On Trial

Jessica Roy

5th Year M.Arch



Upon searching the words “jury-style architectural review” on Google, the first couple of results read something like this: How to Survive Your First Critique in Architecture School. There are similar results with other phrases, like “architecture school critique” or “architectural student review”. To an outsider from this field, these titles must seem strange. Within the design industry, criticism tends to be more constructive than not. So, in the words of my search results page, I’m asking, “architecture school, why must you be so mean?”

People often ask me how I survive in a field that considers itself so technical and finite, but that is so subjective on every front. I have yet to find a good answer, aside from lots of crying and the occasional impulse shopping spree. It begs the question: How do students of architecture handle the pressure of knowing that, to some extent, their efforts are futile?

Just like any other design field, architecture requires the insertion of one’s whole self to succeed. Like some terrible blood oath, no project can be taken seriously unless the student of architect has poured some of themselves into it. The design process becomes part of the designer’s identity. I don’t say this like it’s some huge epiphany, I believe this mentality is well-known already.

But with that pressure in mind, why in the world do critics feel alright with ripping apart a project publicly? It could be because the critic has been out of school for long enough to not remember the pressure, the absolute destruction of ego, or the humiliation. It could be that the critic doesn’t like the style. Maybe they had different expectations based on a five-minute spiel about a semester-long design that they are just now seeing for the first time. Obviously it could be that the student didn’t present well, or the project doesn’t work, or there is a clear lack of effort. But it could also be that the critic skipped lunch.


I’m not saying that this is an inherently bad system. In theory, constructive criticism opens a gate to thoughtful discussion and eventually feeds the design process positively. However, the tradition of the jury-style crit has devolved into that of a monstrous power structure, based on the hierarchy of the assumed experts deciding the fates of the lowly students. Students are told to handle this impending degradation with flimsy and often contradictory strategies. Professors say to defend your project, take criticism, but don’t be defensive. In my personal opinion, it’s time for the entire structure of the review to retire.

Critiques are meant to aid the design process, to develop communication skills, and to instill a culture of taking pride in one’s work. But instead, they halt all design progress in favor of incomplete production, contribute to developing anxiety disorders, incite panic attacks, and create a sense of helplessness.

Oh, and that question of how to handle the subjectivity of the field? I’ll get back to it after I empty my ASOS cart.