the cynicism of higher education
May 28, 2004 10:10 AM   Subscribe

An architect, falling apart. A disparate status of the modern architect.
posted by four panels (64 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I don't understand how that guy watched the Brady Bunch, saw six kids splitting two bedrooms and one bath, and came to the conclusion that architects make a handsome salary. Hello? Helloooooooo?

Also: The wimp's giving up too soon. You have to pay your dues. Wuss.
posted by LionIndex at 10:26 AM on May 28, 2004

Bummer story but really, who in the hell is going to pay $14k for someone else's diplomas?

He'd be better off trying to sell a kidney.
posted by fenriq at 10:27 AM on May 28, 2004

Einstürzende Neubauten, indeed.

And people wonder why I don't really desire to "apply" my lazy slacker ass, go to school, and "do something" with my "intelligence".

That whole "school" thing just takes all the fun right out of learning. I'm quite happy sitting here contemplating my navel - and sipping or slurping, as my mood strikes, from the largest free repository of information, ever - thank you. I don't need to go $50k in debt to do that.

Everyone that I've known that's gone to a real college, university or school is drowning in debt. I've just heard that yet another friend is declaring bankruptcy, wholly or in part to their school career. And they still can't spell to save their lives.
posted by loquacious at 10:38 AM on May 28, 2004

Also: The wimp's giving up too soon. You have to pay your dues. Wuss.

Is this sarcasm? He graduated in 1991. It's been 13 years. Doesn't that count as having "paid his dues"? One would think that with 13 years of experience, a professional architect would be doing reasonably well for himself.

Actually, this is a bit off-topic, but where did anyone get the idea that taking minimum-wage jobs where one gets coffee and picks up the dry-cleaning of your boss is necessary "dues paying" on your way to an actual professional career? Sounds more like "being a chump" rather than "paying your dues."

Bummer story but really, who in the hell is going to pay $14k for someone else's diplomas?

It's art!
posted by deanc at 10:39 AM on May 28, 2004

He must be a really sucky architect.
posted by signal at 10:42 AM on May 28, 2004

Paging Mr. Roark. Mr. Roark to the white courtesy phone please.
posted by spazzm at 10:46 AM on May 28, 2004

my paycheck was only slightly more than my paycheck from summer work at a local market, where I at least received overtime. I was allowed to live at home, rent free, until I could afford to move out.
Did h never used his skills designing a home for himself, WTF?
posted by thomcatspike at 10:50 AM on May 28, 2004

What a crybaby. "Guidance counselors didn't predict the future correctly and the Brady Bunch has turned out to be nothing more than a seductive fantasy!" Wah wah.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 10:53 AM on May 28, 2004

Is this sarcasm? He graduated in 1991.

Partially. I must confess that I misread the first time and thought that he graduated high school in '96 instead of '86. That makes a big difference.

Actually, this is a bit off-topic, but where did anyone get the idea that taking minimum-wage jobs where one gets coffee and picks up the dry-cleaning of your boss is necessary "dues paying" on your way to an actual professional career? Sounds more like "being a chump" rather than "paying your dues."

When a profession is so glamorized that the number of aspirants to available positions far exceeds that of actual job openings, you're gonna have to pay your dues. In architecture it's not so much with the personal chores for the boss as it is that firms need a bunch of warm bodies to pump out drawings. As a graduate of an architecture school, you can expect to spend a few years cranking out sheet after sheet of boilerplate details, or work days on end building models for very little pay, because there are thousands of other recent grads who would gladly take any job you think beneath you. And heaven help you if you're trying to work in a college town where there's a constant supply of free labor that'll work just to get experience.
posted by LionIndex at 11:00 AM on May 28, 2004

for what it is worth, there is a media perception that architects are on par with doctors and lawyers as potential big money earners. the truth is that as a profession, architecture could be considered a pro-bono profession. the amount of work/competitions that you need to do to actually land a project is disproportionate to the value of the job once you do get the one out of twenty that you go for... only to then have the client turn around and whittle away at your fee during contract negotiations, and finally during the actual building phase to have all of the life sucked out of your building due to "value engineering" is disheartening at best. but we are just as guilty for this predicament we've got ourselves into. we undercut each other, will do anything to get the work, and work extraordinarily long hours (for free) to get the project to the level that we have been trained for.

that's the issue - what most of us have been trained to do doesn't jive with what most of the country believes is good architecture, and therefore we need the free labor just to keep afloat. (though I would never work for free - outside of my salary - and would never exploit an architect-in-training either).
posted by grimley at 11:03 AM on May 28, 2004

Whinny crybaby. How this guy got into RPI is beyond me. I know a couple of successful architects who make very, very comfortable livings for themselves and families.
I made the 'mistake' of selecting a degree program that did not turn out to be very rewarding. However, I looked at my skills and was able to apply some of them to a new career which has been much more rewarding. I do not resent by degree choice or university, in fact I am quite grateful.
posted by evilelf at 11:10 AM on May 28, 2004

watched the Brady Bunch
He failed at watching the show. Even though Mike Brady had an office at a firm, he did a lot of his work at home, especially weekends.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:12 AM on May 28, 2004

loquacious, I went to a regular four year college and am in debt but not drowning in it.

