We are indoctrinated to believe that the graduation project is one of three things: (a) our last chance of doing something we truly believe in, (b) important moment that defines our career, or even more shockingly: (c) solely our own responsibility. The extension of studies, to no surprise, comes with the increased expenses of tuition fees, financial insecurity forcing students to pursue more intense part-time (or at times full-time!) work to support the rest of their studies, as well as prolonged exposure to academic stress, which is often the reason for the extension in the first place. So what, it is our responsibility to deal with it, right?
All of that is total nonsense. The lucky or “the most hard-working” graduates who receive highest honours work for an average of 2,700 euros a month or hang around jobless, while a socio-economic crisis is around the corner. Others, unprepared for the post-academic life, extend their time at the university, and try to find the true and only path to the total perfection of their graduation projects. This situation, of course, does not apply to every single student at the faculty, but with an all-time high of 1,549 students at the Bouwkunde Master’s programs, a big fraction of that population is chasing something they are, most likely, not able to achieve. And it is not their fault.
Architectural education is toxic, and hopefully by now we are all aware of the devil – glorification of late-night working, unattainable desire to please absolutely everybody and worst of all – the competition of shallow comparisons between projects. But it is November 2022 and the issue is becoming more serious. Exhausted from the changing lifestyles post-pandemic, often depressed, and overridden with new amounts of anxiety over global crises, students and staff struggle with the new challenges. The professors of some architectural studios, feeling that the pandemic lowered the quality of students’ efforts, put extreme expectations on the projects. This often leads to half of the class failing at the key moments of P2 or P4, a quarter of the class finishing with high 9s and 10s, redefining the idea of “excellence” and leaving students with beautiful projects, but lack of motivation or energy to continue any kind of education ever again. The remaining quarter of students who do “ok”, are those who either stay true to themselves, take care of their health, or must pursue extra work for financial support. Sometimes they do try to reach the expectations set out for them, but physically they are not able to; however that seems to be truer for those who fail, drop out or extend.
The Architecture graduation studios are often strictly defined by the capitalistic criteria for what it means to be a designer. This entails being quick and effective enough at designing, while so convincing that you can sell any shit you put out with beautiful drawings and flowing narratives. Is this really the future that we, the new generation of architects, imagine for ourselves? Speaking for myself – I definitely do not. To my knowledge, Urbanism studios, as well as the Explore Lab offer a personal approach and focus on research which helps to make the projects balanced towards design, social exploration or thought experiment depending on the desires of the author. Exactly the contrast between the openness of my mentors towards the free approach in my own Urbanism Track graduation, and the constant underlying stress telling me that I am not doing enough or not designing yet, sparked some thoughts on the whole process. The strict rules of the Examination Board have put us in a stronghold, making many of us need to shit out SOMETHING to even pass.
But what happened with the hypothesis and thesis? Is not failing to resolve a project with a design an outcome equally as valuable as a success in terms of scientific exploration? Are we not obtaining a Master of Science degree? There is rarely a possibility to test an architectural project empirically, and hence for it to contribute to building collective knowledge anyway, right?
Our faculty is the second-best in the world. Hence the promise of a high level of education and excellent student outputs. However, even here, or maybe especially here, the ground under the feet of young architects entering their professional life is unstable, as this faculty becomes a lone island floating around in nothingness, a space full of uncertainty, crisis, and definitely high expectations – going both ways.
My hypothesis here is that this idea of excellence is probably taking away the scientific value of our education. The projects need to be finished, they need to fit a certain mould, and as long as they LOOK fine, they are definitely very innovative. There are a number of projects coming out every year that are truly redefining the design practice in the most creative ways, but this is only possible for a handful of students.
In the same way, TU Delft accepting more and more students every year means that it is shitting out between three and four hundred new graduates into the labour market. These hundreds of mostly Architects, with a few Urbanists, Landscape Architects, Building Technicians, Managers and Data Scientists are looking for jobs between Delft, Rotterdam, The Hague and Amsterdam, competing between each other and graduates from other universities across the country. Many are forced to pursue temporary jobs, taking it with a breath of relief – when preparing coffee or delivering food you do not have to think about the tectonic details of your actions, there is no expectation of greatness, you just need to complete a simple task that carries no emotional load. The emotional load that you program into all of your design work.
Maybe it is time to design your own graduation. Your own path. Not perfect, but your own. And maybe we can unlearn these unhealthy practices, set a new axis for the next generation of architectural education.