Growing Pains in Architecture

Graduate mentor Amina Alkandari contributes to the critiquing process for her students.

As any student who has ever worked on a creative project knows, at a certain point the distinction between art and identity begin to blur. The artwork we create become extensions of ourselves and frankly, it can get us into quite a frenzy. So when an outsider, an intruder, bags on our artwork and adds, “but don’t take it personally,” it’s only natural to protest. Criticism is difficult, abrasive, and anxiety-inducing, but it is essential to growth.

Studio critiques are an inescapable part of architectural training. As many Berkeley Connect Architecture students have endured in-class critiques of their design projects, mentor Amina Alkandari addressed the difficulties of critique in a small group discussion. Students shared their experiences with negative critique: personal attacks, inconsistent standards, or vague and negative feedback. Alkandari empathized with her students’ experiences but more than that, she challenged her students to improve them.

Although she could not transform the methods of her students’ critics, Alkandari guided her students through a process of presenting valuable feedback to one another. Breaking the class into groups of four or five, Alkandari instructed the students to follow four steps:

1. Statements of Meaning

After an artist displayed artwork to a group, the critiquers shared the qualities they found meaningful, evocative, exciting, and/or striking in the piece. At this stage, the artist did not speak, but only listened.

2. Artist as Questioner

At this stage, the artist asked the group specific questions about the work. For example, “How would you recommend I improve the contrast in my drawing?” The critiquers then expressed their opinions only in direct response to the artist.

3. Neutral Questions

The critiquers then asked neutral questions about the work, meaning there is no opinion implied in their questions. An example of a neutral question may be “How did you come to decide on this color scheme?” as opposed to, “Why didn’t you choose a monochromatic color scheme?”

4. Opinion Time

At the final stage, the critiquers stated their opinions on the piece, provided permission from the artist. Otherwise, the process would end at Step #3.

Students shared sketches, graphics, and photos, suggesting improvements to one another, and listening intensely. The exercise made the experience of receiving critique less painful for everyone.

Ideally, a critique should be a valuable learning experience.  Berkeley Connect students saw how a critique built others up, rather than pushing them down. The critique was constructive and helpful, giving the creative artist a voice in the process.

posted by Gloria Choi

Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant