The Hidden Costs of Architecture School

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.

The Technology

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.


Urban Photographer

In early October of 2011, I was an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia spending my fall break exploring New York City with my Third Year Architecture studio. This was my first time in the city despite growing up six hours south in Virginia and was overwhelmed with emotion. It is one thing to see the city through pictures and movies. It is another thing to actually experience it in person, witnessing the scale, the diversity, the smells, the textures with your own senses. The reason we were visiting New York was due to the fact that New York is a mecca for architecture students. Projects such as the High Line (the first and second phases were completed), the World Trade Center Memorial (recently opened and still under strict security measures just to experience the pools), and the American Folk Art Museum (recently closed with a fierce debate about its future), where the focal points of our trip. We were learning how to design within a tight urban fabric while creating expressive architecture by taking cues from the surrounding context into our designs.

New York’s architecture had a profound effect on me as a designer. It also had arguably a larger effect on me as a photographer. While strolling the city, I documented the trip with a Canon Powershot digital camera and the Flip Mino HD video recorder. Many of the photos that I had taken were nothing of significance. They are the typical photos that you would expect from a college student not terribly interested in photography. There are quite a few selfies, many blurry photos, a lot slightly off-center, skewed photos, and a few decent photos that actually capture space and architecture. The goal of these photos were not to be posted on social media, but just to documented my personal experience in New York. The photos would be transferred to an external hard drive and forgotten….until 3 years later.

Central Park (unedited)


In 2014, I was looking through the photos from the New York Trip and stumbled across an image I had taken in Central Park. The image was taken from a bridge over looking a small lake where numerous rowboats were maneuvering around. In the distance you can see glimpses of the metropolis with its towers, however you did not feel as if you were in the city. The city seemed to be in the distance as if you were at the outskirts of the wild and natural before entering the man-made concrete jungle. The colors of autumn had taken over the leaves of the surrounding trees creating a warm feeling. I had sent this photo to my old roommate who was in New York as well. He sent me a photo that he had taken from the area near Grand Central Station. In his photo, there was a restaurant located underneath an overpass leading to Grand Central Station. A waitress begins to prep the outdoor seating area as the restaurant had not opened yet. What is striking about this photo is the timeless fell. It was shot in black and white with the emphasis on the texture of the restaurant and the overpass with the one subject of the photo which was the waiter. The rest of the photo is eerily still for the bustling city of New York. The vanishing point of the photography creates a vista the draws you into the photograph, following the edge of the Park Avenue Viaduct with a person crossing the street for scale. The photography also shows the cafe taking back the street. The street is no longer a place dedicated for vehicular traffic but is a place where the functions that use to be contained within can bleed into the outside to create a more vibrant place.

Under Bridge Cafe
Pershing Square

It is with these two photos that my interest in photography blossomed. The amazing thing about photography (and what differentiates it from videography) is the ability to capture a moment in time. A photograph capture that moment with no regard to the past or the present. The only context clues come from the image itself. It is this stoppage of time that I can understand the emotions that people feel in a place or space. I can get an understanding of how the space feels, its proportions, and how people interact in and around a place or space. By combining architecture, urban design, and photography, I can see through a new “lens” the relationship between the built environment, the natural, and the human experience.

The Human Experience


Be sure to check out Dekoded, an Instagram page that my college roommate and I had started a few years ago. Dekoded aims to “dekode” the greatest creation on this earth, the city. The city has always intrigued us, pushing us to pursue a Bachelors in Architecture and Masters Degrees in Architecture, Real Estate, and Urban Design. It is the complexity of the city that we attempt to capture in our photos. It is capturing the grit of the underworld of the subways or the grime of decayed spaces. It is the day-to-day interactions of between differing groups of people at various location such as coffee shops and parks or the subway and on the streets. The city includes the rich and the poor, the old and the young, the natural and built environment. So much gets overlooked. So much is underappreciated. So many spaces are underutilized. Dekoded strives to showcase the interactions between daily people, nature, and the built environment within cities.

Dekoded is based primarily in the Boston and Washington, DC Metro areas but also showcase photos from New York, Charlotte, Philadelphia, and other cities.

Feel free to follow our:





Blog Construction Updates

Thank you for visiting my blog! I appreciate you taking the time out to read my posts. I am still updating many parts of the blog so excuse the mess. Here are parts of the blog that will not work as I am creating posts for them:

  • Projects
    • Both Undergraduate and Graduate links do no work
  • Portraits
    • I hope to have a few portraits posted by the end of today, October 16th.

Again, thank you for visiting! Your feedback is always welcomed.

The Tale of Two City Centers

The night sky over Downtown Newport News is filled with lights. It is surprisingly rare to see such a sight in an urban area. However, on most clear nights, one can stand in the middle of Superblock Park and see even the distant stars. But beyond the sounds of fire trucks from the nearby station and the lights from streetlights and a few cars, downtown is relatively silent and dark. It wasn’t always like this.

