Why Architecture Is So Hard

Architecture is infamously known for that course with sleepless nights, suffering those “damned plates” and being one of the most difficult fields to study. Any google search on “architecture school” can be so daunting for those seeking to take on the profession. Why is this so? What makes this practice so complex driving students out of architecture school?

Studying and practicing architecture is difficult because it is very time consuming. It ranks high in the most hours spent among professions. It requires a collaborative and deep thought process taking into account various professions. It is a combination of science and art, asking the architect to understand several sciences like engineering, building, utilities and math; simultaneously integrating those with the arts of planning, theory of aesthetic, history, presentation, etc.

In the field, the architect is the “chief builder” (quite literally from its Greek etymology of “arkhi-tekton”). Meaning they are the head of operations and construction. Buildings are constructed only with their approval and signature on the overall plans of everyone’s contribution. They don’t need to be experts in every field, but they need to be able to understand enough of what each profession does, in order to combine them all into a working building.

Otherwise, if we keep signing without understanding how all these layers work together, our neck is on the line and our license revoked.

The architect’s role is also a mediator. S/he has to be able to explain to other parties what is needed for another to work. They communicate the client’s wishes, engineer’s technical issues, contractor’s logistics and government’s building policies.(1)

Perhaps in practice, one can further choose to specialize into a certain aspect of architecture like heritage conservation, interiors or construction management. However architecture school demands you pass all subjects science and art (with a tight passing rate).

The main difficulty of the job is balancing all sciences and combining them into something aesthetic (and that it all works).

Below is an overview of what architecture schools cover in their curriculum:

Table from Is Architecture School Hard? Here’s the Truth – What Blueprint

Typically in the main subject “Design”, students are asked to design a building — house, apartment building, school or airport. It’s highly unlikely we’ll be designing all these typologies once we graduate, but it’s the training and test of synthesizing all trades into a structure.

So “Design” isn’t purely an art subject and trying to come up with fantastical forms and styles. It’s integrating engineering, financial feasibility, user behavior and activity, environmental impact all in one. (1)

“It’s like going to a semester of construction school, a semester of art school, a semester of theory school, a semester of business school, a semester of history school and a semester of design school all at the same time” (2)

Beyond understanding the technical aspects of a building, the architect must be flexible enough to delve into several arts to convey the selling idea. This may be model making, watercolor rendering, sketching or getting to learn the different computer softwares for drafting, 3D modeling, rendering and presentation. (3)

The learning doesn’t end after school. To maintain your professional license you need to accumulate points through seminars and stay up to date with the latest green building certificates or eco friendly material or in our present dilemma, how to design safe spaces against COVID-19.

Image from Integration: The Latest Architectural Visualization Trend of 2019 | ArchDaily

Time & Money Spent

The road to becoming an architect is long and hard, regardless of where you are in the world. Some countries would require obtaining a Master’s Degree before being able to apply for the professional license. However, the average journey is 4-5 years of your bachelors in architecture school, paired with 2-3 years of internship under a licensed professional, after which you can take the board exam, which will then need to be renewed every few years.

Many could argue that the architecture student put in the most amount of time in school. Averaging 12 hours a day versus most courses that average 3 hours a week. (4).

The excessive amount of time spent in the profession, leads to most students only making friends within the architecture realm. Time management, discipline and the will to turn away from procrastination and digital distractions are highly needed to survive. (3)

Why does this work culture carry over onto work? This is where the art aspect steps in. Creative artistic work as we know is hard to quantify to time. It can always be better and improved upon. New information will continue to transform the design, affecting all drawings of structural, electrical, plumbing, etc. The tricky part is balancing all the creative juices to make it to the deadline. (2)

Architecture school is also considered a very expensive course. Having a laptop and computer is a must today. You need to learn the different softwares and use them constantly. Being a creative course, a lot is spent on art materials like paper, different pencils, pen, drafting tools, etc. also as a longer course than usual means more semesters spent on supplies and books. This can put financial strain on the family trying to support the student on the journey to becoming a full fledged architect. (2)

Unfortunately, the money returns don’t normally show until about 5-10 years after university. This would add to the “long haul” side of the profession. Unlike other courses who would put in less hours, not having to pursue a license through a board exam can make double the salary.

Since the money is tough, and it is still based on style (or price) that you choose your architect, the competition within the profession is high. As early as your university years you will start to feel that pressure of peer competition. Try and channel that to improve upon your work rather than make you feel bad or drive you nuts.

Studying Science and Art, heavy with a side of Law

Being liable for the building for several years, you’ll double, triple check every law to make sure you’re abiding with all of them and safe.

