Architect Exposes All
Architecture – the naked truth.
Maybe after reading this expose you’ll decide that your chosen career path is not so bad after all!
Having failed to achieve the high grades at school necessary to be accepted into medicine or aeronautical engineering, architecture can appear to be an exciting alternative career choice.
It’s a tertiary degree taking just as long to complete, but without the financial security at the end.
The 5-6 years of architectural study required consists primarily of boring lectures on science based subjects learning how buildings resist gravity, combined with the studio workshops practicing how to design.
Unfortunately, design is an innate skill, an esoteric creative process that is difficult to teach, and even harder to learn. Spending numerous hours in the Uni bar waiting for the right design inspiration to come, ultimately results in the “all-nighter”, cramming the presentation into the final hours before the design deadline. This sets a trend and addiction to coffee that will be the hallmark of most bleary eyed Architect’s careers.
This is the perfect illustration of the starry-eyed idealism of a typical architectural student.
Finally, armed with a degree, the graduate architect hits the work force.
After so many years of studio freedom (time spent in the Uni Bar), the strictures of working fulltime can take some time to adjust to.
But it’s all worth it, because now you are free to start designing wonderful award winning masterpieces, right?
Wrong. The early design life of the graduate architect is limited to documenting the designs of your superiors, drawing stair details, preparing door schedules, and drafting, lots of tedious drafting.
And that’s the exciting part. You now have another two years of practical experience and study ahead of you to complete your professional registration before you can even claim the title – Architect.
So, you’ve finally passed your registration exams, served your apprenticeship, and now become a fully-fledged Architect. Time to be let loose on a “Client”.
Clients come in many shapes and forms. The expectation is that they have chosen you as an Architect based on your ability to disentangle their myriad desires and aspirations to create a visionary masterpiece. An iconic monument that will win numerous design awards and increase the value of their property tenfold. Giving you free reign to do as you want with an unlimited budget.
The reality, especially with residential design, can often prove to be quite different.
Since design is not a quantifiable science with a single solution to any given problem, the possibilities are endless. An Architect’s skill lies in being able to successfully distil the numerous variables into a well resolved aesthetically pleasing, practical, functional and economical design.
With the plethora of DIY renovation reality shows and home design series competing for our TV viewing time, a new breed of Client is emerging who believe they are experts in design. They present at your first briefing session armed with the “resolved“ design that simply needs to be “drawn up”. This comprises a mess of shapes representing rooms prepared using some obscure freeware program they’ve found online. Complimented with a million Pinterest images illustrating numerous disparate styles and finishes that they want included in their design masterpiece.
This is when the adage that the Client is always right is blatantly wrong, and the best option is to immediately refer them to the Architect down the road that you really dislike.
And then you have the married couples who have polar opposite design expectations. This requires the Architect to delicately navigate the rocky waters between the husband and wife’s’ individual desires, a unique new form of marriage counselling using design as the mediation tool.
Nothing is more daunting to an Architect than the prospect of putting pen to paper (or mouse to computer) to commence a new design. Inspiration can no longer be found hanging out in the Uni bar, this is the real world and your client is relying on your creativity to flow on demand.
Any menial job suddenly takes on huge importance and becomes preferable to picking up that pen and unrolling your butter paper to start the process. Eventually you can’t put it off any longer.
And then the inspiration flashes like a bulb, the doodles transform into defined shapes, and you are consumed with excitement as the hours flit by and the design develops, your newborn creation takes form, you are in love, its perfect. Until the next idea hits, and suddenly it is the wonderchild, it couldn’t be improved. But what if, oh, that works even better!
Finally it’s time to present your baby to your Client, and like any proud parent, you hope that they will bond with it and love it as their own. That is when you pray you aren’t working for a TV educated design expert who wants to meddle with perfection and create a design in their own misguided image!
Once you’ve navigated through the design process, much like a child, the design is nurtured and then gradually develops a life of its own. It consumes all your time and energy, causing you stress and anxiety as you try to maintain control throughout the difficult adolescent stage as the design slowly matures.
Ultimately the time comes for the design to leave your fulltime care to become a fully formed building, to be constructed by strangers and enjoyed by others.
The initial elation and exhilaration of creating a new design is short lived, as it only represents a small fraction of the life of the project. The bulk of the hard work follows in preparing the necessary documentation for approvals, tender and construction.
This involves attending numerous co-ordination meetings and drafting, lots of drafting.
Ideal work for the graduate Architect.
