Archive for April, 2011

Quote of the Day

On why the Architectural Registration Exams suck the life force out of you and NCARB is the enemy:

“I like your competition boards, it makes me want to do a competition, but I have no time to design, cause I am trying to become an architect.”

– Jeff Klancer, Architect-in-Training


The Hoarding Complex…

Okay, there is something else that all architects need to own up to; though we may be clean, neat, diligent and well coiffed, there is a pack rat inside of all of us.  Don’t deny it.  On the outside, we appear to have simple OCD: harmless compulsive rituals like lining up pencils on a desk; being secretively irked when drawing sets are not bound perfectly square at the corner or when graphics that are not exactly centered on a sheet; dust bunnies collecting in the corner of the cubicle.  All these things are perfectly normal and acceptable behaviors for architects and honestly, people expect this slight level of insanity from us…we are, after all, esoteric and we wear elusive black clothes.  We are not meant to be understood when we talk about spatial constructs and personification of inanimate objects.  People just smile, nod and wish they were that cool.

But there is a dark side to the architect.  Underneath that concrete OCD veneer is a festering hoarding complex.  You will witness this sad condition rear its ugly head when you look at our desks.  Once in a blue moon the desk is clean, like after a massive onslaught of projects have been sent out the door and you need to bill to overhead for a couple hours one day.  However, this is a rare state and if you catch an architect in this natural environment, you should take a picture and post it here because you’ll need it for evidence that tidy architects do actually exist.  But I digress.  Our office cubes are like the black hole abyss of crap piled to the ceiling.  We refuse to get rid of drawing sets from previous projects, even if they are DD or Schematic, so they collect dust and become platforms for other, newer drawing sets.   Project manuals and LEED reference materials litter our floors and useless architectural magazines that we never look at for inspiration (because let’s be honest you will never design a building that looks like that) line our cube shelves in a vain attempt to make us look educated, cutting edge and not disillusioned.  And, samples.  Where do I even start on the loads of samples that pile under the desk, on the desk, along the cube walls, outside the cube walls.  In fact, there is frequently more than one empty cube in a given office that has become the drawing set and sample display cube.  We are talking everything from bricks to metal panels, tile samples…its a regular hardware store in our cubes.  The hoarding overflows even our designated cube boundaries…

This is not just a professional problem, it permeates our very existence down to the core; which leads me to believe that this is a problem of psychology that needs some serious therapy and possibly an intervention.  Piles are our thing.  We “organize” our life and all our crap in piles.  Mostly because we are OCD and piles, even thousands of them in your living room or study, look neat and cleanly.  They are squared off and tucked into room corners, but don’t be deceived.  Piles still indicate a serious problem with not throwing crap out.  Piles are organized stacking of papers that you don’t want to let go of.  I can’t explain it, but if you are an architect, you understand and we are just going to leave it at that.  But the piles are the not the only problem.  Somewhere in every architect’s house, at at least one point during their life, was the model room.  This usually took place in your life sometime after college or grad school.  The farther you get away from that age, the more likely it is that you have parted with the model room, primarily after an emotional and cathartic intervention from a spouse or family member, as well as a trip to some addiction treatment center in the desert, who did not share your opinion that your college architecture models were the wave of the interior design future.  This room, traditionally called the “guest room” or “study” in one’s house, became a wasteland of old, dilapidated and frankly, shameful with few exemplary exceptions, academic models that you probably slaved over and built by hand.  Look closely and you will probably see the model that has blood stains on it from the time you sheared off the top of your finger at 3am with an exacto blade or from crying blood because you waited until too close to the deadline to start the model.  Good times, good memories.  Obviously you cannot part with these since they exacted half of your life force to build them and they hold that power over you.  One day, after considerable coaxing, you decide they have to go and finally reclaim that 150 square feet of your home that is also housing your newborn’s nursery.

Beneath that solid, held together veneer is a creative explosion just waiting to happen.  If you are an architecture student and think you are immune in some way from this lifestyle, look at your studio desk right now….Need I say more?

Ice Cream Peddler and other careers my degree qualifies me for…

The recent, not so recent, economic downturn has given many of us architects the opportunity to do what we have always secretly wanted to do anyway:  not work in architecture and pursue a “career” in something else designy that we were always told was beneath us and our parents refuse to pay for as a college degree.  So, instead we became architects and spent our nights, and let’s be honest, most of our days, daydreaming about being butchers, and bakers and candlestick makers and other such fascinating and elusive career tracks.  Also, we can now enter design competitions on the side (read: addict) and tell everyone that we are doing it to keep our skills sharp and get our name out there while we await another job offer; but really we just can’t stay away.

I was recently reading a few articles in top name and legitimate news magazines that will make me sound cultural and educated.  Usually, I try to keep to the lighter fare like and, as well as a hearty list of awesome design blogs, but I was whisked away from my daydreaming into reality by several links in the New York Times spotlighting what is happening to the architectural industry and unemployed architects in the recession.  It was here that I discovered this enviable lot of rogue designers.

