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.

    • AP
    • April 28th, 2013

    I’m a football and wrestling coach, but reading your article because design/architecture is in my blood (daddy was an architect before coaching gave him a “better” life – ha) and your blog is my design hit for the day. I still ask my athletes and fellow coaches you try to answer here: “why do we do this again?” It’s comforting to know the answer is still “I don’t know!”

    Even if you aren’t ever certified, I’ll keep you on the short list to design our dream house which will remain a fantasy for the known future.

    My 1st daughter has the steve jobs gene and my 2nd daughter has the wozniak gene. I’ve contemplated what you recommend and save them from themselves, but living the delusional life you describe has its perks. We delusional people are so blissfully and ignorantly happy!

    Enjoy the blissful life!

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