ARCHITORTURE: ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN SCHOOL AND YOUR WELL-BEING
The day I applied to architecture school! I remember entering the building to take the admission exams and there on the wall I read: “archi-Te’tir” or “architorture”, but I had no idea what torture they were talking about. However, I wasn’t accepted to study architecture; I later joined the Art and Design School to study Interior Design and after my studies in Humanities and Literature. Though I was influenced by other academic fields and having friends from different faculties such as engineering, sciences, education, and business, I’ve never seen the life of architecture and design students like I do today. The struggle is there, and most of the times it is bragged about. This is the first impression architecture school gave me, and this is what millions of architecture and design students and graduates go through all over the world.
Hundreds of jokes and memes flood the internet on how architects and designers’ lives are long hectic nightmares. The infamous “Nuit Blanche” for project deadlines turns them into sleep deprived “creatures”. Well-being is not a priority in this domain; It is easily disregarded when all one needs is to focus and boost his/her energy to get work done on time. That’s one of the reasons that lead architects and designers to develop bad habits like lack of exercise, excessive intake of caffeine and irregular eating.
It is important to mention that the stressful situation students are going through is not only due to the extreme workload and deadlines but also due to the strict grading system and immense financial burdens they must endure. Lebanon, for example, suffers from a mortifying economic status that has been affecting the educational sector for years. In addition to enduring this stressful major, many students have to work side jobs to afford the extra costs of architecture that include design and art projects and their material (printing, model-making, high-tech laptops with design software). Some student surveys concluded such results, related to illnesses caused by stress over matters of debt, workload and practical training. 
The annual student-based survey conducted by the Architects Journal reveals that a large number of students fear debt, suffer from the workload and stress out over completing practical training. These matters are creating stress-related illnesses for students and fresh graduates (2016, Richard Waite and Ella Braidwood). Surprisingly, however, other available data shows that regardless of their hectic lives, architects on average are considered healthy and happily married people (2011, Archdaily).
“ARE ARCHITECTS DEPRESSED, UNHEALTHY AND DIVORCED?”
This is the title of an article on Archdaily that tried to prove there is no fact that shows this so-called “theory” is true. Regarding the real struggle that we are seeing, there has been no validation yet on the bad effects architecture and design has on physical and mental health. We may consider that this damage can be temporary, and does not have any real and long-term effect.
What we are sure of, however, is that architecture school is one of the hardest schools and it drains whatever willpower and passion are left in its students, leading them to fall into a torturous routine. Here it is important to mention that if this stress is not handled seriously, real health problems can later surface.
So, why does this happen to us? And how does this affect our mental and physical health?
To answer these questions, let us look at the design process itself. As defined, it is a creative process that generates concrete projects from a series of trial and error. The design process is both creative and technical at the same time; this makes it a rather chaotic and hectic method. It can be one of the most complex and energy-draining educational tools.
Architecture and design is a subjective field; it differs from sciences and arts since it requires a balance of both artistic and practical skills. It also relies on one’s creativity, background and culture. This is why the design process itself is challenging; it requires creating something new and unique conceptually while following building engineering and safety standards.
Design is a timely process; therefore it cannot be mastered in a limited number of years. This is to say that architecture and design schools cannot simply expect students to become stress- free professionals capable of understanding its history, analyzing thousands of its outstanding projects and recognizing its technical achievements, practicing its artistic tools and mastering its design software all at once throughout a 4 to a 5-year program.
Like most students, architecture and design graduates believe that graduating is a solution to all their stress-related problems. But what they do not realize that these problems do not end when deadlines end, they are simply carrying all this baggage and integrating it into the lives post-university. The dilemma here is that students do not realize that they are all on the same boat; they share the same struggles and they are prone to serious mental and psychological issues that if prolonged, are in need of professional help.
It is a fact that most students and graduates are not motivated to actually seek professional help; this is due to our Arab society that still frowns upon mental health issues. Moreover, we lack enough surveys and scientific research that discuss the matter openly. There is also little cooperation from the architecture and design schools themselves. Instructors creating competitive and stressful environments believe that burdening students and drowning them with loads of work will make them better architects and designers.
Finally, it is time to break this cycle of normalizing emotional stress and anxiety design students suffer from. Both schools and instructors must stop dealing with the subject passively; the need to structure their course in a way that is more comfortable for students, organize the design follow-up process and stick to a reasonable submissions’ schedule. Moreover, we must play a positive role in promoting openness to the subject of mental health. If more and more people dare to open up about the struggles facing students of architecture schools, the better we can push this matter to be taken more seriously by educational sectors and healthcare professionals.
We are currently investigating the student experience at architecture and design schools in Lebanon focusing on mental health and well-being.
Please take this anonymous survey, it will take 10 minutes of your time and it will help us in our study. The results of the survey will be shared through another blog post here.
TAKE THE SURVEY HERE >>
This blog post was written and edited by Architects for Change members: Yara Ayoub, Ghina Kanwati, and Nour Zreika