Architecture in the Real World

Pull up a chair, order your favorite drink, and let me tell you about architecture in the “real ” world. I thought I would try to make this an upbeat article but as I sit down to write it, I’m not so sure how successful a job I am going to do (good thing we’re drinking here, right?)

Andrew Hawkins and I recently got together to discuss the perception of being an architect versus the realities of being a practicing architect and the disconnect that frequently exists between the two.

The reality of being an architect is that a vast majority of the time spent – for a vast majority of the people who practice architecture, involves doing something that doesn’t even come close to resembling design – but  – since I am an upbeat and positive guy, I like to think your attitude plays a role in whether or not you view this as misery or something else altogether. No job – other than “Lottery Winner” – is awesome all the time, but something as simple as your attitude towards your job goes a long way to how you approach your business.

There is a reality check waiting for most graduating architects … Practicing architecture for 99.9% of the architects out there means something other than designing – at least what you think design means. The practice of architecture is more than sketching on trace paper, parti diagrams, deciding what pens to draw with, and Instagram-worthy job-site photos. It means solving problems – sometimes incredibly mundane and uninspired – yet very important problems to the people who retain your services.

I get to spend a lot of my time focusing on design, but only when all the other responsibilities are dealt with – it’s a bit like when I was a child and I could only go out to play with my friends once my chores were complete.  Even so, the design moments I get to carve out exist mostly in a project management /coordination capacity. The sketch above is a great example – I am modifying the actual design that was put in place during the schematic design phase, but now it’s time to integrate the realities of budgets and construction detailing into the process. Luckily for me, I take a great amount of pleasure in this process and think that this is where the real design work gets done. However, it took a while before I came to this opinion because the design experience I had in college never really worked its way down to this level. Design work in college is all about big idea’s and gestures – while the realities are much more ground in the restraints associated with the particular’s of each project, the budget, the schedule, and the building codes that provide a framework where my work must peacefully cohabitate.

I was looking through my Instagram feed to pull images for this particular post and I had to go back to December 7, 2017, before I found an image that was schematic design oriented rather than one that was made during the construction document phase of a project. I was more than a little surprised when I discovered this because I literally feel like I design stuff all day long … it’s just not the sort of design I envisioned when I was in school.

Andrew’s Spare Time [33:00 mark]

So I spent much of my holiday break battling a few of mother nature’s most devious of creatures; raccoons. In the 17 years in my current house I have seen many raccoons and we have (for the most part) treated each other with a mutual understanding of respect and tolerance. But over this holiday season, they decided to change the rules a bit and attempt to inhabit a part of my house. Of course as a superior intellect, I did win out eventually. . .  but it was certainly a small war. Because one of the things about raccoons, they do what they want, even if you throw volleyballs at them over and over again.

Bob’s Spare Time [38:25 mark]

For the first time in 33 years, I went skiing with my family over the holiday break. Although it was not technically the first time I have ever been skiing, I think the time span between the first time I went (over Spring Break my Senior year in high school) to now is long enough where I can pretend that this was my first time. My sister has a place in Deer Valley in Park City, Utah, and she invited me and my family up to spend a few days hitting the slopes. My wife and daughter have never been skiing and quite honestly, we could not have picked a nicer place to introduce the activity into our lives.

Green runs had their moments of forcing my life to pass before my eyes, despite the fact that all my skiing friends think that’s the most ridiculous thing they ever heard. There’s a reason why that bunny run is called “The Devil’s Throat” … even if it was me who gave it that awesome name.

To sum up our conversation about architecture in the real world, I truly believe that in order to be a good architect you have to be a lot more than a good designer. You have to be a good communicator, a good listener and good at making other people’s problems your own and then solving them. In the end, that’s why clients will like working with you because you care about them and take ownership of the problems. I also believe that regardless of your skill set, there is a place for everyone in this profession. Upon graduation, the next few years is typically about finding the place where your interests and skill set collide. There is a period after graduating where you will spend more time than at any other point of your career trying to determine, what you like and what you are good at – and most of this time is spent dealing with your perception of those items. The good news is that once you figure this out and put it into practice, your world will be a lot more rewarding.

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