Architecture is one of the few 'creative' subjects that Cambridge offers. Designing buildings is what it is all about and within this domain you've freedom to do whatever you want. Any idea that you want to test out - canals running through buildings, redesigning the houses of parliament as a nomadic travailing institution - is game, so long as you can justify it! As such architecture is a very fun subject to study, and with the academic inspiration that Cambridge provides, you've many Architectural ideas to explore!
Changes from year to year - as of last year:
60% - portfolio project
40% - examinations
As a degree, architecture is divided in two. On one side there is a thorough academic element that is taught through a series of lecture courses, reinforced by supervisions. The courses vary from theoretical to technical - more can be found on the department website at www.arct.cam.ac.uk under Courses > BA Tripos. Architects do have to get up for some 9 a.m. lectures for a few days of the week - although we have no weekend lectures. The workload for this side of the course consists of some coursework elements, preparing work for supervisions, and occasional full-blown essays in preparation for final exams. The five academic courses are examined in exam papers of three hours each.
The supervisions are done in college groups, with your Director of Studies (DoS). Peterhouse and Murray Edwards are supervised by Mary Ann Steane who is also Deputy Head of the Department. Our supervisions with her cover mainly the History and Theory papers; her research interests are to do with Environmental Design, and she lectured the first year course in it this past year.
How the course is taught
The course is always being modified and reviewed based on the suggestions from students and course leaders meaning the nature of the projects and their duration can vary year on year. However it's consistently the studio element that the bulk of your time will be spent doing. In the first term of the degree, you will have an introductory project. These are bags of fun and involve actually realising your designs. Working in groups also helps everyone to get to know each other and settle in. Last year for example first years designed and built 6 individual structures such as a bike shelter, a vegetable market stall and a social space for a local charity in Cambridge. Second and third term focus on a new project which is documented in your portfolio, made up of all the work done throughout the year. These longer projects have in the past included designing a library, an artists studio, a youth hostel and a G.P. surgery.
The projects are all set on real sites, so after being given an initial brief there will be a mass site visit to take photos, sketch, video, measure and get an overall impression of the site and area. This is often followed by a small task to get you into the project - for example, siting and designing an event of your choosing in the surrounding area. The rest of your term will be taken up with making models at a variety of scales, sketching plans, and experimenting with new software. Taking criticism well and reacting to it constructively is something that often needs to be learnt, since your proposals will have been a substantial part of your life for some time! Studio teaching is a mixture of one-on-one 'desk-crits' that happen a couple of times a week and 'crits', which are slightly more stressful affairs in which you literally pin up your work and it is dissected by tutors and visiting critics.
In terms of the workload, if you want an easy degree, do not study architecture. There is a lot of work. The majority of your exam term will be spent in the studio - as in, I spent more than 12 hours a day in studio throughout the third term. However while it may be time-consuming and draining, you are working in a friendly environment (studio) and on things which don't feature in most of the other degrees at Cambridge (making plaster casts, cutting, and modelling).
Architecture at Peterhouse
The fact that Peterhouse and all its accommodation is so close to the department (no more than a 3 minute walk) is a huge advantage. A Peterhouse student has an extra 45 mins per day in comparison with other Architecture students. Some of the far out colleges (Robinson etc.) will have to order taxis to safely transport models and heavy portfolios yet our students can simply walk them to and fro saving both time and money!
The Architecture section of the Peterhouse library is extremely well stocked for the academic side of the course with more than enough books for extra reading. Peterhouse's annual intake of architecture students is generally quite low which is an advantage for the students since copies of important books are always available without competition for borrowing them! In addition to this students of course have access to the Architecture Department's own library as well as the University Library in Cambridge.
Having Mary Ann Steane as the DoS (Director of studies) provides more for students of other colleges to be jealous of - she always has great advice to help you with your designs, and a wealth of experience and knowledge to give as a supervisor. Furthermore, if you've an interest in sustainability or light, she also has a great interest in them!
On the social side, architecture is a complicated degree to study due to the large amount of time that you spend in studio and away from college. This allows you to potentially have two large groups, Peterhouse and the Architects - Arcsoc (Architecture society) ties the architects together, and is a basis for organising parties and events. Check out www.arcsoc.com. Being close to Peterhouse allows for closer relationships with fellow students there - you can always eat in college with your friends as it is 3 min walk!
In conclusion, architecture is an incredibly versatile degree that will demand different things from you every day. It is time-consuming, but most of that time is spent doing something that you want to do. But don't tell anyone since we like to keep up our hard core image.