Much like conceiving a baby through IVF treatment, a very high percentage of an Architect’s designs won’t progress beyond the drawing board, so those that do are considered extra special.
So, it is with great anticipation, and trepidation, that the Architect attends the first construction site meeting, thrust straight into the frontline of a war zone. The foe, the Builder.
Builders are born with an inherent dislike of Architects. They believe all the arty farty design nuances are a waste of time, and that Architects have no idea how a building is constructed.
Consequently, the unwary Architect visiting site for the first time is likely to be bombarded with a multitude of curly Builder’s questions intended to bamboozle, belittle and intimidate.
Best to send the graduate Architect.
The Working Day
An Architect’s life is filled with decision making. This process starts early on every day with the most important decision of all, what to wear.
The architect’s wardrobe can be described in three simple terms: black, eccentric, or ultra-casual.
For the adherents to the black dress code, dressing is a simple exercise. Black jeans, black boots and the choice between black T shirt or a black turtleneck sweater, depending on the weather. Accessorised with circular or square black framed spectacles, and maybe a black tie and jacket for formal occasions, the wardrobe is the ultimate in monochrome perfection.
Not all Architects however are Johnny Cash wannabes, and these poor souls face much more complicated decisions, choosing between the paisley or the geometric patterned slim cut untucked shirt, which brand of designer jeans, boots or leather shoes?
Then to accessorise, which funky watch goes best with today’s choice of solid colour framed glasses?
And then off to work, the decision between the new European marque car, or the just roadworthy, rust riddled, leaking classic 1960’s sports coupe that will eventually be restored, one day when time permits, and when a project actually makes a profit to fund it.
With soy latte expresso in hand, arriving at the office before most people have got out of bed, the work day commences.
By lunchtime the social media posts are all done, and the daily posts from the multitude of architectural design websites have been searched for the latest design ideas to cherry pick for the next project. Emails have been checked for any “bushfires” requiring urgent attention, and we are ready to start work for the day. Not however before a quick gourmet sandwich from that trendy new deli downstairs
Now, on to that new design. Or perhaps it would be better to check how many likes that Instagram post has received. Whoops, nearly forgot about tomorrow morning’s consultant meeting that needs preparation for – 200 updated tender drawings by 9am. Looks like another all-nighter.
Wonder whether that new graduate architect is doing anything tonight?
It’s a misconception that Architects live in beautiful modern luxury “Brady Bunch” homes.
That’s actually where Doctors and Astronauts live. They can afford to.
Architects tend to live in half completed renovations that they are undertaking themselves in their rare time off work; once they’ve finally decided which design to go with; and where they can utilise those free samples or discounted products received from trade suppliers on the promise of specifying their products in the design of that Doctor’s new mansion.
An Architect’s home is typically furnished with an eclectic mix of uncomfortable and impractical modernist designer chairs, often Chinese manufactured replicas. They look sophisticated though and go well with the IKEA furniture that will be replaced soon. Substituted for custom designed pieces, eventually when a project finally makes a profit to fund it.
The Annual Holiday
For any spouse or friend travelling with an Architect on holiday, be prepared.
The itinerary will invariably include large deviations from your actual destination to obscure places to view bizarre buildings designed by some famous Architect that you’ve never heard of.
Or a classical “grand tour” filled with more ancient churches and cathedrals than you thought could possibly exist in every town or city you visit. And forget any notion you may have of enjoying the scenery, you’ll constantly be asked to move out of the picture while your Architect companion attempts to take photos to recreate the exact images already seen in numerous books and magazines.
This process is repeated when you check into your boutique designer brand hotel.
Before you can touch the minibar, you are asked to hide in the closet while your partner takes photos of your room from every conceivable angle, capturing all those exciting details of door treatments, drainage grates skirtings, and architraves.
And you haven’t even visited the public spaces yet where the real design features are waiting to be discovered, jewels to be snapped and posted to Instagram, so that all of your friends at home mistake your Maldivian honeymoon for a trade conference in Mumbai.
This video below is an example of a typical Architects holiday album, see if you can spot the solitary photo including the Architects wife, she spent most of the trip hiding in wardrobes!
The Naked Truth
You may believe that this is an exaggerated conceit, a fiction tale describing the imaginary foibles of the architectural profession in an attempt to ward off potential aspiring Architects, future competitors. Be warned, this is the naked unadulterated truth!
So, if you are seriously considering a career in Architecture, study harder. Become a Doctor.
Or should you sympathise with the lot of an Architect and would like to support the profession by engaging one for your next project, then this 10 point guide is a must read.