This is the second in a series of posts on architecture communication skills by Emily Edwards, with contributions from Aurora Murphy and Samantha Donnelly. 

In the previous post, we unpacked the architecture ‘crit’ genre: a formal presentation of architectural design work in front of peers and a panel of tutors and industry professionals. In this post, we focus on the communication challenges that students can face when performing a crit. 

What are the communication challenges of a crit? 

Preparing for a presentation that involves multiple forms of communication – oral pitch, visual aids, 3D models, video work, written text, dialogic engagement – is no easy task! Architecture students spend a lot of their weekly studio class time, as well as many hours outside of class, drafting their drawings, creating their models, and responding to tutor and peer feedback on these designs. However, in our experience, many architecture students leave little (or no) time to prepare for the verbal and written components of the crit. 

Margo Blythman and colleagues highlight the issue of student diversity and the extent to which [second language] students are prepared for what can be, essentially, a form of assessment of their oral skills, even if oral skills are not being explicitly assessed. Verbal presentations can be challenging for all students, but especially those who speak English as their second, third (or fourth!) language. 

As part of the Embedding English Language program at UTS, Emily Edwards and Aurora Murphy design and teach weekly language development tutorials for identified students that run alongside and complement first year students’ core subjects. Between 10% and 35% of the student cohort attend these tutorials, and we focus on preparing these students for the verbal (and written) demands of the crit presentation.

What are the verbal communication challenges? 

1. Time limit 

UTS Lecturer Samantha Donnelly explained that the strict time limit of 3-5 minutes is a major challenge for students.

The strict time limit means that the presentation needs to be succinct, efficient and sufficiently complex to do justice to the level of work being presented. Students who are not confident in public speaking struggle to explain their design ideas in the limited time, and will compensate by writing long, complex descriptions of their panels, that they read out (often from their phone). The audience is not engaged at all. 

Samantha Donnelly (lecturer)

2. Anxiety 

Another major challenge of verbal presentations is anxiety about speaking in front of an audience. When this audience includes ‘jurors’ – other tutors and invited industry professionals – the emotional impact is compounded. Anxiety can negatively impact a student’s ability to speak clearly.

I feel nervous when I’m presenting, and I start repeating myself or don’t know what am I speaking.

Interior Architecture Student

3. Fluency 

I often get stuck or hesitate on what to talk about fluently.

Interior Architecture Student

Our students also mentioned fluency as a key challenge: this is the ability to keep talking with ease and at a reasonably fast pace without hesitating or pausing too frequently. To develop spoken fluency, students need to get plenty of general speaking practice. They also need to gain confidence in their academic communication skills, and to do sufficient preparation for the specific oral task (in this case, the crit presentation). 

4. Vocabulary 

Most of the [communication] difficulties came from the specifics of architectural language – and unclear/incorrect usage of those architectural terms.

Bachelor of Architecture Tutor

The final important challenge is vocabulary: either not using or misusing specific architecture terminology. Architecture, like all disciplines, requires students to develop their understanding and use of specific vocabulary that is used in architecture research and practice – and building up vocabulary takes time, practice, and more practice. 

In the final two posts of this series, we share some teaching and learning strategies that help students directly with these communication challenges.  

Photo by Vladimir Malyavko on Unsplash

  • Thanks Aurora and David for your comments! Good point, Aurora – speaking skills are normally not formally assessed in crits and perhaps they could be in some cases? Giving a clear verbal presentation is not easy for many students, and having assessment criteria around this might help with making these skills more explicitly part of a crit. And yes, I totally agree David, a student generated glossary of terms would be useful for everyone, not just students struggling with English language.

  • This is a great summary of why communication in crits can be such a big challenge on it’s own, even without preparing everything else required for a crit. The vocabulary issue is really good to highlight and a reason why allowing for a student generated glossary of terms might be useful. Can’t wait for the next post😀

  • This blog post really points to the struggles of students who have lower levels of English language and knowledge of Architecture terminology. It’s so interesting that students often se these as a test of their speaking skills when this is, in fact, not formally assessed.

Join the discussion