Last week I was asked by a coworker if I would take some time out of my day and speak to a young man, Darien, who was interested in a career in architecture. I’ve done this a few times in the past, and I’m usually asked the same typical questions.
“How much money do you make?”
“What kind of car do you drive?”
“Have you met anybody famous?”
Once I start getting questions like these, I know that the person is not really interested in any advice I might have to give, so I tend to not take them very serious anymore. To my pleasant surprise, these questions, nor any like them, ever came up during my time with him. He was still in high school, so a majority of the questions centered around what he could be doing now to prepare, what he could expect when he got into college, and what it’s like when you get your first internship position at a firm.
Are you kidding me??? This is amazing, this person is really listening to everything I have to say and is serious about a career in architecture. Finally, a chance to pass on my vast knowledge of the roller coaster ride it is working your way into this profession. Ok….. “vast” might be a bit of a stretch, probably more like ‘finite’, ehhh semantics.
The conversation was really good, and there was quite a bit of back and forth dialogue, showing me just how interested he was in architecture and learning in general. Near the end of our conversation he asked me a question that has stuck with me ever since.
“What is the best thing about being an architect, and what is the worst?”
Good question! I can’t recall the exact answer I gave him at that moment, but I have been thinking about it for a week now and thought I would share a few of the things I think are at the two opposite ends of what we do.
- Getting the opportunity to help design different buildings and spaces that people use every day. Yeah, this one is a little hokey, but it gets to the heart of why architects do what they do even when there are myriads of jobs out there that are less stressful and probably pay better.
- Getting to be creative every day, and getting paid for it. I know, I know, there are plenty of days where all I do is RFI’s, review submittals, draw bathroom details, etc. and you might say, where is the creativity in that; ok, some of those days not so much, but there are a lot of days where you are trying to come up with a building elevation, the layout of a floor plan, or even trying to figure out the best 3D view of a building your working on to convince the client that this is the best piece of architecture the western world has seen in half a century.
- Getting to be in charge, at least for a little bit. Yeah, this one is a wee bit selfish, but who doesn’t enjoy that feeling every once and a while. It’s empowering to go out to a job site and have everyone look to you for the answer to a question. Living in a house with three women, trust me, that feeling is few and far between.
Ok, I’ll admit this one is a little more difficult. I’ve wanted to be an architect ever since I was a kid playing with Legos. The more I think about it, I don’t think it’s really anything about being an architect I find really that bad, the stuff that usually gets to me is the stuff that happens in almost every office. Gossip, office politics, egos; those types of things typically get under my skin. Although I’m not batting a thousand, I usually try to avoid those things. That last one on the list seems to find its way into almost every architects office, hmmmm.
Ok, a slight amendment to the original post. There is definitely one thing that, at least to me, tops just about everything else as the worst part of being an architect. The rejection. This is a very creative field, and with that comes a lot of research, effort and time put into almost everything we do. Whether it is a resume, portfolio, proposal, RFQ, or presentation, every line on a drawing and every word used is thought out. This is what we do, how can we not think of these creations as at least a glimpse into the deepest parts of ourselves. After the countless hours of working on something, and the endless research to produce the best quality product, you can still simply be told “No.” Sometimes there are reasons why, sometimes not. There have been plenty of times when my idea was shot down or someone else was chosen for something, and while that is a part of this career, there are those instances where no matter how prepared you are or how well you can separate your work from yourself, some rejections just sting a little bit more.
I’ll bet there are plenty of other things that could get put into these categories. I’d love to hear what others would say are the best and worst parts of being an architect.