An Alternative Concept in Architectural Design Studio: Bell-Critique

Havva Alkan Bala

Published Apr 14, 2021


This study describes a variation in the design critique, called “bell-critique”. Although juries and critiques are interpreted differently by different institutions and different educators during the process of education of architectural design. They always an indispensable part of the studio culture. Critiques, which are a way of feedback and assessment for students concerning design suggestions in design teaching through nuances such as an open jury, closed jury, deskbound critique, and collective critique, are extremely instructive. A key concept in design critiques in architectural studios involves the sharing of professional knowledge in a public environment using architectural terminology.

Architectural critique is a positive part of the learning-teaching experience but when intuitive and emotional factors come into play, the design critique may turn into a traumatic process in architectural education. Some students experience the phenomenon of design critique as a guiding, supportive, and incentive factor. Another group of students, on the other hand, perceive themselves as being despised, rejected, awkward, and pressurized. Students, for the major part of their presentation, are literally frozen with fear. They do not hear or remember what they have said or what has been said about their work. This phenomenon results in demoralization in architectural design education, which requires constant progress and evolution. Perceptions and learning of students who have been pressurized, strained, and demoralized are blocked. Review of jury critiques, which have an important place in the learning-teaching process in architectural education, as a concept and efforts aimed at the formation of an alternative concept will generate multiple versions like “Bell- critique”.


Bell-critique is one aspect to consider alternative ways of maximizing the positive goals of the crit. It is more informal and structure of the speed date in order to create an environment, conducive to peer-to-peer learning. It can be easily observed that peer involvement in an assessment conducted in a non-threatening collaborative atmosphere enables students to learn better.

How can Bell-Critique be implemented in an educational environment? The studio furniture is organized in a long line or a closed shape. Each student is paired with another student and they sit opposite each other. Prior to crit students need to be portable and able to be accommodated within the table. Small models, A4/A3 printouts of work or drawings are appropriate. The use of laptops and ipads could also be appropriate. The format of bell-critique allows individual students to present their work in 30 seconds in turn, with a 40-second gap for students to move and jot down and take notes. It takes a total of 1 minute 40 seconds per cycle. If a long table is used then all the students move clockwise. If the furniture is arranged in a closed shape, then only one side of the table needs to be moved.

It seems extremely noisy when seen from outside. However, usually, keeping time with a bell or a buzzer will be motivating for students. The sound of the buzzer, which will determine the speed accompanied by listening to and understanding one another simultaneously, and noise, becomes an important discerner. At each change, the students re-present their work. Depending on the level of the class, and the individuality of the projects, 15 to 20 cycles create big power to students. In pedagogical research, rote learning or mechanical repetition, once a staple of the classroom, has become a disparaged technique through recently active repetition. In addition to repetition, bell- critique enables students to have in-depth knowledge of each other’s projects. However, in traditional juries and critiques, students generally focus only on their own projects. Another advantage of Bell-Critique is that it offers the assessor’s experience to students. While students, who are in a constant state of defending the projects they have prepared, are assessing others’ projects assuming the role of a designer, they indeed acquire the skill of developing a more critical perspective towards their own projects. I have been conducting bell-critique as an educator in an architectural design studio during the past ten years and some of the feedback I have received from my students is as follows;

“As I have gone over my project so many times, I have become better. My power of expression has increased. I have further strengthened the story of my ideas with my friends. I felt freer than those in classic juries”

“My adrenaline level was rising with the sound of the buzzer. I enjoyed that speed. While racing against time, ideas and potentials in my project which I had not noticed before suddenly became visible”

“I watched in the wonder of the superb details in my friends’ projects. They had considered details which I had not been able to consider. I must confess that after belly-critique, I significantly and swiftly improved my project with the help of the new perspectives I had learned. In this sense, it was more fruitful than traditional environments of critique”

“In classical critiques, I usually felt that myself rather than my project was being assessed. With Bell- critique, on the other hand, an environment based on sharing and development formed.”


Bell-critique is a search for alternatives aimed at removing formal pressure put on students by design critiques and juries, which are of indispensable significance in architectural design education and have a valuable place in the studio culture. Bell-critique offers certain advantages;

  • Making their presentations to their peers reduce pressure on designer students

  • Making repetitions by telling about their projects several times, students gain in-depth awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of their projects.

  • Knowing not only of their own projects but also of the projects of all of their friends in the studio, students learn different points of view towards the same design problem.

  • Being informed of all architectural studio problems enable them to know about their situation with self-esteem and have a command of the criteria in the assessment.

  • With Bell-critique, they learn the point of view and vision of the assessor instead of just defending the solution they have produced with regard to the design problem.