I think part of the problem is that its not just student loans that get graduates. Its those easy credit card offers they send out. Its very easy to rack up $10K in debt on credit quickly and then you're behind the eight ball twice (or two eight balls) with loan repayments and high interest credit debt.

Or at least, that's what happened to me.

But no longer, I'm paying off my third credit card this week!
posted by fenriq at 11:23 AM on May 28, 2004

Well, he could always go work for Vandelay Industries, where he might even get to handle the Penske file.

A friend of mine is a young architect, not long from school, and "paying his dues" right now. In the architecture world, this seems to mean working hellish hours for slave wages for over-demanding bosses and clueless clients. Not unlike the early days of a lot of other professions, but it sounds like the "payoff" probably doesn't rate up there with being an attorney, physician or other "successful professional".
posted by briank at 11:25 AM on May 28, 2004

but it sounds like the "payoff" probably doesn't rate up there with being an attorney

...the payoff doesn't even compare with technical writing, at least not given what I made as a TW, vs. what most architects make in my region. It took me three years to reach the top of technical writing (pay-wise); in architecture those same three years would have seen me finally finish the amusingly misnamed "intern development program". I still wouldn't be licensed, and statistically speaking I'd never be able to equal the tech writer pay, even after years of experience as a licensed professional.

It's laughable. Architecture has almost managed to kill itself as a profession. Anything they can do, a reasonably skilled design consultant + a structural engineer can do better, and cheaper.
posted by aramaic at 11:41 AM on May 28, 2004

now aramaic. I agreed with you right up to the last sentence. an architect is that design consultant - or that's what we have become.

the IDP is one of those things that rubs me totally the wrong way. pay pay pay pay pay to get them to "verify" your hours... pay pay pay pay pay to take each of the nine tests in a sealed room with a camera over your head... pay pay pay paypaypay to get you stamp and then pay pay pay the AIA so they don't take your stamp away. I'm five years in and still can't bring myself to do it.
posted by grimley at 11:47 AM on May 28, 2004

If this is true, it's a bit of a sad tale. It's sad to see someone of 36 who has been so jaded by that sort of experience. C'est la vie, I guess.

To throw something into the degree vs no-degree hat, I never went to college, although if I were able to meet the entry qualifications (I probably couldn't) and it was free, I'd go now. I'm not really a big believer in the whole academic system, and think that anyone who's truly smart will do well for themselves without degrees.. but the value other people place on degrees soon makes it worth having one.

For example, not having a degree just meant any possibility of moving to the US (I already had a good job lined up there with a client who's been dying to get me there for a year or so) is pretty much out of the window. It's when you least think it'd be useful that academic requirements creep up on your butt ;-) I also know that if you want to teach English as a foreign language overseas, not having a degree is a big problem. And being a student also gives you benefits in going to other countries to work temporarily. All of these things discriminate against those who were not students and/or have no academic qualifications.
posted by wackybrit at 11:51 AM on May 28, 2004

an architect is that design consultant.

Possibly, possibly not. A "design consultant" doesn't need to be licensed, therefore doesn't necessarily have to bother with IDP, taking the ARE, making sure that they went to an NCARB school, etc. etc. etc.

...of course, they can do all those things, but they don't have to. Which usually means they'll have less debt, and more years actually spent working, rather than semi-working in IDP hell.
posted by aramaic at 11:54 AM on May 28, 2004

Architecture is, in America, probably underappreciated and underpiad because Americans are, generally speaking, art and aesthetic-impoverished. So I do feel for the guy.

Here's a question: what actually is that web page? Someone has bid five figures for an RPI piece of paper? Call me clueless, but, I actually was 10 when the Brady Bunch first ran, and have never used e-bay.

By the way, did anyone see the X-Files episode with the Brady House? It's the only time I ever watched that show, and it was superb!
posted by ParisParamus at 11:55 AM on May 28, 2004

Writing about architecture is like dancing about music.
posted by bingo at 12:03 PM on May 28, 2004

Possibly, possibly not. A "design consultant" doesn't need to be licensed, therefore doesn't necessarily have to bother with IDP, taking the ARE, making sure that they went to an NCARB school, etc. etc. etc.

