No short cuts in design thesis

Design thesis constitutes a lonely journey for the student of architecture. It has been established that for the final year project the nature is a ‘design thesis’, not just merely a project with a given brief. The student has to find his/her own brief and architectural program  which in turn is needed to be tested by designing a scheme to suit the topic.
A design thesis lasts for a year, with an added special semester (half a semester long) for preparation and proposal at University of Malaya. Semester one (or the middle bit of the journey) is the hardest stage of the design thesis stages. This is when the student struggles to come up with a strong conceptual design.
For some students like Hanif (pic above), who decided to deal with an urban design project rather than normally deal with a building type in an urban context, the search for the appropriate architectural program became the main preoccupation. In fact, one semester is not enough to do this. But the student has to do it in one semester and produce a solution to the design problem. In this case, the design problem is to revitalise the Klang town riverbanks and the second problem is to create an architectural program suitable to revitalise by creating a (big) project to be the catalyst for revitalisation. 
It is not easy to get a really good grade for semester one based on our current design thesis studio approach. The design process for a design thesis is peculiar to only the design thesis (unlike previous projects with a given brief). The design problem requires arriving at a conceptual design that expresses a concept to be shown through in the scheme. The concept must reflect the topic/title and the architectural program.
I was thinking a bit on the best design studio approach for the design thesis. I need to find out what was not working. Why is semester one such a difficult semester? Why is it difficult for the student to identify the design problem? Should we just give a brief? But it will not be challenging enough for one year and a half semester long. And it will not fulfill to be a design thesis.
From my experiences, at one time, the students remarked that they gain more from the studio crits / pin-ups then interim crits where external critics comes in three times a semester to provide input and feedback regarding the presentation. I think the crux of the problem is the use of the external critics and the good and bad of it, plus how we design and create the design thesis studio approach based on the external critics, is a crucial point of understanding what is the best studio approach.



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