present with people speak with people May 06, 2024
Critique: Hard but Necessary




It was my first year at university, and I had chosen a rigorous degree in architecture. We were barely into our first design course, learning how to draw straight lines without a ruler, how to render our drawings perfectly, and how space and shapes interact to make a good design. I had spent many arduous hours on my current project and was pleased with how it had turned out. Tired though we were, we were never able to sleep much before a project was due. With excitement, my classmates and I carefully hung our projects on the wall as class began.

It was critique day.

This particular critique was a doozy. One by one, we presented our projects, and one by one, sat down defeated. The professors hated our work. All of it. We all had to start over and try again, we all had failed.

Fifteen years later, looking back, I still don’t have fond memories of this moment. My professors thought it would be a good lesson for us all to fail a project, so that was the entire purpose of that assignment. As much as it hurt in the moment, it was a lifelong lesson that stuck with me.

Failure is a part of life.

Failure can be used to learn what not to do, so that one can move forward towards better success. And if you’re anything like me - a sensitive perfectionist who hates failing - having someone tell me why and how I failed hurts deeply.

Unfortunately for me, critique was a normal part of architecture school. We’d pour our blood, sweat and tears into a project only to hang it on the wall for people to comment on. Oftentimes the words were rather harsh, as if enduring negative criticism was a rite of passage in architecture school.

I heard stories of professors coming up to student’s models and ripping off pieces they thought were poor design. There were quite a few times I left critique trying to hold back the tears from an awful comment. Our professors would say “don’t marry your project” so that we wouldn’t be so sensitive to their words and would be open to criticism, but this was very hard for me!

Needless to say, college was a very formative time in my life. There were the hard critiques, yes, but there were also the critiques that came from insightful people who really helped push me and my design in the right direction. They helped me be proud of what I had accomplished, even if there were some things I should work on. I really appreciated those people and their tactful way of giving feedback.




Taking feedback can be much easier from some than others. I definitely had my favorite professors and peers in college who gave helpful critiques in a kind way. I sought those people out.

What made these people different was how they would speak truth in love. If we don’t share feedback and critique in love, it’s really pointless. I believe speaking truth without love just causes pain for the one we’re trying to help.

I learned that even outside of school, being able to take feedback from people is really important. I want to keep learning and growing as a licensed architect and human being; I don’t want to stay stuck where I’m at.

Just like iron sharpens iron, we can use our words to encourage and sharpen each other. First we need to address the areas in our lives that we need to work on, then we can point out each other’s flaws and help each other overcome the obstacles and dark places in our lives.

Sometimes you can’t see the pitfalls you’re in and you need someone to lovingly come in and say, “Hey, I see this is something you’re struggling with. Maybe you should try (fill in the blank) instead.”

It’s funny how my husband knows me better than anyone else, but it can be hard to take criticism from him. One time we were at the rock climbing gym and I had made it to the top, feeling very accomplished. Once my feet hit the floor, my smile disappeared as my husband said, “You’re really loud up there. You should try to be more graceful and have quieter feet.”

I was livid.

We still joke about this today as we have very different goals in our sports. He’s an incredible rock climber who makes it look like a graceful, quiet dance. I just want to get to the top no matter how bad it looks, and I don’t really care to improve my technique.

I finally understood his pain when we went swimming together a few years later. I had swim lessons growing up and could have joined a team. This man doesn’t even keep his head in the water! His technique was painful to watch, like I’m sure he felt watching me rock climb.

These lessons I’ve been learning on criticism the past few years have translated into my professional career as an architect as well.

I work at a unique architecture firm that designs churches and schools across the country. It has been very rewarding to use the skills I developed in college to present our design to our clients in a way that normal, “non-architecture” people can understand.

It is funny at times working with church people because from my experience, they’re too nice to tell you what they really think of the design. I’ve had many conversations with building committees saying, “Please tell me what you really think! You won’t hurt my feelings, trust me, I’ve learned to take critique.” After all, this is their future church building or school. It’s not about my architectural preferences; it’s all about how they’ll use the building to make a difference in their community.

I say I “learned” how to take criticism in college, but really, I’m still learning more every day.

This has been especially apparent as I am a new mom and learning how to keep a tiny human alive is tough! Where’s the manual for these things? There are so many opinions out there on how it should be done! There have been days that I feel like a complete failure when someone offers a kind piece of advice.

It’s always hard for me to remember not to take it personally, but instead to learn what I can, and let go of the rest. I’m so grateful for the times my husband, close friend, or coworker does lovingly point out something I need to work on, so that I can keep growing. It’s not always easy at the moment, and still hurts sometimes! But I’m grateful I have people in my life who can encourage me and lovingly correct me when needed.


By Rebecca Moeller - Architect, BGW

Rebecca loves to design spaces that impact communities for the better and make a difference in people's lives. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, creating art, and traveling.