Depending on what kind of building you want to build though, you may be required to have a licensed architect.
posted by LionIndex at 12:06 PM on May 28, 2004

...and most schools are dropping the BArch professional in favor of a BA in Architecture - which essentially will require an architect-in-training to get a MArch in order to get licensed. so add a few more years of debt. I have friends who are deep in debt for this profession. heads-up-bottom, indeed.

(though that's what I did, so...)(but I did it in Canada and with an interiors degree first, so the financial hit wasn't as hard as his).

On preview, lionindex - all you need is a licensed architect to stamp the drawings, though they are assuming the liability.
posted by grimley at 12:12 PM on May 28, 2004

you may be required to have a licensed architect

Again: possibly, possibly not. In many (most? some?) jurisdictions the structural engineer can stamp all of the drawings for permit purposes, meaning that the structure can be built without any architect being involved at all. The liability is assumed by the engineer, which is what they're being paid for.

Getting an engineer to stamp drawings is a lot easier (and cheaper) than getting an architect to stamp drawings, oddly enough (in my experience, anyway). Engineers generally trump architects, when it comes to the building permit department.
posted by aramaic at 12:18 PM on May 28, 2004

...of course, you'll have a hard time convincing your structural engineer to do construction management...
posted by aramaic at 12:19 PM on May 28, 2004

Well, you're sure as hell going to be paying me for my liability. And if you're going to pay me to assume liability, then you might as well pay me to design the thing, too.

Thank god I'm in California which still has no IDP requirement and I can get a license with my measly little BS Arch degree.

Aramaic: For structural concerns, you're right. But I think for larger public projects you need an architect. A structural engineering license carries no weight as far as exiting issues and ADA compliance (among other things).
posted by LionIndex at 12:22 PM on May 28, 2004

But as you say, that may vary by jurisdiciton.
posted by LionIndex at 12:24 PM on May 28, 2004

I know a couple of successful architects who make very, very comfortable livings for themselves and families.

Then you know a couple of people who are exploiting their (probably unpaid or illegal) interns, and/or who have clients akin to Satan himself. I'm a GREAT freaking architect in NYC with 8 years of college (most of it on scholarship), unlimited marketing and computer skills making $39K.

Good architects can't help but practice good architecture. It's like social work---financially unrewarding but if you care, you're sunk. Americans know DICK about buildings and that is why they live in a WORLD OF SHIT.

I think this is the most personally depressing MIFI post I have ever seen. And it's my birthday.
posted by DenOfSizer at 12:28 PM on May 28, 2004

As a recent graduate in Computer Engineering, I've found that jobs in my field are no longer as plentiful as they were when I entered school. I decided that if I wasn't far enough on the career path in a year or two, it will be back to school for me. I haven't decided if it will be for a MS in engineering or a Bachelor's in something else.

I feel that I have pretty strong artistic and technical streaks, and architecture was one of the things I was considering. However, this is the second thread on MeFi recently that has made it clear that Architecture's *not* the cure for a bad job market. Still, I like the idea of designing things: would I do better as a Civil or Structural Engineer, and would I still be able to design buildings? Would an engineering degree be useful if I decided to go into Industrial Design?

Sorry, I don't want to bother Metafilter for career advice. However, this has always been a great mixing of creative and technical minds, so I can't think of a better place to ask!
posted by Eamon at 12:28 PM on May 28, 2004

IDP is coming to Cali on 01 Jan 2005. hope you start your exams before that or you'll have to do it too, lionindex.

happy birthday, DOS. and here here.
posted by grimley at 12:31 PM on May 28, 2004

This poor sod is not your typical architect. Here's a quick exerpt:
Median annual earnings of wage and salary architects were $56,620 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $44,030 and $74,460. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,280, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $92,350.
posted by Godling at 12:33 PM on May 28, 2004

IDP is coming to Cali on 01 Jan 2005. hope you start your exams before that or you'll have to do it too, lionindex.

I forgot to mention that--yeah, I'm in the pipeline.
posted by LionIndex at 12:35 PM on May 28, 2004

from the same report: Architects may occasionally be under stress, working nights and weekends to meet deadlines. In 2002, more than half of all full-time architects worked more than 40 hours a week.

not from the report: probably without overtime pay.

reminds me of a famous nyc architect whose contract with his employees apparently states "Good Architects Work Saturdays."
posted by grimley at 12:38 PM on May 28, 2004

aramaic, not to pick on you, but your posts are proof that Americans have little or no idea what architects do. This has left many disillusioned and in debt. I do blame guidance councilors, and culture for not knowing, but mainly I blame architects. We need to be out there, educating people. We are, on the whole, great communicators. This is what we are trained on.

