Conquer The Final Review (Part 1)
PART I – PRESENTATION STYLES
As a pedagogical tool, the final review provides not only an opportunity for the student to receive feedback on his or her work, but also as a cathartic motivator and an impetus to reflect on the past semester’s efforts. If you are a student headed into your final review, we here at SC encourage you to take a beat (we know, it’s hard, you’re panicked, but just breathe) and think through how you are approaching the meta-project of presenting your work.
There are various philosophies out there regarding how one should approach a final presentation, both from the perspective of the student and that of the critic. Some critics think of the review as a means to help the student refine his or her work into its most interesting potentials. Other critics may see the critique more like an exam, while still other individuals view their role as critics to be merely providing their opinion. In some cases, particularly in advanced studios, critics may be invited by the school with the goal of assessing the critic for potential hire – so their words may be meant as much for the other faculty as for you the student. It is always helpful to discuss the role of each review with your instructor, but no matter who you end up with, it is essential to embrace the review as more than mere validation of your hard work. Yes, smart people saying nice things about your work feels great at the time, but it is often hard to know how to push your work further afterwards, and what to take away from the experience.
While reading the examples of presentation styles below, consider — what mode of delivery best conveys the most important aspects of your work? What type of space does this create for your critics to engage with your project? What is on the wall and (sometimes more importantly) what remains off the wall? As a way to think through the problem, try planning out where each image will be placed on the wall. Sketch it out, and get specific. Try using inDesign to create a cartoon of the wall using your working files (we’ll discuss tips like this and more in Part 2). Are 3D representations present? If so, where do they go? Consider the order in which you will talk through the project via your materials, and place them accordingly. Once you’ve done this, take a step back and curate. Is anything needlessly complicating the field? Talking this out with a friend will help; even if they’re too wrapped up in their own project to be helpful, saying things out loud to a person will help you be critical of the way you convey the work.
In the end, reviews are most productive when the conversation takes the project on its own terms, and pushes it further. To that end, here are a few styles of presentation, to be chosen depending on what style of project you have.
“First, I did __. Then, I did _. Then I did __ and so it looks like this.”
The Lineage is probably the most common presentation style in architecture and design schools, especially in early or core studios. The goal of this presentation type is to explain to the critics HOW you came to the decisions you made, revealing your process along the way, and therefore showing that you understand the concepts taught throughout the semester. Likewise, there are types of projects entirely based on successive modifications of form, particularly in the age of digital and algorithmic design processes. If this sounds like you, ‘The Lineage’ is probably a good way to present your project.
If your project has held true to the original premise you started with 10 weeks or so ago, jump down to one of the other presentation styles and try something more advanced you sly devil. However, if this is one of your first studios, chances are you are human and things have ‘migrated’ a bit. If that initial sketch you made (or photo of the site, or conversation, etc) has remained a touchstone, or driver for the work, it should totally be present and the first thing you talk about. But if the project you have today doesn’t have all that much to do with your initial sketches, you probably don’t need to talk about them, or even put them on the wall. When using this presentation style, it is crucial to curate which events had the most impact. Read carefully the last line of the introduction above, and be careful not to show to much process as to overwhelm your final product. Likely, you’ll follow up the Lineage with a walkthrough of the project details and/or spaces. Don’t forget to factor this time in while preparing.
THE BIG PICTURE
“This project is about ___.”
In ‘The Big Picture,’ one first gives an overview of the work at a zoomed out level. What’s the main idea or concept behind your work? Is your project an investigation of material strategies? Is it an architectural intervention in contested political space? Or is it big territorially, like an urban design or landscape, with an overarching theme driving the design decisions? This often requires a bit of quiet introspection and, like ‘The Lineage,’ can benefit from discussion with colleagues or peers that you admire. This could be someone who knows your project or someone completely new to it, but it will usually take a few tries to really nail down what your work is really about. And that’s really the key – before you give your critics ‘The Big Picture,’ make sure you can back it up!
“Once upon a time, there was a ___…”
Just kidding, don’t actually use that phrase — but you get the idea. Sometimes, the explanation of your work can benefit from a more explicit narrative format, to show the work in a way that pays close attention to a number of different actors or sequence of events. However, this is definitely not something to be tacked onto a project at the end! This technique should be used only if your way of working has already benefitted from the presence of a supporting storyline, cast of characters, etc…. If this makes sense for you, you probably already know it.
With that said, the points outlined in the styles above remain crucial – talk it out beforehand and lay out your drawings, models, constructs, etc. in such a way that your critics can work their way through your materials in a well-structured fashion.
THE EXPERIENTIAL NARRATIVE
“Kyle emerged into the ___ where he witnessed Dan and Jono working in the ___ with Robert”
Typically, at the architectural scale at least, the spaces we design are meant to be inhabited by people, and engage ecosystems or the context in a compelling way. Too often, designers forget to highlight the unique experiences and the atmosphere we envision with our work. With this method (a variation of ‘The Storyline,’ you might allow your reviewers to ‘try on’ the experience of several constituents or agents of the project – how do their experiences differ and how have you designed those sequences to interact with the finer points of your design? ‘The Experiential Narrative‘ could be delivered through a series of vignettes augmented by verbal poetry, or take on more the style of a comic book such as Big’s . You may choose to articulate the diurnal or seasonal nature of your project, or code paths of circulation for various individuals in plan or section. This format allows one to ‘thread the needle’ between articulated spaces, designed objects, and overall experiences offered by your design proposal.
THE RESEARCH PROJECT
“In this study we hypothesized that ___ and tested it with ___”
Many studios at an advanced level are research based (as opposed to design), asking the student to refine a methodology over the course of the semester, in a process more akin to the hard sciences. These studios foreground iteration, testing, and scheming – as such they mandate the ability to speak both reflectively about various iterations and projectively about the work of the semester. In such scenarios, it is critical to articulate the take-aways from each exploration verbally and visually. In many instances, this may necessitate annotating and diagramming on top of your work in a consistent manner. What were the breakthroughs for you along the way, that informed the next iteration. Feel comfortable and confident presenting questions that remain unanswered as discussion points for the review.
“Step right up!”
The performance is certainly the most flamboyant of presentation styles, requiring a strong presence, determination, and willingness to spend some of your final hours practicing as opposed to producing. Though related to ‘The Story,’ this technique lives in a pretty dodgy neighborhood. Projects such as these lean heavily on modes of interactivity, and/or your audience’s suspension of disbelief. The stakes are high with this one, but so are the potentials; can you orchestrate the experience of your review to such a degree that people feel something? Do you demonstrate the viability of your project with an interactive model or multimedia experience? Or involve other sensory experiences such as food and drink to bring your curators into your world? Needless to say, if this one makes sense for you, you know it already and started working on it a while ago. Whatever the crux of your performance is, be it your delivery or the functioning of an apparatus, buckle down and make sure you nail it. Deliver the experience!