A Guide to Architectural Crits

by the Architectural Experiment

It is one thing to draw and make models and another thing to present them. If you aren’t already familiar with presentations, you will become as you go through the years of getting your Part 1. Presentations, more commonly known as crits, are one of many things you’ll have to do when you are learning to be a designer and problem thinker.

If you were anything like me, you never felt ‘ready’ for any of the crits you ever had to present yourself for. But with every occasion that would arise, whether it was at the beginning of the year where you had no clue what you were doing or the weeks leading up to your final submission, they were a crucial process to participate in. Over the years, you’ll come to realise that you may never come across this idea of being ready, because your portfolio may never feel complete, but you can work towards building the confidence you need to make the most of the opportunities to present your work. Here are a few ways you can prepare yourself before, during and after your crits as an architecture student.

Before crits you should… storyboard

The process you take to make your sheets is just as important as the content that they serve.. Make your project’s journey, from site investigations through concepts to proposal developments, both visually and verbally clear as a narrative. You want to make sure that each sheet or slide brings more to the story you are trying to tell with your design process. By storyboarding you are tracking the plot of your narrative. This allows you not only to see gaps in your own design process, but also to uncover some different avenues that your project could take. This isn’t to say that you’ll be able to predict when and what your audience or critics will suggest an idea or alternative discussion, but it is worth acknowledging the key points where this may happen.

One way to storyboard is to print out your portfolio sheets into A5/A6 squares like postcards with a few blank pieces for things you need to add in later on. If printing isn’t an option, drawing each page out into squares with a combination of both text and quick sketches of what will be on them will help. Your aim is to be able to visualise your presentation and what you will be presenting, and this is one way to start doing that.

Although storyboards are intended for you to visualise your work, what you say (or what you don’t) is important as well. It is all good and well to have great sheets to show your work, but one of the skills which is assessed here is your ability to articulate what might not come up on your sheets (or what you are struggling to visualise). Crits are an informal (or formal depending on the setting) way for you to practise your communication skills. You are human, and in the professional world you address human problems and clients that are human. Confidence comes with being able to know what to say when it is needed and that is a skill to work on, and that you will continue to develop over the years. But if the idea of talking makes you nervous, having keywords for each page you are presenting will help you when you  lose your train of thought. It can be written through your annotations as a great way for you to keep track of pacing yourself throughout your crits as well.

Before crits you should…practise

Once you have prepared the content of your presentation you should be wary of what you’ll be able to show as well as how you’ll show it. Whether it is through Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meets, you need to familiarise yourself with where you will be presenting. Crits on these platforms will require you to do a bit more work than you would in the studio, which is why practise is important.

Testing out the share screen features, audio, and your timing are aspects you want to focus on because that is where you can prepare. Having copies of your presentations sent out to your tutor or fellow peer prior to the event as a backup will always come in handy if you have to switch to a different device or if you find you encounter a technical difficulty.

Have a run through of your crit between peers and record it. This will allow you to practise your timing and see how engaging you are as a speaker. Whether in person or through your computer screen, adjusting things like your posture and tone will make you appear more confident and everyone will be able to clearly hear you.

During your crits you should… be in the moment

To engage with the critics, your peers and tutors, you want to make sure that you aren’t racing through your slides but not going too slow either, somewhere in between. If you’ve practised beforehand or have a timeline in mind, pay attention to your audience to give you an idea of the correct pace. Don’t be afraid of the occasional pause when talking, this will give everyone a few more seconds to look at your work.

Ask a friend or peer if they can write down some feedback of their own for you  along with the comments and suggestions that do come up at the end of your crit from your critics. If this isn’t possible, making sure that your crits are recorded will allow you to gather real time feedback that you might find you forget once the crit is over.

Although it may be a nerve-wracking 30 minutes, try to enjoy the discourse that your portfolio will create. If you know your drawings well enough, you’ll know the narrative of your portfolio well enough to talk about each page for as long or as little as needed. There is no need to feel startled by questions that you may not expect, but knowing the reasons behind a particular set of drawings or investigations will help. After all, you know your work best, and questions will allow you to think critically of what you choose to show as part of your projects.

After your crits

Along with the hard work that goes into preparing and presenting for the crit there are still a few things you need to do. Whatever its outcome, the crit allows you to develop both your verbal and visual communication skills. The skill of presenting will be honed with practice. Although you won’t always remember what you said or what the critics have mentioned, taking a few minutes at the end to reflect on how you can progress with your projects is the way to go.

Often, with the relief of completing or maybe not having slept much beforehand, it seems tempting to simply leave and get some rest. That may seem like the easy option but I would hold onto that and stay for the presentations of your other peers. Listening and engaging in the crit and discussions of your peers is just as important as it would be for doing so on your own. Whether you realise it or not, you’ll be helping yourself by helping others. Plus, it would be interesting to see what others have been up to as this can give you some new perspectives on problems you might have faced in your investigations and spark some ideas for how you can take on a particular task. 

Your crits are important, now more than ever because you need to enrich yourself with the opportunities to discuss your design work and get critical about how you present your work and yourself as a problem solver. It would be easy to simply pass on these crits with the fear of the worst or not feeling ready to show your work but the experience will be fruitful if you engage in ways that will add to the experience you have of architectural discourse and build the confidence to share your process of design.

The Architectural Experiment is a platform where Nylda shares stories, lessons and advice as a Part 1 Architecture Graduate navigating her way into architecture as a creative, honest and playful storyteller. With the aim of exploring what it means to be in architecture and an architect, she shares content as a way of providing the resources and space to start the conversations we all wish we had embarking on our individual pursuits within the architecture industry.

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