Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

hustle and grind: #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.

Every architect starts out as an intern. We emerge from architectural school with this degree that we think gives us a magical and mystical power to change the world through the sheer force of our will and monumental skill at design and presentation. After a few months of trying to engage our colleagues in complex discussions about theoretical architecture and the future of the built environment as some sort of Utopian Eden brought forth by the power of Architecture, the cold, harsh, stinging reality of professional practice begins to sink in. It is in this reality that you learn interns are really nothing more than grunts barely able to tie their own shoes never mind display the mental fortitude required to properly design and detail a building suitable for human habitation. You soon forget your lofty goals of being the next Mies van de Rohe at the fresh age of 25 and sink into the humdrum of corporate architecture. Stair sections, door schedules, coordinating engineering drawings, getting yelled at by the contractor because your framing details that you spent a month on are all crap and “we don’t build stuff like that around here, boy!”. You go out to bars with the other interns from other firms and you talk about the “good ole days” of design studio, how you wish your boss would just give you a break to do what you were created to do!

Your friends leave. Some of them even have to go back to the office because their boss put a stack of redlines on their desk at 4:53 that need to be done for a meeting said boss has at 9am the next day. You stick around just to “finish your drink”. What you’re really doing is drowning out those sorrows. Then someone down the bar who overheard your conversation slides over quietly and says “So, you’re an architect, eh?” Still feeling down you instantly perk up and say “Yeah, that’s right. I’m an architect over at Steely, Smith, Klein and Hemple Architects and Associates, Inc..” Then he says “Wow, that’s really great. You know, I’ve been thinking about remodeling my house and adding on. Would you be interested in taking a look for me, maybe in your free time?”

And that’s when it happens.

You nearly choke on the last of your drink. You don’t want to seem too eager, too excited, but inside you’re telling yourself “this is it! This is my break! I get to DESIGN!”. What comes out is “Yeah, sure. I’d be happy to help you.” You exchange contact information and head home feeling like you just won the lottery. Your own project to design, to take control of, to mould into a small piece of that Utopian Eden you’ve been dreaming of since freshman year.

Before you know it that first project turns into another one. And another one. Then you’ve got your own business cards and you start telling people where you work, but qualify by saying “I also have my own company on the side.” Now you’re working 10 hours a day at the day job before you head home to work another 10 hours a day on these side projects. You’re exhausted, worn out, burned up. You come sloshing into the office trying not to let it show. Your bosses aren’t stupid. They’re hanging around the water cooler watching you. Hemple looks over and says “Hey, Smith. Look at the kid. What do you think?” Smith peaks around the corner at you, studies the vacant expression on your gaunt, sleep deprived face and says “Yep. He’s moonlighting.” They both chuckle to each other and head up to their shiny, well lit offices with a view while you head down to the basement that only has two windows and is lit with T8 fluorescent tubes that were last changed out in the 1980s. They flicker and strobe and you swear they are sucking the life out of you. They really are sucking the life out of you…..

What you don’t know is that Moonlighting, taking on design projects outside of the firm you work for, is the most common after hours activity among 100% of architecture school graduates. Hell, the firm you work for now very likely got started as a moonlighting gig. It’s a right of passage or the equivalent of getting your stripes in the military – you haven’t really graduated until you’ve nearly killed yourself taking on side work.

Disclaimer: Check with your local state statutes regarding the unlicensed practice of architecture and make sure that you abide by the letter of the law. This not only protects you, it also protects your potential clients. It is generally illegal to misrepresent yourself as a licensed architect and the above story is told anecdotally and in jest only.

I’ve often thought that moonlighting in the profession should be encouraged more. Many firms, even those that I’ve worked for, have frowned upon it. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why completely. There are issues of liability, confidentiality, propriety and just plain good manners. But there could be real value gained from encouraging young interns with sufficient talent and skill to take on small projects that the firm does not want to embark on themselves. There are things you simply can not learn as an upcoming architect in a typical office setting. And they’re things you’ll never find on the ARE. Things like how to build your personal brand, how to negotiate, how to problem solve on the fly in the field, how to organize every aspect of a project and how to bang out a set of drawings when a deadline has passed and the client is yelling at you demanding to submit for permit asap. In short, moonlighting teaches you how to Hustle and Grind. You want to be a partner, a principal? You want to call the shots and boss around the next generation of interns? Then you better learn how to hustle and grind in architecture. Get out there, moonlight as a designer. Make mistakes and learn those lessons. Then, like Pinky and The Brain, you can try to take over the world!

For more words of wisdom check out the other Architalks bloggers below:

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
The Ironic Blasphemy of Moonlighting and what Architects are Missing Out On

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
moonlighting more than an 80s sitcom

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Moon(lighting) changes with the seasons

Michael Riscica AIA – Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
Moonlighting for Young Architects

Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@BuildingsRCool)
Architects do it All Night Long

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Is Moonlighting Worth It? Probably Not, But We All Try.

Kyu Young Kim – J&K Atelier (@sokokyu)
Dancing in the Moonlight

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
The Howling

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Moonlighting: or Why I Kept My Dayjob.

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Architalks 28 Moonlighting

Ilaria Marani – Creative Aptitude (@creaptitude)
There is no moolighting. It’s a jungle!

Jane Vorbrodt – Kuno Architecture (@janevorbrodt)
Crafted Moonlighting