Downtown Newport News in the early 1900s

From the early 1900s to the 1970s, the downtown area was a vibrant place, full of life with stores lining each side of the street. During the day, thousands of people worked in municipal activities or the shipping and shipbuilding industries that are in the area. During the night, the lights of the Palace, the Paramount theaters, and many restaurants greeted the late night crowd. It was an easy place to live with many store owners living above their place of work, numerous churches for worship, beautiful houses and apartments to reside in, and plenty of entertainment. What happened to this once bustling downtown?
Starting from WWII, the toll of urban sprawl combined with the lack of being centrally located and direct access to the interstate allowed for the deterioration of the area. The streets that were once pedestrian-friendly now became the stopping grounds for sometimes unwelcomed visitors. The creation of the interstate system ran through the northern sections of the city, ellipsing downtown and creating the mindset that downtown was not accessible. As Residents began to leave downtown, moving north for the suburban sections of the city, so did the businesses, following the clientele in order for newer businesses and adequate parking for the growing importance of the automobile. Historic buildings from the turn of the century began to fall into disarray. Despite efforts to revive the area in the 70s with the demolition of buildings on the Superblock, which was suppose to become the urban renewal project that consisted of high-rise buildings, in the 80s a project called for a hotel, theater, and conference center, and in the 90s a less ambitious goal of a 20,000 to 30,000-square foot building with a park, however, due to marketing and some advocating for the relocation of downtown and many of the civic activities of the city to city center put these initiatives on the back burner and was never fully realized. Despite the completion of the new interstate in the 1990s that connected downtown to the rest of the region, it may have helped the demise of downtown by separating it from the residences.  Downtown has not been able to see the development that other regions have seen. Why is that?

I-664 bisects the Residential Downtown and the Regional Business District. Interstates have been known to be strategically placed to separate communities.

Character is defined as the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of a thing or object. The problem that has plagued Downtown is that its defining character didn’t get the face lift it needed and has lost its identity. Its character died when the people moved north taking businesses with them leaving the shells of what use to be department stores, family restaurants, and theaters. Many of the buildings that have lined the streets of downtown have been demolished to clean up the area or to make parking, thus further adding to the loss of identity. Areas, such as City Center, was planned to become the “downtown” area due to its success in retail, being in the geographical center of the city, and its ease of access. However, because of its lack of history and architectural diversity that characterizes a downtown, the project has not been as successful. City officials and citizens would love to have a vibrant Downtown area once again. How can this happen?
Urban Critic Jane Jacobs said that thriving cities need places to get people out of their homes. She also said that stated “you cannot rely on bringing people downtown, you have to put them there.” In order to revive Downtown Newport News, people have to be put there and not just brought there for one thing. Now in reality, people cannot just be thrown into a situation, but can be provided adequate housing for them and places of enjoyment.

These parking lots, now used by Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, use to be homes, churches, and local stores.

A successful project has been Homeport Hampton Roads, which is housing for Navy personnel while their ship is docked for repairs. This is one way to stimulate growth of businesses back into the area. There also has to be the return of some sort of nightlife activity. This could be the restoration of the Palace or the Paramount Theaters, which use to light up Washington Avenue in the evenings. By doing this, they could be a beacon for Downtown as they once were. Restaurants could then begin to open up to serve the late night crowds on the street-level of historic buildings which create the streetscape that could was seen before the 1980s, with people strolling the area enjoying the return of the Downtown life. Markers are also needed to proclaim that you have entered Downtown Newport News. As it stands now, there is very little indication that you have entered a historic area. Many downtowns throughout the region have banners, signs, and markers that let people know that this is an area of importance.  Downtown has an identity, it just has to revive it. Turn the lights on in Downtown Newport News.
Reviving Downtown Newport News will not only be a great for the city, but also a great economic boost for the Hampton Roads region. For the city itself, it will break down the traffic congestion in Oyster Point by decentralizing the most of the commercial activity from that area, provide economic growth in the downtown and surrounding areas, and provide transportation growth opportunities. For the region, it can provide economic growth for the area with a greater number of tourists, visitors, and jobs as well as provide opportunities to expand public transportation opportunities, such as light rail, to the Peninsula.

Public Housing Projects in Downtown have been torn down for redevelopment.