We are great problem solvers. We marshal and choreograph separate and distinct professions and clients in order to get a building built. Of course a developer or an engineer can space plan and get a building built. Engineers are concerned with cold numbers and artificial abstractions, trying to push as much crap into the sausage as possible. They are extremely good at structural, mechanical and allied fields. Same with developers and developer/contractors. The bottom line is the most important issue. This is why the housing stock in America is horrendous, with McMansions dotting the land. But when you get to the human side, they are not enough. I have worked many weeks way over 40 hours and haven't gotten paid for it. How do I

What architects bring to the table is the knowledge of historical trends, what works and not, the ability to get it done, is the client's main advocate and protector, and finally someone who has an artistic view - or at least a presupposition of what works and not. Often we are seen as merely an afterthought or wasted money. But think of this: How long do you spend in your house, your job, your school? 8-12 hours a day awake? Do you really want someone to lay out that space [design is not the right words for most] who's chief goals are square footage requirements or the bottom line? Do you really want a computer or a slide rule to design your house? Because that is what you will get without an architect [which adds just 6-10% more to the job, where realtors - who don't really do anything - add 12-25% more to the cost]?

So there was my soapbox. I work in NYC, and I have about 4 years of experience, and I make enough to support myself. Is my job sometimes boring? Yes, but it is a job, and we sometimes do things which we don't like. Have I worked 60-70 hour weeks without reimbursement? Yes. I think that, in the end, we do this to ourselves because we are indoctrinated early on that "great architects work long hours" and "nothing is ever good enough." But that is also our strength - would you want your advocate [as a client] to do the job, "just good enough?"
posted by plemeljr at 12:49 PM on May 28, 2004

Godling, the report isn't very clear: do those figures only represent architects that haven't been winnowed by the internship process? I'd be much more interested to see how much graduates of architecture programs were making five, ten, and fifteen years after obtaining their degrees.

In fact, I'd really like to see similar stats for all professions.
posted by Eamon at 12:50 PM on May 28, 2004

OK, at some point in that long rant, things got gunked up. I guess I need to work on that "great communicator" area.
posted by plemeljr at 12:52 PM on May 28, 2004

maybe if all us architects spent more time on buildings and less time in the blue...
seriously, i never knew there were so many of us in here! here's to working weekends! (long ones, too).
posted by grimley at 12:59 PM on May 28, 2004

Summer hours man, summer hours! Luckily I don't have to work this weekend, but herself does. Guess who is making dinner all weekend!
posted by plemeljr at 1:01 PM on May 28, 2004

eamon, the AIA has figures on all of this though you - typically - have to pay for it.

update: here's an excerpt from the idp pdf
posted by grimley at 1:02 PM on May 28, 2004

Eamon, to answer your question about Civil/Structural engineering--I wouldn't bet on it. Very good structural engineers may eventually get to lend design assistance, but most of what you'll do won't be visible and will be hidden within walls. Just from dealing with our consultants, those professions seem to be incredibly soul-destroying.
posted by LionIndex at 1:09 PM on May 28, 2004

plemeljr: actually, I agree with you about the strengths of architects, but none of the things you've outlined require the absurd licensing system presently found in the US. Architecture is not surgery; it's not even engineering any more -- it's a lot closer to art and management.

...artists don't need to take the ARE, or go through IDP. Managers don't even really need to get an MBA.

The architectural education system, along with licensing and affiliated issues (eg: NCARB) is well and truly fucked, and the AIA has essentially zero interest in fixing it. Look at the recent topics in Archvoices -- they're all basically saying that IDP is fucked, and exactly nothing is being done to fix it besides sponsoring a nice little essay contest.

There was a study recently (darn it, I can't find the reference) that showed an UNlicensed architect made a couple K less than a licensed architect, over their entire working life. That didn't, IIRC, include all of the sunk costs involved with licensing and education, which meant that the unlicensed architect actually ended up with a lifetime earning above the licensed architect. That's the sign of a profession that's so seriously hosed it can't even recognize the trouble it's in.

The field is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better, and it's got little or nothing to do with what the american public thinks.

