Take a break: Beyond the design studio

In 2015, I started my first semester of architecture school. In hindsight, the work wasn’t very hard – there was just a lot of it. While I loved the work that I was doing, when I would put the work down for a second there was a looming sense of guilt that came with knowing that there was more work that needed to be done. I withdrew from social and family activities, both in the sense that I literally said no to things and also by being there in person but somewhere else entirely in my head.

One important thing that I remind myself is that design is never perfect and the design process never ends. Accepting this, I can throw out the idea of working towards perfection and instead work towards making some improvement with each iteration. With this mindset, it’s much easier to give myself permission to turn off the inner work voice and focus on other things.

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Whether it’s for one minute or one year, you need to be comfortable taking a break. One of the things that made the latter part of my undergraduate degree more enjoyable was dropping a subject from each semester’s load and freeing up a bit of time every week to pursue something else. Perhaps you might also need a break between high school and university or between your Bachelors and your Masters.

I’m a strong believer in having a life outside of architecture, but the crucial thing here is to have direction for your free time. These activities can be architecture-related. Over the past 12 months, I have been volunteering with the Robin Boyd Foundation, represented the Australian Institute of Architects’s SONA (Student Organised Network for Architecture) at RMIT, and also pursued freelance opportunities – all of which have been developing my skills in design, negotiation and networking.

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Of course, extracurricular activities don’t need to be directly related to architecture. Over the past two years, I have picked up cycling semi-seriously, setting aside a couple of hours a week to rack up some kilometres on the road. It has been an outlet for stress relief and working through problems away from the desk. This has given me the satisfaction of knowing that I am improving my fitness doing something that I enjoy, and according to research, cycling is moderating my mood, improving my mental clarity and improving brain function.

Hobbies don’t have to be physical. One of my friends and I have started a monthly “crafternoon,” where we meet at one of our houses to work on some art. There are no constraints on the medium and no pressure to produce something good. It’s just a few hours every now and then to explore colour and form. Maybe your thing could be doing a crossword every week to improve lateral problem solving. Explore different worlds and people by tackling that pile of books that you have put aside for “later.” It’s important to note that a hobby shouldn’t be quantified in terms of what it can contribute to your architectural practice – just keep it active, whether it is physical, social, mental or creative.

As young adults, we are subject to pressures from all directions – our inner voice telling ourselves that there is always more work to do; parents telling us to get our act together and graduate faster; friends on social media reminding us about what we’re missing out on. This is why it’s so vital to step back every now and then and check in with yourself. Remind yourself that you are an architecture student, but you are a whole lot more too.

Carrie Lu is a member of SONA and has written this article in response to SONA’s 2018 focus on Mental Health and Wellbeing.

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