The Thesis Project is a major milestone of any field of education, a representation of how much the student has taken from everything taught to him/her, and how well he/she applies it in reality. Especially in Architecture, a well-chosen topic executed thoroughly is a testimony to the student, as well as the institution. But how do we decide which topic is The One?
A thesis project is a big investment of time and resources, not to mention a heavyweight in terms of grades. This is why it is important to realise the significance of starting out on the right track so as to emerge a success at the end of the semester/year, and one of the first steps is to choose a topic, one that not only showcases your talent and passion but also is a practical and efficient design intervention. Here are some pointers to help a student decide on the thesis topic of their choice.
- What interests me?
The thesis project is one where you will be almost completely on your own. Each student will have a different topic, different scopes, and different approaches. On most days, when your only companions will be your laptop, your notebook, and a mug of coffee, and the innumerable distractions the internet has to offer, your thesis topic should be interesting enough to keep you focussed and motivated.
- What are my strengths and weaknesses?
Over the span of four years of architectural education, you must have an idea of what you’re good and bad at. The thesis project is all about using your skills to the fullest, so introspect and decide what your biggest weapon is, whether you are good conceptualization or technical details, at large-scale or small-scale projects, whether you are better at a site-oriented design approach, or prefer working in extra detail on a single structure. This will help you understand what you can and cannot do, and therefore help you put your best foot forward.
- Are there enough studies and references on this topic/field of interest?
While deciding on a topic, it is important to analyse the topic in depth in order to formulate a design brief. The main source of this is the existing literature on a particular subject, so it makes sense to be sure there is ample material for you to research on and make an informed decision.
. Does this help solve a real-world problem?
An architect can be responsible for directly modifying the environment, and influencing the movement of society. This necessitates the need to recognise the various problems around us, and to choose a project that can help in addressing one or more of them. Doing so will not only get you bonus points for being thoughtful but also help you get an idea of the big picture.
- Will it help my future endeavours?
Your thesis is a huge asset to your undergraduate portfolio. Choose your topic keeping in mind the kind of work you want to do in the industry, or in future studies; for it will reflect upon your interest and expertise in the subjects and genres of your choice.
That being said, the thesis project is usually a roller coaster ride, what with the innumerable deisgn juries, back to back changes, both big and small, and not mention, the sheer number of expected submittals. But let that not overwhelm you. Choosing a topic that is interesting and challenging to you, as well as your supervisors can be a tough job, but one which comes with plenty of rewards. Here are pointers on what NOT to think when deciding on a topic, and formulating your design brief:
- Is this too MAINSTREAM?
Your topic might be something that has been worked upon before, but what is different is your idea. Don’t be afraid to think out of the box and INNOVATE. Formulate a design question such that the solution highlights your thoughts and ideas. How you present your subject is completely in your hands, so make full use of that opportunity.
- Is my scope ENOUGH? Maybe I should add something more.
Going overboard with design elements and building typologies is a sure shot recipe for disaster. Keeping your capabilities in mind, the best way to answer this question is to START SMALL and then keep adding and/or subtracting components as you go along.
- Seek advice from a senior/friend apart from your project guide from time to time
Working on the same subject with intensity tends to get your mind muddled up. In order to get out o your own head, it sometimes helps to get an outside perspective from someone completely uninvolved in your project. This could be a trusted friend, a respected senior or in my case, my non-architect parents. They are usually more patient and open-minded and have been responsible for helping me get out of my occasional design “blocks”.
- Don’t let small setbacks dishearten you! Keep the end goal in mind.
Your guide and you might have a clash in ideas, your juror might think your design is childish/obnoxious/impractical, but don’t let that get you down. Accept criticism respectfully, analyse your progress from time-to-time, and then, stick to your guns. Your design is yours, to make and to defend.
This will be a long, albeit tumultuous journey, but there a lot to learn, not just from the final result, but also from the entire process. The thesis project not only reflects your design abilities but also how you handle any major project in your life. It will teach you to be relentless in pursuit of your dream, it will make you laugh, and cry, and strengthen bonds between your colleagues. So here’s to you, dear final-year-student-about-to-embark-on-your-thesis, may you come out confident, successful, sleepless, with hands nicked with paper-cuts, and bits of dried glue in your hair. Take it from one who is a recent survivor, you will be fine!
Ankita Sharma is an architect by training, and a writer by choice. Her love for books has given her a vivid imagination, and an eye for detail. A little impatient, a little lost, Ankita is trying to find her own voice amidst the world’s chaos.