Sunday, December 13, 2015

To the Student in Architecture (Part Three)

Last summer I was invited to a promotional tour sponsored by Anderson Windows. Our group of about twenty architects came from different states, all specializing in residential design. During one of our social events the conversation turned to zoning codes and the increasing difficulty in getting anything done under a labyrinth of rules and regulations. This is a common subject amongst architects. All cities everywhere are making things harder instead of easier. The time and cost of implementing new rules delays projects and drives up costs.  I threw in my usual complaint about how these evolving rules are my greatest frustration. “It is the one thing,” I said, “ that makes me want to leave the profession and go on to something else. I want to spend my days creating architecture, not jumping through bureaucratic hoops.” I was exaggerating the degree of my frustration, but a young architect from Houston immediately countered, “Oh, no. It’s what makes my job interesting.  I love figuring out the puzzle of codes and arriving at a solution that makes a project work.”  Obviously a more optimistic thinker than myself!
Frank Lloyd Wright surrounded by his students.
The Houston architect's response did make me think more broadly about the profession of architecture. For me, design was the main draw to the field and is what keeps me interested to this day. However, the student in architecture should know that there are many other aspects to a career in architecture and many ways to practice as a professional. One of the wonderful things about an architectural education is how broad-based it is. Architects are the last of the generalists. (We know a little about a lot of things, but not much about anything in particular!) An architectural education can be great preparation for many different career paths. As an architect, design is not the only way to practice.  The young Houston architect made me realize there are other passions. Problem solving is more than design solutions and architects are, by general training, problem solvers. The various types of jobs in a large office should make this clear. Among the many permutations of architectural practice there are...
  • Specifications writers
  • Presentation artists
  • Client relations experts
  • CAD technicians
  • Community planners
  • Program writers
  • Project managers
Yale school of architecture designed by Paul Rudolph.
The list could go on. Many credentialed architects don't specifically practice architectural design.  They may even find careers outside of architectural firms in such things as law, building administration, education, construction management, community development, code writing,  and industry consulting.  The point is that, as generalists, architects are eminently qualified to take on a broad array of tasks that indirectly affect the design of the built environment. Taking this a step further: if a student were able to couple an architecture degree with an MBA or an engineering or law degree, then you have a commodity in extremely rare supply (and in high demand) on the job market.
Student exhibition from a class taught by the author at the University of Oklahoma.

Student work at the University of Oklahoma by Wm. Devine.

Another student project from an exhibition at
the University of Oklahoma. 
To the student in architecture I must amend my initial rush to caution. I've previously implied that unless you truly have a passion for design, forget about architecture.  However, there are other passions to be found in architecture that I may be immune to. So, my amended advice is to discover what architecture is, or can be, for you. See if your talents coincide with some aspect of architecture, and look at what part of this broad field might be of interest to you.

To the student in architecture: you may discover a world of architecture that goes beyond the common conceptions of what an architect ought to be. That can be exciting in itself and may nourish a career over a lifetime. Best wishes in discovering your passion!
Drafting room and "classroom" at Wright's Taliesin West studio.

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