101 Things I Learned in Architecture School

Architecture is not all drawing, drafting, and modeling. Although architecture is a very hands-on experience, a lot  about this profession is learned from reading. Architectural reading is most useful in the design process because it allows us to understand not only the past, but also the present role this discipline has in our environment. 

One of my favorite architectural books is 101 things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick. This was the first architectural book I purchased, and it was a great decision because Frederick does a wonderful job of using clear and simple language that people of all architectural levels can understand. The oddly dimensioned book lists concepts that can be personalized into the reader’s own style. Even on the minimalist, exposed greyboard front cover, Frederick includes a diagram open for interpretation. 

While reading the book, I was surprised by the number of details that are considered in designing a structure. Features that may seem mundane actually have a strategic story behind them and have been thought through. The book offers many helpful pieces of information, ranging from designing buildings to inspirational quotes. The design tips consist of straightforward dos and don’ts. For instance, Frederick lays down the guidelines for sketching lines that everyone should follow. Even though sketching is informal, it should not be too sloppy or careless. Frederick’s recommendation to emphasise the beginning of a line provides an uncontroversial sense of precision. Frederick also mentions that ‘the most effective, most creative problem solvers engage in a process of metathinking, or thinking about the thinking.’ Often, when I am unable to find a solution to a problem, Frederick reminds me that I should also be thinking about how my thought process is structured. When this occurs, I notice that I am always trying to solve the problem in one step rather than focusing on smaller aspects like circulation, human interaction, or landscape design.

How to draw a line 

Additionally, Frederick also includes more interpretive tips such as ‘a good building reveals different things about itself when viewed from different distances.’ I feel it would be even more helpful if there were tips for his tips. Although there are various ways to reveal details and attributes, I wish Frederick had written possible characteristics to consider instead of providing no additional information. For example, an expanded tip could say that not only should one focus on the structure itself but also on the surrounding landscape. This can be done through experimenting with angular structures or a deconstructivist style where the full picture can only be seen at a far distance. Furthermore, small intricate engravings or ornaments will also reveal details only able to be seen up close.

A good building reveals different things about itself when viewed from different distances 

After reading this book, I have become more aware of my surroundings and the purpose each feature has on a structure. While my knowledge in architecture is still growing, one tip I frequently use that Frederick doesn’t mention is to take breaks. When attempting to solve a difficult problem, taking breaks reduces stress and also provides an opportunity to look at the task from a different perspective. I suggest non-architectural related breaks such as going outside for a walk, eating a snack, or pursuing other hobbies. Even during these breaks, inspiration is everywhere and can further help resolve the issue.  

I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested or curious about architecture, design, or engineering. Frederick’s tips are valuable for every emerging young architect because they explain fundamental details that impact all designs. After reading this book, I feel like I understand architecture from a more extensive perspective because I am more attentive to the smaller details.