Often clients can be fussy, can quickly change their minds or give delayed payments. Assuming you do get along, you’d now have to harmonize the relationship with your engineers and contractor (and ensure you aren’t swindled by their cost cutting tactics). Therefore you’ll spend plenty of time in paperwork between building permits, contracts with fellow professionals, all while copyrighting your valuable design.  (5)

The Travails of Design & Art

As mentioned earlier, design is not based on style and aesthetic, but a synthesized solution of several factors: the client’s dream house with their timeline, budget and needs of the engineers, contractor, city government, etc.

Often, there is no right answer. There is extensive research, consulting several professionals, then your experience to guide you on how to build concrete spaces well. (6)

As early as our school years, the disappointment in our creativity creeps in. More so when we compare ourselves to our classmates who look like they’ve had previous experience in Fine Arts. Or your potential client that doesn’t seem to like your style at all and think it is just a “drawing”. Since the art aspect is still subjective, it is important to take in criticism, but not let that change your vision completely. Let it evolve and transform, but do not scrap it completely.

Also know if your output in the first years in architecture school is not so great, this is not a clear indication that you are “not” for this course. It definitely takes time to find your way through the critical thinking of an architect. An indication would be if you’ve scored enough to continue, then just keep going.

How to Survive?

Summarizing a few points from the “Healthy Architect” (7):

  1. Go to sleep
  2. Go home in time
  3. Have fun
  4. Set a daily goal
  5. Don’t worry about what you can’t control
  6. Work Out
  7. Meditate

Basically value your time and your health. Take care of your mindset and body so that they can both enjoy the ride architecture will bring.

Key Takeaways

It takes much more than being good at math and drawing. The biggest factor for me would still be managing stress and time. Having survived architecture school myself, I can say these points sum up what you need to stay alive:

1.   Sleep

It sounds simple and easy, but most architecture students get sucked into the vicious cycle of sleepless nights due to unfinished plates. I know there’s a deadline. I know it’s scary to sleep when you have deadlines to meet, but trust me when I say it will only get worse if you don’t sleep. You’ll end up compromising the next assignments for other subjects (because it won’t stop) and therefore need to be sustainable with your energy to last.

2.   Inspire Yourself

Throughout the course, drowning in work and unable to have that university party lifestyle, whatever it is, you’ll often come across the “Why am I in this? Should I just quit?” I’ll be overjoyed if you never pass through these thoughts, but I often did.

It greatly helps to reflect and recall why you decided on architecture in the first place. Attend events, watch videos or read articles to rekindle what drew you to the art. That perhaps will be enough to fuel the will and keep moving forward to the next day.

3.   Family & Friends

Always set aside time for your family and friends, because they will be there to support you through all the years of crying and struggles. I was putting off family and friend time for homework, but then you quickly realize, the work doesn’t really stop. Time off with family is a great way to reset and strengthen that support system.

4.   Time for yourself

This I learned the hard way. I dedicated the first 2 years of architecture school solely to studying and doing well academically. This made me miserable. I was crying and throwing tantrums, even “treating myself” by going out, or shopping didn’t give me much joy anymore. It was only when I started to realize, what if this profession doesn’t work out for me?And I’ve pushed out time for all the things I love for 5 years,… for something I MIGHT not stick with?”

I decided to dedicate some time to my hobbies. I told myself, for just one hour. One hour to unwind and go to a fitness class then come back and get back into the grind. This way, I felt like no matter the outcome of my course, I will try to enjoy life throughout the journey. This way, architecture school cannot take any “I wish I did..” from me. You don’t grow resentful for the life you gave up to pursue something so difficult (because it really is).

Value your architects and pay them right with respect to their hardships. They go through hell and back to deliver you the best building they can.


  1. Harris, J. (2022, February 18). Is architecture school hard? here’s the truth. What Blueprint. Retrieved March 2022, from https://whatblueprint.com/is-architecture-school-hard-heres-the-truth/
  2. Sinko, K. (2020, August 14). Is architecture hard? how difficult is studying architecture? (& how to make it easier): 070. Successful Archi Student. Retrieved March 2022, from https://successfularchistudent.com/is-architecture-hard/
  3. *. (2022). 11 reasons architecture is the hardest major (W/ high quit rate!). Architecture Two Cents. Retrieved March 2022, from https://architecttwocents.com/why-is-architecture-the-hardest-major-course/
  4. Young, S. (2018, April 18). ‘intensive but fun’: All you need to know about studying architecture. The Guardian. Retrieved March 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/apr/18/degree-guide-studying-architecture-design
  5. Riscica, M. (2020, June 25). 10 reasons why you should not become an architect. Young Architect. Retrieved March 2022, from https://youngarchitect.com/why-you-should-not-become-an-architect/
  6. *. (2021, August 9). How hard is architecture school? Oneup Architecture. Retrieved March 2022, from https://oneuparchitecture.com/how-hard-is-architecture-school/
  7. Michael. (2021, July 7). The healthy architect or how to master stress in architecture. Archiitect.io. Retrieved March 2022, from https://archiitect.io/stress-in-architecture/