I just finished and passed my architectural thesis (thank God so much!) and I’m here to share with you everything I learned and tried to do that helped me be able to finish it with flying colors! This is divided into three parts namely: to help you decide what project to pursue, to help you strategize when to do things, and to help you know the right people to ask.
Note that this is just based on my experience and other people’s experiences and is only meant to help you decide but not dictate the things that you should be doing. Different projects may require different strategies and the following are just suggestions and have worked for me.
To give you a bit of a background, my thesis was a tourist farm and recreational center. It was a complex that’s composed of 3 main buildings and 5 minor ones. It was located at a rural area in the Philippines with a lot sized at 16 hectares.
I would say it was a massive project and it was not what I originally had planned in my lower years, but I am still really happy with how it turned out and I thank God for it. It was a miracle that it got done. I wouldn’t go into detail since I plan to put it in my portfolio and I may or may not post my portfolio online but without further adoo, here are some things to consider for your architectural thesis:
What Project to Tackle
1 Pursue a thesis project that you REALLY want
Before the thesis year started, I knew it was gonna be a year of breaking down and struggling for me as that was what I heard all the time from others’ experiences. So with that in mind, I knew I wanted to work on a project that means something to me, as the foundation of why on earth am I gonna continue pursuing the thing, when I would be at my lowest.
At first, I thought I wanted to do a social housing project, because social housing was one of the major reasons I even chose architecture as a field (check out 13 Reasons Why Choose Architecture). After consultations with my adviser, however, he favored more my proposal for agriculture (we were tasked to submit 3 proposals). When I emailed him back asking if I could pursue the social housing proposal instead, he didn’t really respond and so it got me thinking on how to turn it around.
The reason why I wanted social housing is because I wanted to do a project that serves a basic need. I didn’t have an attachment to the housing itself, but with the idea that there is a purpose to my building that serves the poorest of the poor. Then I realized that that is the same for agriculture, since in the Philippines, the farmers are considered part of the poor, and food is a basic need. I thought I could make an agricultural project work as what I really wanted is also present there.
Try to find a project you want that’s not based on a whim. Try maybe to find something you want that is meaningful to you and you know that’s gonna help you grind even at your lowest. I think that a meaningful project can help provide an answer to your Why’s whenever you feel demotivated, and it can help you go on despite negativities from other people.
2 Pursue a thesis project that is a NEED
Alongside having a project that you truly want, it also matters that the project is needed by a community. Whether it’s for a group of people or a specific place, having the project as a necessity also provides for a strong foundation. That’s not to say that projects that don’t serve a basic need should not be done, I’ve seen and heard about museums, parks, fashion halls, etc. for thesis. What I mean by a need is that you have to be able to answer the question “What is the importance of your project?”, what can it contribute? Economically? Socially? What innovations will it add to the field? What problem are you trying to solve? Etc.
When you know that your project is needed, it can give you an additional sense of confidence. I’ve been told many times by peers older than me that I should believe in my project, that only I can do that in order to help the others see the value of my project. When you believe in your project, then you must probably see it’s importance and that is something to hold on to.
3 Pursue a thesis project that is FEASIBLE
We all know that we are time-bound with this. We have resources but sometimes they are not enough. We’ve been told by professors that we really don’t have enough time – that’s realistically speaking. We don’t have enough time to finish everything. While this takes into account that our thesis is done individually, I am aware that there are others out there where they can be done in groups. It is still important to note, however, our limits. Another professor of ours told us that we were creating our own problems to solve, and that it’s important to note that we can’t solve everything.
In your thesis, you will be writing your scope and limitations. Keep this in mind and update them all the time. In the conceptualization stage, however, reflect if the problem you are trying to solve can truly be solved and helped by architecture. If so, note how.
Strategize Your Plan
1 Check your timetable
So you’ve figured out what project you’re going to pursue, you’ve talked it out with your adviser, you’ve done your initial research, and now it’s time to sit down and plan your course of action. What I learned in my lower years of architecture school is that design is not a linear process. You go back and forth, back and forth, and that’s what makes it a bit tricky to plan your to do’s.