There's nothing wrong with architects; but there's a lot wrong with Architecture in the US, and it's almost all due to internal problems, not cultural ones.
posted by aramaic at 1:14 PM on May 28, 2004

eamon. if you are looking for higher pay, quicker turnaround on projects, and intensive computer use, ID might be the way to go. Though I'd still give architecture a look. I am convinced that once I am able to go out with some friends and do things right, it will be successful. famous last words.

an idea: let's start MAO. we'd make a killing. and it has a hip name.
posted by grimley at 1:17 PM on May 28, 2004

Y'all missed the real crime.
Schools have gradually upped tuition and costs way past the cost of living increases. Are they paying their profs a princely sum to teach? Of course not. They just like growing their endowments rather than employing them to keep costs dow. Why not. They have themselves a monopoly, what with the ubiquitous req't of a degree in society.

The Banks make a fortune servicing ed loans. They are risk free (guarranteed by the gov't) and here's the kicker. When a guy like this is obviously struggling with his debt service, they sit back, wait for him to default and then slap on huge penalties. Why? Cuz they can and teh gov't gladly pays out its guarantees. RISK FREE Loans. Who wouldn't write them? Again let me point out: $ 41,000 loan principle plus default becomes a 70k+ principal in the blink of an eye. Guess who gets the windfall here.

Higher education is now as big a scam as anything Enron ever aspired to.
posted by Fupped Duck at 1:17 PM on May 28, 2004

aramaic, I think we can agree to disagree on the matter of cultural vs. internal problems. I think it is a bit from column A and column B, but we can discuss that later. I agree that licensure is really messed up [as I am going through it now]. NCARB and IDP are largely slow moving behemoths which will never change. I think that many feel that it is too far passed the fucked point to save it. The change to M.Archs as the only recognized professional degree is not the answer, especially in light of Fupped Duck's critique.
posted by plemeljr at 1:28 PM on May 28, 2004

grimley are you making a play on OMA?
posted by shoepal at 1:37 PM on May 28, 2004

OMA AMO ARO MVRDV the lot of them. which brings me to this How to Become a Famous Architect.
posted by grimley at 1:48 PM on May 28, 2004

I had an architecture teacher once who used to come in at 3AM the night before a big crit, just to see who was working. He said it made a factor in his grading. Since the damn field was artifically "established" in the 19th C., it's been operating in a culture of abuse

Let's not even talk about the illegality of interns, either. When I first graduated I was making less than I would have if I'd worked at Mikkey-Ds, 60 hours a week for weeks on end---and then my boss filed a 1099 on me, since I was in her mind a "consultant." It makes a body grateful for the IDP program.

I have received numerous cheerup emails from many people on this discussion, and thanks, ya'll, you're aces.
posted by DenOfSizer at 1:49 PM on May 28, 2004

plemeljr: you may be right (on the column A + B thing).

It just kills me to sit here watching (what I believe) is a profession slowly marginalizing itself for no good reason, and I can't seem to do anything about it.

We've spent too many years making buildings so that they look good in photographs, stroking our own professional egos, abusing the staff because they should be *thankful* we deign to let them work with us, and not enough time making buildings people actually want to occupy, so it really shouldn't surprise us when society lowers our value. We're still paying the price, IMHO, for the International Style nightmare.

...then, when we notice we're not as godlike as we used to be, the response is to layer on piles of pointless licensure requirements whose main result is endless cheap labor for our offices and fresh bodies for the diploma mills we rely on for the occasional "honorary faculty" appointment? As though that's gonna fix anything?

grimley: as long as the logo for MAO involves monoamine oxidase in some way, I'm in!
posted by aramaic at 2:00 PM on May 28, 2004

(though I am a fan of ARO, and really think that Rem's IIT and Seattle Public Library are gems)

aramaic, only if the logo can also be a play on those crap AutoCAD 2005 ads based on Viagra. have you seen those? talk about a male-centric profession.

thanks to all for making this a much more interesting discussion than ever happens on archinect.
posted by grimley at 2:04 PM on May 28, 2004

grimley: I'm a student at IIT, and I share the love of Rem's building, although it does have its flaws. It's very much acting as a learning experience for the university, since it's one of the first new buildings on the campus in several years. But it's still a lovely building, and a joy to walk through on the way to class.

We also have new dorms designed by Helmut Jahn. I'm not a fan of them, and neither are most students (they're nowhere near the capacity they can hold). The bare concrete and glass make it seem very institutional, and all the glass creates all sorts of problems with birds.
posted by borkencode at 3:04 PM on May 28, 2004

You architects like TLAs almost as much as computer folk, don't you?
posted by crunchburger at 3:11 PM on May 28, 2004

So how many architects are we up to in the MeFi community then? Are we a balanced percentage to the number of architects as a percentage of US or world population?