Today, thousands of employees work in Downtown, yet there are little activities and amenities to keep them in Downtown after work hours. After employees leave to return to their suburban homes, downtown becomes a ghost town, with a couple hundred people who live in the area. If the revitalization efforts begin with lighting up the night, downtown will have life after work. The thousands of people who work in Downtown will want to live downtown because it is close to work and close to a vibrant night life, especially the younger workers of the shipyard. Nevertheless, there will be those who still would like to live in the suburban area, but at the same time, there will be those who would take pride in living in a historic house or building, such as the Huntington Heights Neighborhood which is a historic district in the city. Revitalizing Downtown Newport News will be a large undertaking and will need the help of the public as well as the private sector. We have to look no further than Charlottesville, Boulder, or many other cities to see it can be done and how much of a difference it makes. Downtown has as much potential as many cities. It is a waterfront community and is very accessible from the interstate. Newport News has a rich maritime heritage and its location in what is known as “Americas First Region” between Virginia Beach and the Historic Triangle of Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg, makes it a great destination for residents and tourists to enjoy. It has the ability to rival many of the Downtowns in the region. However, until it regains the character and pride it once had, the lights of Downtown Newport News will remain in the night sky.

dekoded: A Revolution through Photography


Two Designers. Two Photographers. One Goal. dekode humanities greatest creation: the city.

What is dekoded?

dekoded, at the moment, is a small photography venture started by my former college roommate and myself, striving to capture and understand a city, whether small or large, through photography and architecture. We do not limit ourselves to capturing the built environment, focusing on human interaction (or the lack of it) to understand what mood this creates within a city.

To decode, as defined by The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is to find or understand the true or hidden meaning of (something). The definition may be a little vague and leaves much to interpret. It may in itself need to be decoded. However, this vague definition is one of the defining reasons that dekoded exists. To some, dekoded is the breaking down of complex public and private spaces, architecture, and cities to understand how the built environment impacts those who inhabit it. Others may say that dekoded seeks to find hidden, underutilized and under appreciated spaces and bring them to the forefront, day-lighting their essential use or potential. Whatever dekoded means to you is what we inspire to capture and share through social media. We hope that our photography changes your perspective on how you view certain aspects that make up life in a city.

Where can I find dekoded photos?

We are on Instagram where you find our posts at @_dekoded. Please feel free to follow us and comment on our images. We definitely rely on feedback to grow as photographers and designers Hopefully, within a month or so, we shall be on Tumblr as our official blog. Stay on the look out for the launch of that soon!

Where is dekoded based?

dekoded is actually based in two metro areas: Metro DC and Metro Boston. Many of the photos that will be showcased highlights areas in these localities. However, as we travel, we explore and capture other cities as well such as New York, Richmond, Baltimore, the Hampton Roads metro, and many others.

How can I reach dekoded?

If you are on Instagram, feel free to comment on one of our photos or send us a direct message. We can also be reached by email at

Is Vertical Farming the Solution for the Future?

As the population grows, cities will also grow. The suburbs will become a part of the city, and the outskirts of the city will then become the suburbs and so on and so forth. There will be a point in the future where many Urban centers will have to transport fresh produce from farms in the Midwest or further to support the populations. Since there will be a smaller countryside outside of the city, those farms will not be able to support the demand of fresh produce as they once did. The produce coming from the Midwest will not be “fresh” when it reaches the cities. So how can we fix this?

Just imagine a city with instead of an area dedicated to Industrial Park companies, and replace those with Vertical farming parks! How much of a difference would that make? And we can push this further than the United States. How about countries that have little vegetation growth because of the extreme climates such as the Saharan countries of Africa, the deserts of Australia, the tundra of Russia. This goes back to my last post discussing the possibilities of utilizing space that was once undesirable. Not only could it promote health and growth in population in those nations, but also create economic growth. Vertical farming is more efficient than regular farming since almost everything is recycled and reused. It takes up less land and allows for more land to be preserved as a park or for enjoyment. Vertical farming means less processed food. Think of portions of cities that are in “food deserts” that lack access to fresh produce but are within a stones throw of a number of fast food options. It seems to have healthier impacts on people and the earth in general. We can avoid another Dust Bowl scenario where the land has been over tilled and malnourished.

Are there any pros? Well sure. In order to build the farms you have to give up real estate. It is more efficient than a farm, but it may not yield as much produce as a normal farm would. The biggest thing concern is the cost of running and operation such as this and the technology involved. It is cheaper just to buy land in the middle of nowhere and plow it than buying land in a dense urban complex and build there the infrastructure there. Other pros are the effect it will have on animals. What will happen to the Peter Rabbits that depend on the carrots stolen from the farmers yard? Well that is if we some how reach a state where landscape farming is obsolete to vertical farming.

Urban Farming in Detroit

As for now there isn’t much to worry about. It is still a good idea to be thinking about, especially in large cities. This idea is spreading in cities like Chicago and New York. Urban farming is happening in shipping containers in cities like Boston for locally gone produce for restaurants. Detroit is using its land to make large scale community gardens to clean up the image of empty lots that plague the city. There have already been talks about building vertical gardens in Abu Dhabi, Incheon, Portland, Toronto, and Beijing.

Here are a few designs of what future designs may appear as: