Architectural Nightmares - Guest Post by Simeon Shtebunaev

Having a good night's sleep is an important factor in maintaining our mental well-being. According to the Mental Health Foundation sleep is as important as eating, drinking and breathing. Poor sleep can both affect and be affected by stress, which is why practicing sleep hygiene is important for our mental health. ABS ambassador Simeon Shtebunaev has shared how '24/7 studio culture' and the pressures of deadlines in architectural study has affected his mind and sleeping patterns, while promoting the value of teaching students to value their health and mental well-being. 

"We have all heard of the toxic nature of studio culture in architectural education. The historically apprentice-based vocation reined in by the academic constraints of a university-based teaching breeding trouble. Herds of A-level graduates arriving unshod, eager to devour knowledge and progress to the title of an ‘architect’. But in order to achieve such a feat they must jump through all the hoops. The pressure to perform is palpable, deadlines are nigh. Who has the time?

Trotting along often won’t do it. There is simply not enough time, something must be sacrificed. It is at that point, before the Christmas holidays, that the studio morphs. Here come the blankets, water bottles and coffee jars. Out with the painting and in with the tooth brush. Stables of architecture students disoriented by the early onset of the winter night turn to it for answers. Teams of four and five retreat to their shared houses, occupy living rooms and start gearing up. They set the pace. The blinkers are down.

The pressure is building up, only the finish line is nowhere to be seen. Hill after hill obscure the sight and the loners congregate: ‘The studio is open overnight, so I will work there.’ Huddling together, the gallop is now less harsh, shared with the herd. Rest is shunned for fear of falling behind. Sleep is a luxury.

Where is the grandest place that you have slept in: ‘A cupboard in the basement of the Arts Tower.’, ‘Under my desk on a piece of cardboard.’, ‘Our school is actually quite good, we have sofas in studio.’ Stalls sprung up across studio.

The farriers are there to shoe the students. Where they sleep should not and often is not their priority. Still the studio doors are open to everyone, anytime. The teams of four now sleeping on the sofas in their living rooms – why waste the precious time of going to bed in your own bed.

Sleep is no longer innocent. It deprives you from the time to finish that one drawing. It reminds you of this other one that you haven’t started yet. It is dark. It is personal. It makes you weak.

Like the ancient beasts of burden, your head goes down and you sluggishly keep pulling the plough. There is no sideways vision, there is no alternative. There is only the rut. And then another one. And then another one.

Architectural education is on its deathbed, but we keep flogging it. Schools have started to realise that 24/7 opening hours are counterproductive, but the culture persists. Few of us are like actual horses, most of us require our fair share of REM sleep. Teaching undergraduates to value it. Factoring it in course and deadline designs. Valuing our own self and balancing our health and wellbeing with the educational process. Many other strategies can help us start reforming our ways of working, teaching and learning.

Enough blab, I’m off for a nap."

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