Lots of nice comments here and too many to go back and react to but I just want to through my hat in the ring and say: IDP, ARE, CES and the drive to all MArch's for registration are all misguided ideas -- what is truly lacking in the profession (and has been from my start in 1982 as a co-op student) is quality mentoring. I know not what the cause for this is but the last time I worked in an office, I worked hard with those on my project to correct that deficiency.

I'll also add, for the comment about the 3 a.m. faculty visit, that when I was in grad school, Mario Gandelsonas would come into our studio the night before the crit to ask that we all go home (we were into process). Of course, we all sat about and smoked and drank until 3 a.m. instead but his heart was in the right place. When I taught, a few years before, I would go to the studio the night before and give my students a last "skip that" "do this" talk, so that they would not be complete zombies the next day.

I love architecture and the practice of it but I left the mainstream of the profession (as circumstances afforded me) a few years back -- when I consider what I miss about it I flash immediately to the things that I do not miss about it. Best of luck to everyone here.

I just had a tour of the new Casa de Musica in Porto by Koolhaas. Brilliant in many ways, it also has some serious flaws. It will be interesting to see how they address one of those problems (now cast in concrete -- literally) and to see what appears about the condition in print.
posted by Dick Paris at 3:31 PM on May 28, 2004

I wonder if we'd find out on MAO what the union (no pun intended) of architects and info architects on mifi is. That'd be interesting.

Fuppded Duck: Right on. What's a TLA, crunchburger? Some kinda meta acroymn-acronym?
posted by DenOfSizer at 4:08 PM on May 28, 2004

a quick google reveals "Three Letter Acronym." We should look into this MAO thing. could be very interesting. it couldn't hurt.

DP - i'm up to lionindex, myself, aramaic, denofsizer, eamon (in the near future), plemeljr, shoepal (maybe?), borkencode, and yourself. Sounds like we have a posse.

borkencode. was in chicago over the summer. snuck into the student center, went "ugh" at the Jahn, and dug the mies. you are lucky to be there.
posted by grimley at 4:22 PM on May 28, 2004

Becoming disillusioned in Architecture is incredibly easy. I learned when I graduated and received my degree, that I actually knew nothing about the profession as a whole.

In theory, Architects are to be the Great Communicators who lead their clients, communities, and the profession to the aspriring role of jack-of-all-tades. Architects should be artists, engineers, orators, critical thinkers, socialites, businessmen (or women), voices of reason, mediators, and above all the most competant in their field. The reality out of school are not prepared for anything. School only gives prospective architects the opportunity to creatively design with smatterings of math and science, but the focus is on pure design. For example, I took three Math classes, 2 physics, but I also took 10 design studios, 4 delineation classes, and 8 architecture history courses (which was my own decision) among many others.

The disconnect comes from the professors themselves. Many are voiced in pure academia, with little to no practical knowledge about the construction process or the true role of an architect in society. Hence the introduction of the IDP. The sad fact is though, most interns lie their way through the IDP. There is no physical way to complete what IDP demands without fudging a little, and firms want registered architects so badly they will sign anything. That is how I am taking the ARE right now....2 weeks of required office management will never happen in a profitable firm.

But I do agree, that he is giving up too soon. Architects come into their own through positive client relations and years of honing the required skills to land large projects. It takes years to exude the knowledge and confidence to retain the 150 million dollar hospital like the one I am working on now. It all takes time, most project managers and associate principals are in their early to mid 40's....and they did pay their dues. It is how the profession has evolved, right or wrong.
posted by Benway at 4:55 PM on May 28, 2004

I spent 17 years working in architecture firms. Many hours OT, grunt work. I trained countless grads who didn't know their butt from a hole in the ground when it came to how a building goes together, how to tease the real requirements out of discussions with the client, and last but not least, how to put together logical, efficient drawings a contractor can build by.

Between the egos/control freakishness and perpetuation of the I-paid-so-you-must-pay attitude, and the constant vigilant code compliance (lest ye be sued), I saw very little art. It was all compromise and damage control. Example: I spent 3 hours drawing a skylight detail (for a manufacturer we didn't even use, come shop drawing time) b/c my boss wanted to "teach me a lesson about framing for a skylight". That same job cost us $10,000 in a change order b/c the bearing heights on the sections were wrong - no time to check the drawings due to looking through a toilet paper tube at one tiny detail.

To be fair, not all architects fit the above description. However, in that period of time I ran across very, very few who weren't self proclaimed gods deluded into regarding architecture as art. It's not. Architecture is about relationships of systems, be they machines, people, groups of information, or material. I'd like to hear just one building architect admit that, but I'm betting I won't, b/c it interferes with their claim to their delusion.

