Let’s be honest, studying architecture is expensive. As much as tuition is today, many think that a lot of what you need to study architecture is covered by this. Wrong. What you save in having to buy textbooks every semester for majors such as Biology, Math, and History, you spend double on materials, printing, and travel. For example, in my second year at the University of Virginia (first year of studio), we were given a list of items to by for our first year of drafting which included a Mayline drafting board ($230), lead holder, lead sharpener, leads of varying softness, vellum, trace paper, scales, rulers, utility knifes, X-acto blades, triangles, french curves, erasers, conte crayons, blender sticks, prismacolor makers, watercolor pencils, and various types of paper. The reality is that half of these items that we were told to purchase would be used for probably half of the semester and would be see seldom usage after that. A great example of this was for the Mayline drafting board which was used for one semester and ended up being used as an impromptu cutting mat for the remaining 5 semesters of schooling. I managed to keep mine in good shape and was able to sell the board for about $100 to an incoming second year student as I prepared for graduation. However, unlike other majors where you can rent books or sell back your books to gain some of the money you spent back into your pockets (and the school gets to sell your used book for nearly the same price as you paid for it brand new), the same cannot be said for students in architecture. If you were unlucky enough to have opened the packaging or lost your receipt, the only options you have are to either make good use of it or sell it to a fellow student.
Now I am not saying that any of the items listed above are invaluable. I have stumbled across some of my old supplies and realized that some of the items are just what I needed to finish a project or sketch. Later in your studies, you may realize that hand drafting is your niche and you excel at that over computer drafted plans and diagrams. There is a lot of room for experimentation so use these tools to help create your own style of design that sets you apart from the rest.
Despite what the public perception of architecture is, not everything is hand drawn. For the most part, a majority of your schooling is done in the computer, outside of initial concept sketches, perspectives, and diagrams. Depending on the school you attend, you will use at least 5 computer programs: Photoshop, Sketchup, AutoCAD, Rhino, and Illustrator. Many schools are now teaching students to use programs such as Catia, Maya, Dreamweaver, GIS, Revit and other programs to aid in the design process. These programs require a lot of memory so investing in computer that can handle a lot of processing is crucial! Buying a $300 Chromebook will probably not cut it. Again, in many other majors where the most used programs are Word, Powerpoint, Excel, and Access, you can get a way with a cheaper laptop but when studying architecture, expect to pay a about $900 and up for a computer. You will not regret it! The last thing you will want to happen is your computer not having another memory to finish a rendering or for your computer to slow down as you preparing for a final review. Architecture School do have computer labs that help with the heavier programs such as rendering in V-ray and Maxwell so that your laptop is free to do other things. However, before finals, everyone will be using these computers so it is nice to be able to steer free of having stake out a computer.
The programs that were mentioned above can be expensive as well, however, with student licensing through the school, many programs are free or at a discounted rate. All Autodesk products, including Revit and AutoCAD, are free for students for a number of years before your license expires. Sketchup has a free version as well a Pro version that has reduced pricing for students. Google Earth Pro is now free to all. Adobe products such as Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator, and Indesign are available through monthly or yearly subscriptions, which also have student discounts. I was lucky enough to have gotten Adobe CS5 before they went to the subscription-based software. I am not a fan of this model because you are continuously paying for a program. However, there are perks. You will always get the most up-to-date program, unlike myself who has to ask others to convert their file to the CS5 version so that no information is lost. You also get cloud storage. This helped a lot when one comprehensive studio partner had her laptop stolen (yikes, invest in a good laptop lock and use it!), we were able to use the information stored in the cloud on another computer. I prefer paying once for an item but to each their own.
Models and Materials
Materials for models add up very quickly. From wood to chipboard to acrylic, most of these items can be found at local art stores. Your school may have a store within the architecture building or campus with items at discounted prices. If your school has this, utilize it but remember that as it gets closer to the end of the semester, supplies will be in limited supply, so the earlier you can get the items the better. Amazon is also a great option, however, do pay attention to the details of the item to make sure it suits the needs of your project. Look for local places that can give you scrap material. A local wood furniture maker would allow students from UVA to get really nice scrap pieces of Spanish Cedar and other beautiful woods.
This varies from school to school, but usage of laser cutters, 3D printers, the wood shop, plasma cutters, robotic arms and other means that aid in the production of models are either free or have a relatively low cost.
The last thing I am going to discuss is printing. Printing is the most nerve-wrecking part about architecture. It is also probably the biggest waste of money. Architecture prints can range from 8.5 x 11 to 36 x 72 and longer. Just to give you an estimate, a 36 x 48 print from UPS will cost $72. Now your prints will not cost you that much if you print through the school put it will be approximately half of that for one print. For final presentations, expect to pay at least $50 just on printing alone.
Architecture School is Expensive
Architecture school can be very pricey, however, you can still produce great projects with cheaper materials. At the end of the day it is all about craft and quality. As you advance through you studies, you will find the little tricks that will save you time and money. For instance, if your school charges your prints by the linear foot, if the plotter is 36 inches wide and you are printing a sheet that is 24 x 36, it would make sense to print 36 wide and not 24 wide because you are saving money by not printing that extra foot. It is the small things like that will save you time, money, and stress.
I hope that these tips were helpful and did not deter you from pursuing a degree in architecture. There are just many unexpected costs that are associated with Architecture that I feel that Schools of Architecture and organizations such as the American Institutes of Architects (AIA) and others should help balance the costs of architecture school. I will talk about that and how the costs of architecture school leads to the lack of diversity in the schooling and in the field in a follow up post.