Hustle Culture Doesn’t Work at Home

An architecture graduate student explores his dissatisfaction with two years of online education.

A drawing by Carleton University architecture student Dominic Dumond entitled “A Strange Classroom” explores the world of virtual learning. “I wanted to convey a message [about] how our traditional learning space has morphed into something quite bizarre and incomprehensible,” says Dumond. The drawing won an Honorable Mention in the Azrieli School’s 2021 Murray & Murray drawing competition.

Architecture school has always been a hectic place filled with young, driven students. Every member of my class entered the program looking to become an architect, without any real understanding of what the profession entails. We quickly learned the pace, expectations, and rigour that an architectural education required. Before the pandemic, our culture of high-intensity work was maintained on campus, including in long, unhinged all-nighters spent in studio, and when a deadline was finally over, we could return home to recover.

Like every other aspect of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic completely overturned our education in March of 2020. I immediately felt how the way we had been operating would not work at home. I would sit at my dining room table with my laptop for hours a day, eventually having to make space when it was time for family dinner. School and home very quickly mutated together, creating an environment which was not suitable for either.

Our school was forced to quickly adapt to using online platforms,
a process which was quick for students, but a challenge for some faculty. Their frustrations strained our education, fostering an even more stressful situation. As everything around us was shut down, I ended up constantly working on my various classes and studio projects. There weren’t really any genuine breaks, and it quickly resulted in exhaustion.

After the 2020 winter semester ended, I began my co-op term in
a single-person practice based in Toronto—a welcome change from the time in school. But starting in a work-from-home situation, and only communicating through emails and phone calls, felt quite isolating. There was no opportunity for natural conversation or casual learning—asking questions felt like I was being bothersome, and feedback became constrained to certain points in the day. Opportunities to visit project sites emerged as the most exciting and rewarding moments: I could see a detail I drew on AutoCAD being constructed in front of me. These experiences—as well as the patience and understanding of the architect I worked with— solidified my desire to pursue licensure as an architect. Even in a global pandemic, I was able to enjoy what I was doing.

I entered my final year in the fall of 2021, in another online semester. Isolated in my bedroom—this time in a shared apartment in Toronto—there was a similar pattern to the year before. I spent countless nights producing something to present to a screen of blank squares. I would get some feedback from the professors and guest critics, say thank you, close my laptop, and that was it. There was little to show for these projects—not even poster boards or a model. Just some digital imagery, and done.

By the time I began my final semester, like many of my peers, I had little energy left. While we now had the opportunity to have in-person studios, it was too little, too late. I could barely focus on completing the required work, yet it also felt like one of the busiest and most hectic periods of my education. I had to take one assignment at a time, finding it very difficult to think weeks in advance to plan some sort of schedule. I kept telling myself that I just needed to finish, despite feeling drained, uninspired, and dissatisfied.

 I will be continuing in my master of architecture in the fall; many of my friends are getting full-time positions in firms across the country. Most students in my pandemic cohort are continuing in architecture. However, we are exhausted by the experience of our education, and are entering the profession with an outlook shaped by this schooling. Education during the pandemic highlighted the importance of boundaries between work and life: having access to studio spaces when needed, but also having the opportunity to sometimes work from home is crucial to maintaining balance. People can be passionate about architecture, but without breaks, burn-out can happen suddenly, even among students and young professionals.

Christian Maidankine is a Master’s candidate in the Department of Architectural Science at Toronto Metropolitan University.