I did spend a year or two working directly with contractors, and have to agree with Aramaic on pretty much everything he's said here.
posted by yoga at 6:45 PM on May 28, 2004

Wow, I found this post quite late but I want to add my story as well. I am the same age as the guy selling his diploma, I also went to school for architecture, also in NY. My life has turned out quite differently, due to some choices I made along the way, although I too gave up on architecture as a way to make a living. I do want to give the guy proper credit though - he has stuck it out three years longer than the average architect, whose career lasts 10 years (compared to 25 for a barber).

First thing I did was go to a school that I could afford to pay for myself. I got a 50% scholarship based on my academic performance in high school, so that helped. I worked the whole time I was in school, to help pay my way, lived at home, and managed to get out without any loans. (I did screw up with the credit cards, but 3 grand is a lot diferent than 30 grand). I started becoming disillusioned in school right away when I saw how the kids who had money, could afford to spend more time on their drawings, models etc. (I remember building models behind the counter at the video store I worked in once, just trying to keep up. Turned out shitty, of course)

Second thing I did right was to make sure all my electives were outside my field. I took anthropology, literature, philosophy classes, etc. I wanted to be well rounded, and I figured that while architecture was covering a lot, there were other interesting things to know about.

Third thing I did was learn AutoCAD in my third year. This enables me to keep up with some of the other students still using ink, although some of the professors were didstinctly biased against computer generated drawings at the time. I was always interested in computers, so I picked it up quickly.

In my third or fourth year, I took a job with a small firm where my duties included driving, getting coffee, picking up dry-cleaning in addition to drafting, etc. I stayed there full-time after graduation. The economy at the time was rapidly deteriorating, and I was making 150% of minimum wage. After a couple of years, my firm was unable to pay me regulary, so I left, even though I generally liked the place. (Didn't really mind the errands at the time, only in retrospect do they bother me)

I wound up taking on some freelance AutoCAD work at an engineering company (one floor below DenOfSizer at Pei, coincidentally) and it paid three times what the architectural apprentice gig paid. So I could afford my rent, and take a little time to learn more tricks.

AutoCAD drafting led to 3D modeling, led to rendering, led to Photoshop, led to multimedia, led to a gig with an interactive television company in 1993. I was their first paid employee and as they switched to web development we rode the bubble into two offices and 160 people. I gradually mastered the technical side of things, and was earning a very comfortable salary. When they crashed in 2001, I moved to another firm quickly, where I stayed until moving to Japan, where I make a third of what I used to.

Life here is pretty good, my wife doesn't have to work, and my son is doing OK. Overall I am happy, and I really read this post as what might have been - so I feel a little better about my mistakes. However I really love architecture and design of real tangible things, and wish there was a way to integrate what I am doing now with the art/design world I turned my back on. One day, maybe I'll be able to.

I read once that while architects are among the most respected of professionals, they are also the most likely to switch careers. I think something close to 60 or 70 percent leave the field. It is pretty sad, but as it was pointed out before - the industry perpetuates both the old-boys, dues-paying, slave wages tactics as well as the rock-star-like odds of success. For every Frank Gehry there are a hundred people designing strip malls or subdivisions. And like to guy in the post, I think that popular culture has masked the truth of the profession. I'd like to see a movie or TV show just once that showed life in a famous architectural firm. I just can't decide whether it should be drama or black comedy.
posted by bashos_frog at 10:53 PM on May 28, 2004

Definitely black comedy. But no one would watch.

Yoga, I will admit that the creation of buildings is all of those things you describe and more but it is in the end creation and is an art -- the problem with that may lie in the notion that it seems that at least 95% of what is built falls short of being art -- even an artful act of problem solving.

In an American context, I blame this partly on the American lack of focus on urbanism, where a building is rarely part of a larger work -- urban design. Beyond that the problems run deep but nothing brings me greater joy than when I see a work well done -- a lot of doom and gloom has been offered here but the fact is, when an architect has made a fine mark, that mark can be a stunning achievement. Those stunning achievements are often piecemeal and sometimes nothing more than solving a mundane problem.

Sidebar: Witness Pei's Louvre project: what is best about this piece is the addition of clarity to an incredibly difficult circulation problem, the singular bold statement of the pyramid in the courtyard and the beautiful vaulted spaces in the ancillary courtyards. Beyond that, I don't really think the project is not very good.

