Is it Worth it? Deconstructing Final Production

Kurt Nelson
4 min readMay 24, 2017

After going through and documenting a week of my time during the middle of the semester, the next step was to do the same during final production, looking to see how big (or small) of an effect final production had on my schedule as a Master of Architecture candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. However, a sample size of one isn’t very indicative of the overall atmosphere in a program, so this time around I enlisted the help of a few other people to get a better idea of the range of schedules. To better capture the full effect of final production, instead of a seven day period I chose to look at the ten days leading up to the final presentation. All of the surveyed students are in their first year of PennDesign’s Master of Architecture program, except for student E. To see if there was any significant difference between programs I enlisted the help of a friend in his first year at University of Texas at Austin’s Master of Architecture program. Here are the results:

Each colored line represents one day
The numbers show the average time spent per day for each category
Number of hours spent per day on studio, sleeping, and free time.

Lastly, a comparison between my own schedules during the middle and end of the semester:

So now, what to make of this? One obvious takeaway is that across the board we are all working a lot, but this brings the question: toward what? The results of each studio are impressive, without a doubt, but is it possible to tell the difference between a 120 hour project and an 80 hour project?

Visually, while they are all polished drawings, none stick out as being 40 hours better than any other. However, one project does have 40 hours of work more than another.

Looking at the sheer number of hours put in during this final production, one cannot help but be impressed by the dedication exemplified in the final projects; but is that time being spent as wisely as it possibly could? In general, studios take much the same format across schools and years, but does that have to be the case? With an essentially free $133,425 worth of final production hours being thrown at an oftentimes hypothetical project, is there not some architectural problem out there that could be cracked by sixty hard-working minds that would be a bit more significant than pushing out 60 more multi-use libraries or apartment complexes? Granted, the dialogue on architectural representation (the aspect of a project that comprises the majority of time spent during final production) is better off for this system, but does it have to have a monopoly? By focusing a bit less on polished graphics and a bit more on polished research, we could stand to gain broader perspective on architecture.

To close, there is another arguably more significant point raised by this look into the lives of students working towards their Master of Architecture degrees: the tireless work required to get to this point is devalued by the prominence of unpaid internships in architecture. To offer an unpaid internship not only does nothing to help with the growing problem of student debt, it actively discourages students from taking jobs at firms at the forefront of architecture and design, who are all too often those offering unpaid internships. An internship is a crucial part in the process of becoming an architect, but with an unpaid internship that meets the criteria put forth by the U.S. Department of Labor, the educational experience of being an intern is necessarily degraded because of compliance with point four.

The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded

If the employer truly derives no immediate advantage from having the intern there, then how can the intern get any significant advantage from the internship? While this is certainly a complex issue to address, it is one that deserves to be further investigated.

Thank you to all who made this study possible, specifically Ariel Cooke-Zamora, Katie Lanski, Kim Yejin, Paul Hazelet, and Ryan Henriksen.

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Kurt Nelson

Recent graduate from University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Architecture program, currently working at KPF in New York City.