beauty of ancient Greek temples. It is a slow start and for those parents seeing in their sons and daughters as the future Frank Gehry, it will seem like more of a game than an academic degree.


I understand it is a challenge to try to condense centuries of building knowledge into 5 years and I also appreciate that the course focuses on design rather than theory. However, I found it really distressing to be confronted with the challenge of designing a house with no background knowledge of building materials. I think Architecture is like learning to read, in the beginning you learn the building blocks, then you learn to create sentences and once you know all of this you may be able to write a haiku poem.  We do learn about construction and how structures workstructural requirements, but these subjects are thoughttaught in crowded lecture halls at the end of the week when students are more distracted onlookers than eager participants.


Design is taught one day per week in small groups with a tutor that is, thankfully, a real, practicing, up to date architect. In the course of my first degree I was to design a bush hut, a theatre, an indigenous center, an art school and a forum. These were challenging projects where a minimal knowledge of the building code and the laws of gravity accounted for infinite stairs and amazing cantilevers (the rule states that if it can stand up in the model it has to work!).


The curriculum in the Masters changes slightly, Architectural engineering is pushed to the beginning of the week and out of no where appears a new subject, unknown to every student. It appears in the timetable shyly for only one semester, 2-hour lecture, 1-hour tutorial. Contract Documentation. Well, 'it must be one of those little unimportant subjects' thinks the student. HA! Wait for the rest of your professional life to be tied to these little pieces of paper. Other than that,  not a lot changes, design once a week, better tutors yes but same system. I was lucky enough to have a great variety of projects and great tutors, specially in the Masters but as the projects got more challenging the time to spend with your tutor is kept the same and the time to complete the project restricted to a semester. Even on my final semester where I was lucky enough to have 3 tutors and a project as inspiring as the White Bay power station, we were only limited to a semester where site analysis and masterplaning took more than half of the semester. I found it such a pity to have to condense so much research into a month of design.


Nevertheless I have learnt so much. I have enjoyed the sleepless nights, the last minute models, the high price of balsa, and the history lecture that never ends. I have seen my engineering friends going out every night and wondering how am I going to trust them with my beautiful skillion roofs and cantilevered balconies. It is probably one of the most time consuming and challenging degrees offered by university but what I have seen so far of architecture I really liked and what it is to come can only get better.

2 comments for “Surviving Architecture”

Duc Tran
Posted Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at 8:08:43 PM

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Bill Bunting
Posted Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 8:22:21 AM

Congratulations Maria on your achievement. Now nearly a year on how is Architecture shaping up for you?

My dad was an Architect, CDW, do banks and special projects (ABC and the CBA). My interests are more related to product design, with the overlap of a passion for ferro cement boats. I built my first in the seventies (45 feet) and am now positioning to build a second for my daughters, 10 metres. Dense ferro cement construction is a wonderfully powerful medium, well worth some extra study.

But your comment about contracts is an important observation. My dad discovered that architecture gravitates to all contracts and little art. But the contracts and specifications are important. A story. About 1969 a new family built a house next door to my girlfriend of the time. I heard that the builder had refused to fixany of the obvious cracks and misalignments and was threatening to sue the couple for the retentions. As the couple were quite distraught I pleaded with my dad to see what he could do. Eventually he conceded and spent 10 minutes at the property comparing the end result with the specification, and particularly the roof. The next that I heard was that the builder was running for his life and the couple were suing him to rebuild the entire roof of the building. Unfortunately I failed to persuade Dad to continue with this accomplisment as a service. He could have been a pioneer. The point is that contracts and specifications are very important, but so also is the art. My dad was a very good sculptor and as a teenager had spent a lot of time in New york with the Jonas Brothers, the first famous Jonas Brothers who later built many of the dioramas at the Smithsonian Institute. The need to support a family, something that he engaged happily and very well, forced him to park his passion for sculpture till his retirement.

For me a beautiful curve is something that will never age, and the beauty changes with the light and time. That is why I love classical boat shapes, to me modern architecture loses so much potential in avoiding curves. Having said that I have recently seen several exquisite examples of curved high rise buildings.

Anyway I wish you well with your career, and as I have decided to be a regular reader of the "Pidcock Letters" I expect to be seeing some of your work.

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