Sometimes it seems that nothing satisfies the critics at a review. It could be your fault, but it could also just be the critics. Here are some generalities I have observed that might apply to your particular case.
The critics latch onto what you said, rather than engaging the work that you have produced. There are two potential reasons for this. One possibility is that your work is generally unassailable. You have undisputed rigor, passion, and competence. The critics are looking for an angle to approach your work. The other possibility is that your work is so thin, that they have little else to discuss other than what you said. In this case, you have not been professional in your development of your project. The word “professional” is a difficult one. Part of it is preparedness to work in the field of architecture. The other part has to do with the origin of the word, which stems from taking religious vows. There is a dedication to a way of life inherent in the adoption of a profession. Part of this is knowing what to do. You know your craft. You understand how to make drawings, models, digital representations. You can envision what is needed to tell your story, or at the very least you follow the checklist of required artifacts, and you pace your production to provide those in a timely fashion.
The critics are designing possibilities for your project during your review. The main reason for this is that the project is undeveloped. They have little to respond to in your work, so they start to project onto your project. They are really trying to help provide ideas that move your project forward. But generally, this is not a good condition. There is also the condition where the critics are trying to help you to solve a problem in an otherwise well developed scheme. In this instance the critics are likely fussing over small aspects of the project, rather than proposing major shifts in your scheme.
The critics bash you for a lack of progress, but your work is no more or less developed than that of some of your classmates. It is hard to beat up on students. Most critics are not monsters. This sometimes happens towards the end of the day, and finally someone on the jury has had enough of being nice and decides to start being honest. It also may happen when a new critic joins the conversation and changes the dynamic. This is not a good situation in which to be. The only way out at this point is hard and focused work. My partner and I, when there is a lot of work in the office, have a motto: make a decision, move forward.
The big comment for all sections is the site. In general no one designed it. The structure was essentially isolated in a sea of white non-definition. Don’t lose heart! This is not uncommon, and is a mistake I’ve made myself. But it is time to address it.
Think of the site as a series of outdoor rooms. The site needs to be programmed and detailed in the same way as the building. There may be a difference in materials, but ideas about how to shape space, and accommodate use are more or less the same. While you can think of individual kinds of plants and trees to use, what is more important is the spatial intent behind your choices. What shapes and textures do you want? Much like your building material choices, the idea behind your project and the feeling you want to create is the primary motivation.
Diagram the uses you wish to incorporate into your site design. Think of the scale and massing. Do you have a large open space defined by a colonnade of trees? Do you have a series of small “rooms” that include furniture like benches and tables? Do you incorporate water elements? What about the furniture of use: drinking fountains, trash, recycling, bicycle racks, signage, and a host of other functions. Parking lots and walkways can get photovoltaic canopies so that the site is an energy generator. Is there a way to tie these elements together to form a whole? Trees are not just shapes on a plan, they can be used spatially. They are also zoning requirements – one tree for every 25′ of lot frontage. Trees and vegetation are effective tools in mitigating various environmental effects – western and eastern sun, enlarged tree pits act to mitigate storm water.
In general, I tend to push more for a complete project. Some projects may not be as fully developed conceptually as might be desired. I could keep the work in a perpetual state of conceptual refinement for years, but I do not feel that is the intent of the comprehensive design semester. I therefore push forward rather than stand in place. The intent is that all students demonstrate at least competency. As I said at the beginning, there are three levels of accomplishment: solve the problem; create order; make poetry. I suppose that I should probably turn that upside down. Why shouldn’t the making of poetry be the minimum level of achievement? I suppose it is out of consideration for poetry. We aren’t all poets, nor should we be. I’d rather have the problem solved well than have bad poetry. Of course that is more a comment on my lack of prowess as a teacher than on the ability of the students to be poets.