Third post in the Architecture and Design series
I mentioned in the previous post of this series that the architect’s design process involves a series of kicks to the gut. These kicks to the gut come rapid fire in a condensed period known as “crit” to architecture students.
Crit is short for “critique” or “criticism”. In the summer architecture course that I attended, crit is the name for the session where students present present their work to the prof and their peers, and receive feedback in return.
Feedback does not only come in the form of demands of, “Why?” It also comes through audience suggestions and having the brilliance of your peers shoved in your face.
Indeed, the most vivid memory I have of crit from all those years ago is not of how a prof roasted me. Rather, it was how another peer had chosen a concept similar to mine, yet had executed it much better than me.
I had managed to escape my presentation relatively unscathed, but my feeling of relief came too early as crit had not ended. I began to feel a sense of unease when I listened to another classmate explain his concept, which was essentially the same as mine. The prof, renown for being a particularly tough cookie with extremely restricting standards, actually got excited about his design. She applauded my classmate’s design with a smile and a nod.
The prof then turned to me and said, “See, Corax, isn’t this a much better execution of your concept?” Behind her, my classmate smiled brightly, gleaming with pride from his hard-fought success.
My heart sunk down and so did my shoulders and head in embarrassment. I meekly nodded. I somehow had managed to get crit even though my own session was over – what were the chances?
I was reminded of the pain of crit sessions after a class I had a few weeks ago emulated that process. The prof didn’t call it crit but it sure was one, for we had to present our infographic works-in-progress to our peers in small groups while a teaching assistant looked on.
With my past experience of crit sessions, and all the times I have received feedback on my performance since then, I was prepared. I was on the defensive this time, ready to take option two: justify and bluster my way through because I was determined to prove myself the superior one this time.
The defensiveness was not helpful though. When I got advice on how I should broaden my horizons, such as by considering other ways of presenting my concept or including different information to support my concept, I initially shuttered them out because I felt that they were coming from people who didn’t understand my purpose and reasoning.
A few hours after class, when I had relaxed a bit, I reconciled myself to accepting these suggestions. They were valuable since they were coming from my audience, and design must have an audience after all.
I did have a hard time getting over one particularly painful comment. I scribbled the encounter furiously into my journal as I attempted to blow off the frustration that bubbled up when I thought of that comment.
A classmate had remarked that I had not collected enough data in my infographics. My eyebrows flared in anger when she repeated that again even after I explained my design again, assuming that her first remark came from not fully understanding my work. My data was there in the bar graphs! My data was there in the colours that I used to categorize information! My drawings went beyond the two dimensions of the flat sheet of paper as I had at least four different types of information in each drawing. I had painstakingly recorded information on a daily basis over two months for this and had categorized hundreds of people on my Facebook friend one-by-one. To say that I didn’t have enough data was the biggest insult.
I could dismiss that comment and the rest as the consequence of an inattentive classmate, or my rushed presentation that skimmed over important information as class went overtime. Unfortunately, I can’t, because her reaction too is valuable. Clearly my message wasn’t clear enough if they didn’t understand that I had indeed collected large amounts of data. So, I have to take their response as part of crit as well, no matter how unreasonable the comment seemed.
No matter whether I was defenceless as I was in that summer architecture course, or defensive as I was a few weeks ago in class; neither of those recourses to crit were helpful. You have to take the crit you get. Having to take all feedback, regardless of the circumstances surrounding its delivery (when it came, who it was from, whether you thought it was accurate…) – therein lies the true pain of crit.
While “crit” is what such painful sessions were known as during my past architecture course in Hong Kong, interestingly enough, I learnt that it is not a localized abbreviation. A friend whom I was venting my frustrations to did not bat an eye when I used “crit” without explanation. She doesn’t have a design background and nor is she from Hong Kong, but it turns out that her friends abroad (in a country other than Hong Kong) used that term too. She recalled seeing friends’ Facebook posts declaring “crit” as a time of serious significance, accompanied by photos of boards pasted with drawings and posts embedded with a barrage of emotions.
Crit: the word for pain to architecture students across different countries.