I was tantalized by their stories and while I truly appreciate my consistent source of income, I was a little green with jealousy over the entrepreneurial spirit. What became clear in the course of my reading said legitimate news magazines and architectural journals was that the architecture industry is doomed and my degree is losing value on a moment by moment basis.  Not that it was worth much to begin with, realizing that “value” and “cost” are two very different concepts indeed.  My degree cost me a lot, but as I attempt to peddle my skills on the open market, I am finding that it is not fetching a high price.  This is sad to me but also mildly entertaining.  For instance, I can’t help but be pleasantly amused when fresh college grads, who have yet to get a taste of disillusionment, are confused and crushed when employers look at their design portfolio and don’t respond to their plethora of basswood models and poorly detailed CAD floorplans with anything less than earnest desire.  Can’t they see the raw talent for detailing construction documents and jockeying new business opportunities in that sketch-up rendering???  I won’t be the one to deflate their dreams.  I will just let them take their place in the cube next to mine and watch as they slowly waste away in the creative wasteland.  Theory doesn’t pay the rent.

And so, in honor of needing to find a new career in what I predict to be not very long, here are a couple of the new career tracks I am eligible for; thank you top name and legitimate news magazines for your priceless guidance.  I encourage all architects to add to this list.  We need to stick together and if I lose my job, I need some ideas for what to do with my time.

…also, if you are an architect you may want to look into these…I have included a couple awesome links for your entertainment.

Banana Gasser

Snake Milker


Ice Cream Sandwich Truck Driver

Chainsaw Artist


TIME Magazine

Architecture 5 cents

Unusual Jobs

Why I am an architect, or not, or whatever…

So, I am an architect.  Or, I am an architect in training because I do not have my license yet and I don’t think I probably ever will – I only say this because I think it’s fair to set the expectations low in this department and then when the crushing disappointment of age forty comes and I have yet to get my license it won’t feel so bad.  I digress.  “In training,” in my industry, means I have been in school for too long, I have an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree, and I am still looking at years of IDP (intern development program) credits followed by 7 massive tests designed to kill your brain and cause you to drop out of the industry altogether.  I am not bitter; I am a realist and architects the world over collectively share my angst on the topic of training.  Insert collective groan here…

So, I am an architect in training and it’s technically illegal for me to say I am an architect, despite my two degrees that say the opposite.  For now, I can earn the title of “architectural graduate,” “intern architect,” or one of a variety of titles that basically do their best to convey my lack of actual architectism and create some level of shame when you hand your business card to someone after spending a long conversation with them doing business development.  You will have spent that conversation actually doing business development and they will look at your title on the business card and realize they have spent the last 30 minutes wasting their time with someone who can’t actually fetch them any business.  Someday I will become a real architect, and I will know this because my business card will say so, and when that happens I will be rewarded with longer hours each week and no overtime pay.  Obviously, this is the drive behind getting that license.  More on an architect’s glutton for abuse later.

But before I go forward, I must address a particular misconception about architects, in case there are non architects reading this blog.  We do not make a lot of money.  I know, it’s a shocker.  Don’t believe the movies!  Look back at every movie you have ever seen and catalog how many times Hollywood has made the good guy in the story into a successful, well to do, architect.  Here is a list off the top of my head:  Sleepless in Seattle, Click, 500 Days of Summer, Because I Said So, Love Actually, It’s Complicated, and so on and so forth.  None of these architects could have afforded any of their lifestyles, especially because they work too long of hours and have massive student loans to pay off.  In these movies, they all also seem to have unlimited amounts of time to date, golf, read blogs, spend time with family and various other activities that constitute a fully rounded, balanced lifestyle.  Also not true, don’t buy into the propaganda. 

So, you ask, why do you do it?  The answer is deep, artistic and profound: I don’t know.  Many an architect has struggled with this question and the fact of the matter is, it’s an addiction.  There, I have said it.  Hello, my name is (insert name here) and I am an architect.  It’s a sick love-hate relationship with the creative drive in your brain.  Put simply, we are type A people with too much ambition and weakness for masochism and are total gluttons for punishment.  The more the profession abuses us, the tighter we grasp to it.  We love architecture, but we hate what it does to our lives.  So, like I said, addiction. 

Architecture is a brutal task master.  Even as we complain about the long hours, the abusive consultants, and the crap pay, we are secretly wondering if there is an architecture competition somewhere that we could enter on the side so we could mainline our drug of choice in the secrecy and privacy of our own personal time…whatever that is.  We must design; it’s a cerebral imperative.  Leaving an architect without a creative outlet to design and daydream could result in some very disastrous consequences, like increasingly bold shoe choices and colored eyeglass frames.  Secretly, we relish in our complaining and we compare our billing hours to see who worked harder.  This may seem like an oxymoronic way to live, but it’s our cross to bear.

All I can say is, this is an incurable disorder and you should hope that your child is not born with the gene.  If they are, and it will manifest itself at a young age, get them into treatment and hopefully they can lead normal lives outside the field.  When I was in kindergarten, I chose to stay inside during recess and draw a floor plan of the classroom.  My mother still has the drawing and shows it to me periodically with pride….that was 30 years ago and they didn’t yet understand the disease or recognize the symptoms; I don’t blame my mother.  So we live a double life of outward angst and internal relish.  This may seem odd or even bitter if you are not an architect; I don’t expect you to understand and that’s okay.  If you are an architect, you have already laughed several times at this post and will probably be back to read again.  Misery loves company. But all bitterness and misunderstanding aside, we do wear awesome glasses and shoes.

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