Thinking deeper about critiques of Paris museums then, I find the Musée d'Orsay renovation to be an utter pile of shite but the original building has such good bones that it is easy to ignore the poor insertion of that renovation. The natural history museum is brilliant and not so much for any artistic statement on the part of the architect but more a vision of what not to do. The elegance of the Brancusi museum dwarfs the clumsiness of the Centre Pompidou, although that building also has its importance and grand moments as an element for the greater good and advancement of architecture as an art. It is a failure as a built object in many ways but its presence in Paris is achieving the same stature as the Eiffel Tower. /sidebar

By the time I reached the end of graduate school (I pursued a second professional degree as I wanted to teach), I had become firm in my belief that the art of architecture is the ultimate problem solving, an act of analysis and synthesis of incredible complexity. Perhaps an architect is not an artist, in the same way that I distinguish a painter from an illustrator and that is fine: architecture is, as the saying goes, the mother of all arts, although the implications of that phrase are lost on me now.

Perhaps where many architects fall short is with an idea that architecture is an art first. It is not nor should it be. I don't know the original quote by Vitruvious but I've never heard delight come first in that triad: good building is the successful marriage of all three qualities and indeed, without commodity and firmness, being left only with delight, we are left with an utter failure architecturally.
posted by Dick Paris at 1:59 AM on May 29, 2004

To add one more thing:

Not only do I not think there is anything essentially wrong with being trained as an architect and then moving into utterly new directions, I think this can be a very good thing. One of the best of my peers left the profession few years ago -- he is an excellent architect -- but he felt a driven away from the profession.

Now, he is in a position which allows him to not only apply his skills as a problem solver with a well rounded education (he also has two professional degrees) but he also may someday be the client on some fine commissions which can only be good. In Europe, where there are far too many architects for the work available, I think we see some of that general knowledge trickle down through society -- more people trained as architects means more secondary attention to architecture.

That's just my crackpot hypothesis though…

That was supposed to be short.
posted by Dick Paris at 2:29 AM on May 29, 2004

What a delightful thread!

For some reason, I don't know any architects. In fact, I seem to subconsciously avoid knowing any architects. I suspect that a few disappointing evaluations, made back when I was solemnly fitting people and professions into convenient categories, resulted in you sub-Pei roadies getting yourselves classified as "torpid". Or maybe one too many of you asked me for a loan. Or maybe I'm afraid that having a real architect around would embarrass me into blowing some of the froth off of my really-pretty-damned-impressive architectural babble.

Don't be mad. We all have our little prejudices.

Anyway, this oddish thread has been enlightening. I'm reopening your case. Many of you seem bright, thoughtful, unaffected, underpaid and underappreciated - IOW, well worth talking to! I may just have to recruit a local architect into Opus's circle.

Who'da thunk?

Sorry for the self-indulgent interruption - please carry on.
posted by Opus Dark at 3:31 AM on May 29, 2004

What a great thread. I just dropped in to see why it kept attracting comments and wound up learning more about architecture than I had anywhere else. Thanks, all. MeFi can certainly be an education ...and there are no student loans!
posted by languagehat at 1:25 PM on May 29, 2004

Let me put it this way: all buildings are architecture; not all architecture is buildings. Sort of like the cognac:brandy relationship. Kudos to the building architects out there open and secure enough to explore that concept. For those who can't, unless you have the drive to own your own firm and perpetuate the madness so the numbers work in your favor, perhaps art is a more fitting pursuit. [Art, as in fine art, whose only true function is interpretation. Not art as described by Mr. Paris above, which I equate more closely with skill and balance. Not better or worse, but different.]

One comment about Frank Gehry: I think his work is great as sculpture, not architecture. I believe the architect, in creating a good building, creates a living thing that breathes and needs to be taken care of in order for it to take care of us. It also has to be practical. Can you imagine trying to furnish one of Gehry's pieces? How about replacing a roof panel? Or finding a plumbing line that's leaking? They don't all have accurate as-built drawings.

Also, buildings don't have to be large to be a masterpiece. See "commissioned site specific work" link here, especially the 2003 Cloud Chamber installation in NC.
posted by yoga at 1:37 PM on May 29, 2004

yoga: do you _really_ believe all building are architecture? To me that sounds a little like 'all non-poisonous things are food.'
I've seen any number of building lacking in commodity, firmness, and/or delight - to reference a quote from up-thread.
I would say that the set of things that are architecture intersects the set of things that are built, and leave it at that.
posted by bashos_frog at 10:34 PM on May 29, 2004

bashos - fair enough. I'd clarify my definition by saying all good buildings, as in successfully integrating the three features, are architecture. Or a result thereof. Strip malls do not qualify!! :D
posted by yoga at 4:14 AM on May 30, 2004

I'm still wondering who gets to be the MAO chairman. Do we get to brand our uncooperative clients as "counter-revolutionaries"?
posted by LionIndex at 12:56 PM on June 2, 2004

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