When blocking or scheduling in your calendar, have a goal for the month, for the week, and for the day. Since design involves going back and forth from floor plans, to elevations, to sections, etc, set a limit as to when you’re going to stop this back and forth. It can seem nice to have endless ideas, but finishing a project is better than having an unfinished one bombed with ideas.
How do you schedule? What schedule entices you? What form of scheduling makes you look at your calendar and make you actually want to work and not vomit due to getting overwhelmed? We all work differently. I met a former best thesis student who told us that she worked full day one day and then rest the next day, then work again and repeat. Whilst I worked on average, four hours per day everyday including Sundays (except when the deadline was close, I had to force myself to work for a lot more hours).
There is no point in scheduling a calendar you don’t want to and will not follow, so I suggest you make a schedule that you actually want and know you will follow.
2 Know your resources
And I don’t just mean the data you need from the government and from the client, I mean the resources that will make your work more efficient. Weava has massively helped me with my thesis book and so did Grammarly (See 5 Free Helpful Websites for Thesis). For my sketches, I used Morpholio Trace and Autodesk Sketchbook (See Helpful iPad Apps for Architecture). For my working drawings, I used ArchiCAD – a BIM software. For my renders, I used Twinmotion – that’s directly linked to ArchiCAD.
I decided to go a hundred percent digital (even with my sketches) as it was easier to transfer and make scaled traces. For working drawings and modelling, I initially used CAD and other modelling softwares but since work does involve going back and forth, it stressed me a bit to know I had different sets of files and that these files might have differences I didn’t notice and forgot about. Hence, mid-semester, I transferred all drawings and models to the BIM software, remodelling them there.
It gave me a sense of comfort to know that everything’s in one place and that if I made any changes, it would reflect to all drawings. It also saved me a huge amount of time since I didn’t have to manually redraw in CAD every time there’s been a change. Since I had all drawings and model per building in one file, I made sure to back them up every after work in the cloud. All my work is saved and accessed in my hard drive.
3 Accept your limits
In relation to pursuing a feasible project, given that the time for work is finite, you should accept what you will and will not be able to do. An advice given to me by my blockmate is that try to delegate as many tasks as you can so you’ll be able to focus more on the things only you can do (such as conceptualizing, providing solutions, sketching ideas, etc.) This is, given if your school allows for delegation such as paying someone else to work on interior design models or renders. It will cost you money but in a time-bound project, I personally would rather have it cost me money than cost me time that I could have saved for something more.
To be honest, I was late to ride the boat of paying someone to do the working drawing but despite having only one interior made by another, it has done me a huge help, thank God. So if your school allows it, I highly recommend it as well.
Who to Ask
1 Know the right professors
In the class of a friend of mine, her adviser told them to consult with 10 other professors. Each professor have their own specialty or strengths and although it’s not expected for you to please everybody, it helps to have insights from those who know better than us other than our own advisers. I personally consulted with our former professor who’s a structural engineer, she was the one who helped me with my structural concepts. Other professors can help you with your planning, landscape, etc., or if they specialize in hospitals, schools, and others.
2 Know your peers
Older peers who have done their thesis can be a huge help to you. My older peers have helped me keep it together when I was panicking or breaking down, and I also got support from my other friends and loved ones. Older peers gave me advice regarding presentations, and q and a, but they can also be there to simply listen if you want to vent out. Having a special someone also helps a lot to feel supported, my older peers feel the same way.
3 Know other professionals
It helps a lot to have connections. If you’re pursuing a hospital project, then take advice from doctors and patients. Engineers can help you with your structural planning. Knowing people from the different government departments helps as well considering you’re probably going to do interviews in your study. If you know a psychologist, they might help thru environmental psychology, etc.
What Project to Tackle
- Pursue a project that you REALLY want
- Pursue a project that is a NEED
- Pursue a project that is FEASIBLE
Strategize Your Plan
- Check your timetable
- Know your resources
- Accept your limits
Who To Ask
- Know the right professors
- Know your peers
- Know other professionals
So there goes 9 tips for you if you’re about to take your architectural thesis! If you have more tips you want to share, feel free to comment them below!