I was asked to critique a series of undergrad architecture design presentations while I was living in Europe, I was happy to help, and I responded immediately, “…absolutely!” The architecture students were just starting their senior design projects, so the presentations were still conceptual while they were still researching solutions to a problem that assigned by the faculty.

The truth was, the more that the critics asked questions, the more nervous the students became.

Slowly each student was pushed in front of classmates and critics, to present their initial steps of research towards their solution to the problem. Each student’s solution was unique, and while conceptually they might work, they all needed further research. The truth was, the more that the critics asked questions, the more nervous the students became. Almost all presentations, each student became overly protective and argued over the concepts they presented.

Passion in the design field is critical for the success of a concept. You must believe your proposal will work so you can successfully sell, support, and complete the proposed solution. Equally, each student is responsible for fact-checking their details, so time isn’t wasted covering fundamental concepts during the critique process. This process is supposed to help the student expand their understanding and assist them to develop logical thinking skills.

I will never forget when a student tried to convince the faculty and visiting critics that their proposed solution was the best idea because, and the following points were listed:

  1. The idea was better than other proposals
  2. The student liked the idea
  3. Water would flow uphill
  4. … trust me

Simply put, this is the wrong approach to any critique. All concepts must be realistic regarding meeting the physical parameters that our environment can handle. Yes, pushing the known design boundaries is key, but, you can’t defy rules of the built environment, and you can’t break the laws of nature. The statement, “…water would flow up hill..” was presented with unsupported details, and the critics were to take his words, “…trust me” as ample evidence. The student wasn’t a reliable expert in the field, so more evidence needed to be presented.

Can water flow uphill? You can’t argue with Earth’s gravity!

Can water flow uphill? You can’t argue with Earth’s gravity, if the parameters were just right, yes water could flow uphill, think of a wave on a beach, or water being siphoned. Nature can prove humans wrong at any point, for example, the Antarctic has a river that flows uphill, why? Several various parameters must be met for it to happen, but the main reason water moves upward are based on the wind and gravitational forces.

In the proposed solution, water could not, in any means flow uphill. If a proposal is going to be made, ample evidence must be presented to prove the details in the proposal.

During any phase of the critique it is critical to remain humble, no matter what manner of attack strategies are played by the critics, never get defensive and remember that it is the presenter’s responsibility to know the project inside and out.

Life is short, the longer I spent in school, the more I realized how little I knew. No one by any means can be considered an expert in everything and the key to success is knowing when to fight for your perspective, and when to accept criticism to improve yourself. Having the last word doesn’t mean that you won.