Monday, April 11th, 2016

future architects: #architalks

Every month a group of international architects and designers converge on the internet to write about a single topic and publish from their own individual point of view. This is Architalks.

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A letter to all future architects:

Dear Future Architect,

I’m writing to you from 13 years in the future in the hopes that you will gain some insight into where you are headed and how the path you are on can go a little more smoothly. Right now you are in studio likely working on some fantastical architectural creation that explores all of the existential realities of utopian life in a world where architects are the end-all-be-all of intellectual power and prestige. Oh how I wish that could be, but it isn’t. So enjoy this time. It doesn’t last long outside the hallowed halls of academia and the harsh realities of professional practice will come crashing down upon your shoulders all too soon. But do not despair. The realities of professional practice are harsh for a reason – professional practice is REAL. You will design things that will be crafted, assembled, and BUILT by human hands. Is there any greater pleasure in life than to see your imaginative creation take physical form?

With this in mind my advice to you is this:

1. Don’t sit still.

When I first started working as an intern the advice of the day was always that moving from one firm to another too often or too quickly was damaging to your future career choices. I was surrounded by architects who had worked up to principal roles yet had never worked anywhere else. This is total crap and not a recipe for ultimate success. Spend the first 5 years of your career at 5 different firms. Make sure these firms offer different work experience both in project sector and job responsibility. Work at a large firm first, preferably with more than 50 employees. It’s ok to get lost in a  sea of cubicles. Do the grunt work: the stair details, the roof details, the window schedules and flashing details. Because guess what, those are the pieces that get the job done. Then move to progressively smaller firms until you end up in a place where you are required to wear all the hats. You can’t imagine how much you’ll grow and learn by doing this.

At the end of those first 5 years you should be licensed, married with at least one kid on the way. Start looking for a firm to spend the next 10 years at. Or strike out on your own. Either way, it’s time to plant some roots.

2. Don’t be afraid of the grunt work.

Like I mention above, it’s ok to get lost in a sea of cubicles for a little while. The grunt work of this profession is the stuff that makes great architects. I learned more about building science in my first year as an intern than in 5 years of college. And I only expanded that knowledge at each new firm along the way. I earned trust from my employers quickly because I was able to demonstrate a working knowledge of how buildings are put together and how to properly detail a wall section. These are valuable skills that will serve you forever. Find the most senior member of the firm and ask them questions, take them to lunch, squeeze every last drop of experience and knowledge out of them that you can. DO NOT be afraid to ask questions. Just be sure you listen to the answers.

3. Take charge.

If you find yourself in a rut at a firm – not getting as broad experience as you’d like, not getting out in the field, whatever – then take it. Don’t ask for it, don’t beg for it – take it. You might get a slap on the wrist, but as long as you don’t royally screw up your boss will notice you and be much more willing to give you more responsibility and more experience. Just be careful and do this last piece of advice:

4. THINK.

The ability to form cohesive and intelligent thought is what separates us from every other organism on the planet. And nothing is more crucial to a successful career as an architect than the ability to think things through carefully before proceeding. If you’re stuck doing the grunt work, THINK about the details you’re drafting. What are they for? How does it fit into the larger picture of a building that has to keep water and air out? Refer to old drawing sets, current building codes, building science journals….Hell, just google it and ask yourself “does this work” and “can I make it better”. If you’re in the field and a contractor asks you about a specific detail or how to resolve a problem, think it through from start to finish before you give an answer. And make sure that answer will work.

Your career is not a linear journey with a starting and finish line. Take the time early to think about the kind of architect you want to be and then take deliberate steps to make that happen. Don’t accept the status quo and crash through every barrier that is put in your way.

From one Rogue Architect to another.

For more words of wisdom, check out these other arch-bloggers.

Enoch Sears – Business of Architecture (@businessofarch)
Dear Future Architects: A Confession

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/dear-future-architects-you-need-to-hear-this/

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
Dear Future Architects: 4 Perspectives

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
dear future architects

Jes Stafford – MODwelling (@modarchitect)
Dear Future Architect, Listen Here

Michael Riscica – Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
Dear Future Young Architects… Please Quit Screwing Around!?!!

Michael LaValley – Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
Dear Future Architects, Be Authentic

Greg Croft – Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
Dear Future Architect,

Jared W. Smith – Architect OWL (@ArchitectOWL)
Dear Future Architects…

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Dear future architects, are you credible?