10 Steps to Prepare for this Semester of Architecture School

Architecture is an incredibly demanding course, so if you can start your semester on the right foot you’re increasing your chances of a successful and enjoyable experience. Below are eight suggested steps to make this happen, along with some savvy penny pinching set-up tips.

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1. Have your text-books organised

Don’t be that person that rocks up to the first class without the prescribed textbooks on hand. They’re sure to be mentioned in the first class, and even if you don’t use them that week, you never know when you’re being judged by your educators so being unorganised could gain you a subconscious strike against your name.

2. Work out where your classes are

Don’t get caught out by arriving at University on your first day and realising you have no idea where your subjects are. Arriving late to class can be stressful, leave a bad impression, and cause a hit to your confidence.

3. Plan the logistics

Know how long it will take to get to University (consider rush hour, if relevant), where you can park, what times you need to be where. Don’t forget snacks and a water-bottle!

4. Print and study your Unit Outline.

The Unit Outline for each subject sets out what is expected from you for the duration of that course. Mark any areas that confuse you, so you can ask to have them clarified. Note down key dates and submission requirements in a combined semester plan, so you can see how your submission timelines relate to each other, and be proactive about planning your workload.

5. Be ready to record your learning.

I trialled a few methods of note-taking throughout University - a single book for all subjects, a book for each, and I also observed friends typing on a laptop. I came to the conclusion that the best approach was a small, easily portable notebook for each subject. Using a computer may be good for typing, but really limits the habit of sketching diagrams or concepts, so if you insist on typing notes, you must supplement them with a sketchbook. I’ve mentioned before that my favourite notebooks are the Moleskine Cahier sets, available here. They’re great quality, a handy size, and are visually satisfying when stacked as a collection on a bookshelf.

6. Get involved.

This isn’t high school anymore - you’re not at University just to be lectured at and work in isolation. Getting involved in available networks will supplement your social resources and collaboration, and enhance the value of your education. It also helps you connect with the architecture industry. I would really strongly recommend joining SONA (the Student Organised Network for Architecture), your local Architecture Club, and also consider heading to the Biannual Student Architecture Congress, which is in New Zealand this year!

7. Prepare your stationery

You really don’t need anything too fancy - the following is what I recommend as reliable essentials, along with some penny pinching secrets that I learned the hard way:

Staple stationery items:

You really don’t need anything too fancy - the following is what I recommend as reliable essentials, along with some penny pinching secrets that I learned the hard way:

Black 0.4 Artline Fineliners (12 pack $26.85) - for everyday notes and quick sketching (I prefer to sketch in pen) - buy in bulk as you’ll work your way through many.

A set of different weight Fineliners ($25.05) - for more detailed drawings. Guard these carefully as they have a habit of going for a walk!

A simple sensible scale ruler ($10.85) - I made the mistake of getting a fancy triangular ruler, but I find it annoying to use and I’ve never required 1:400 or 1:250 scale. This ruler is cheap, keeps it simple, and covers all the scales you are most likely to come across; 1:1, 1:5, 1:10, 1:20, 1:50, 1:100, 1:200 and 1:500.

A mechanical pencil, extra leads and suitable sharpener ($12.75) - When you do reach for a pencil to sketch, the mechanical pencil with a thick lead is far superior to the old 2B you may be used to. It can be manipulated while sketching to vary line thickness as you draw.

8. Have sketch model making materials ready to go

For your basic sketch model making (don’t buy final presentation model materials until later in the semester, when you know exactly what you want to use,) I suggest the following:

A Stanley knife ($6) - no more cutting with scissors! Use a knife and metal ruler for accurate cutting. A cheap Stanley knife will do just fine. Be sure to buy some blades for it too.

A metal ruler ($3.79) - for cutting with your Stanley knife. Get a simple cheap one so you’re not tempted to ruin your good scale ruler - ideally a small one to carry around at Uni, and a bigger 60cm one for larger models at home.

Cheat’s trace paper - you can buy the fancy ‘proper stuff’ (I’m embarrassed to admit how many of these bad-boys I wasted money on), but home brand baking paper does almost the same job, for a fraction of the price. My office even use this! So, no affiliate link here, just head to your nearest supermarket and buy the cheapest baking paper they have. I won’t tell anyone!

Cutting mat ($9.99) - if you can only afford one, get an A3, but if you can afford two, get a portable A4 one and a bigger A2 one for large models.

PVA craft glue ($3.95) - don’t get talked in to expensive glues until you’ve tried learning to use PVA sparingly and carefully.

Hot glue gun and glue sticks ($17) - you don’t need an expensive glue gun - my cheap plastic one has lasted me 12 years and is still going strong.

Model materials - for these ones I recommend you visit your local Eckersley’s Art and Craft Store. You’ll want some modelling foam (to quickly cut up shapes for mass studies), some foam core (3mm sheets are handy for representing a standard building storey at 1:1000), and maybe some balsa wood, brown card, and clear plastic sheets.

9. Set some goals

You should learn on your own agenda - not someone else’s. Check out our previous article on 10 Ways to Challenge Yourself as a Young Architect and set yourself at least one goal this semester.

10. Get ready to have fun!

Most of all, get ready to enjoy yourself! You’ve chosen this career because you believe it will add quality to your life, and you’re paying a lot of money to voluntarily study. Part of ‘making the most’ of this investment is enjoying the journey along the way. You’re arguable in some of the best years of your architecture career, so have fun with it!