Dealing with Design Tutors – For Architecture Students

Dealing with Design Tutors – For Architecture Students

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A design tutor is your mentor during your time in university and they will vary through the years of your architectural career. Your tutors are your guides and mentors throughout the design course and will help carry out tutorials, crits and in some cases they will eventually be the ones presenting your work to other examiners.

In most scenarios you will see your tutors at least once a week for a tutorial i.e. a one-to-one discussion about your project, where it’s at and what you can do to make it better (Frequency of tutorials vary between schools). In some cases, you might even have two tutors which has its own benefits and disadvantages which we’ll discuss later. Other times you will see your tutors will be during crits, presentations and during workshops.

So, you had a tutorial and you probably went in thinking that your work is sorted, you know exactly what to say and you have the perfect ideas. The tutorial starts and your tutor is interested or excited about your work. As they go on, they give you some tips or corrections to make or they give you references for buildings to look at. But then the tutorial ends, and you come out incredibly confused. Not because they've said anything wrong, but because they lost you at some point.

Don’t worry, this happens and you're not the only one. In fact, this is probably how first year students feel for the first term or so. Going into architecture without any background information can be daunting. This isn't anyone's fault. The best of the best students also get confused or stuck. Unfortunately, it's just part of being an architecture student. Even if you took the best notes you could, it’s possible that the discussion ended up somewhere you didn’t expect and the things you wanted to say weren’t said.


The reason for confusion can be for a simple reason or a mix of various reasons that you need to identify. Dealing with this can be difficult and frustrating at first but you have to consider a few things. Firstly, your tutor's words are not always the gospel truth.

Sometimes your tutors will say something completely different every week. They will never say you have perfect work, otherwise there would be no point in you being there. Their job is to criticise you and tell you what you're doing wrong (or right) and allow you to change things. It's normal for your tutor to say 'you're on the right track' one week and then say 'this isn't great work' the next. You will most definitely find a 'harsh' tutor, or someone your peers may not get on with well but they may be the right kind of tutor for you. Perhaps you're taking it too personally or not grasping what they are saying.

Others however, might say the same thing over and over. This can be because they asked you to do something but you put it off and went ahead with other stuff anyway. It not only halts your work but doesn't let your tutor help you in any way. Try not to get stuck in this rut because every week is precious and contributes to the amount of pressure you feel as the deadline nears. Before complaining that your tutor is repeating the same things, you need to take a step back and think about why they want you to do this certain task. If you feel like it's really not neccessary, try and talk to your tutor to figure out the next steps. The more work you do in the beginning the better because you can refine it later rather than trying to do too much at the last minute. This is also a reason why we encourage you to have your portfolio as complete as possible as the weeks go by.

From their point of view you have to understand that a lot of the time the tutors have other jobs and dedicate one day a week to see you. They have other students to see and other projects to keep track of. Sometimesyou might even get lucky with some amazing tutors who help you A LOT. That is possible in some cases. Rather than seeing this as a free pass, you need to learn to appreciate them. But at the end of the day they are most definitely not going have the same thought process or even care as you do for your project. After all, it is a question of your grades and degree.

If you get confused after a conversation with your tutors and don't know how to proceed, read our article on 'Best Things to do After a Tutorial or Crit'. We explain some things that will ease the process and leave you raring to go. The article explains various habits you can get into which will ensure the time after your crit or tutorial isn't wasted. A lot of the time, students start thinking too much and end up forgetting what they were supposed to do. As we all know, each minute is precious in architecture so you need to make the most of it and this goes for tutorials too.

Secondly, not everyone gets the same tutor.

The tutors who provide you references and even sketch out the ideas they want to convey in front of you are a god-send. But we've seen and heard from people that not all tutors make that kind of effort. In that position, you can feel really confused and have no idea of what to do next, especially if you're a first year. By the time you're in your 3rd year, although you will know the process of the course, it is still possible to feel stuck at some time. This does depend on where you're studying, which unit you're placed in and most of the time none of these things are in our hands.

You’ll soon realise what kind of tutor you have, and then all you need to do is to figure out a way to deal with them (hence this article). If the tutors don’t like your work, don’t take it to heart and instead just ask them to explain further. Usually, once they explain, you’ll understand slowly and if not, then you should ask yourself if the advice they are giving is really worth it?

Sometimes you’ll know if a certain point they bring up makes no sense and in rare cases it can be a good idea to actually ignore their advice – as long as you have a better idea in place. This doesn't necessarily come instantly, but write down their suggestions in your sketchbook and then while you're at home, a new idea might come to you or you might find a way to build on them. Your tutor might start off the conversation like they are about to say a good point, but as they go on and on, you lose focus and understanding. Eventually, you will decide yourself if it's worth listening to or not.

Don’t misunderstand us, we're not saying to ignore them because it's important to have a tutor-student dialogue. Even if they dismiss a lot of ideas, when it comes to it, they do know what they're talking about and they have that level of experience. You have to realise that they have also been through the same process you’re going through right now.

But if you realise that as the weeks pass, you're just getting more and more confused with your project, you need to stop and communicate this to them. The best way is to start by telling them you don't exactly understand what they want or why. Most students don't do this because they're either afraid of their tutor or they think there is no point in saying anything.

The worst thing you could do is be afraid of your tutors and as result, not tell them of certain ideas or tell them you disagree with their advice. This will end up affecting you in the long run and by the end of the project, you won’t be interested, and it will show through in your work.


Ignoring the advice of your tutors may actually work in your favour. They won't admit it when your idea has worked or you've been praised by someone else, but it is possible for tutors to be wrong. Sometimes though, tutors will be right. We might hate to admit it but ever so rarely, your tutors' idea could elevate your project.

You need to remember that this is YOUR project, not theirs. Don't be afraid of relaying ideas that may not seem realistic, try and take risks and be as creative as you can. Then, ask advice from your peers and tutors to make sure you're not going too overboard. Have a look at previous projects or speak to those in the year above you for example. Usually there is a flow or sequence in each project and more than likely, those who have been in your position can tell you where the best place to take your project forward is.

Try not to get frustrated. If you feel like it's just one specific tutor who is disagreeing with you or putting down all your ideas, it might be good to talk to a different tutor or go to a head of year, someone who can help. For those in first or second year, it could again, be good to talk to peers who are in third year or master's students.

Lastly, you just need to remember to find a balance in your work and try and understand where you tutors are coming from. If you need more help, have a look at our other articles on the website or contact us on Instagram!

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