On the perils of Architecture vs. architecture

No guys, seriously. This is what every architect I know looks like. All of us. Especially the ones who’ve just pulled all-nighters before a deadline. Photo from Banana Republic catalogue.

I stumbled into architecture from a checkered (and stupendously nerdy) past in anthropology, art and marketing, and as a total glutton for punishment, I’ve been working on gaining an architecture degree for the last few years as well as marketing-monkeying. It’s been a little strange, largely because as every intern probably figures out during their first summer job, Architecture as discussed in the context of studio and school is wildly different from architecture in practice.

 As a result, it’s hard not to feel as though my architectural education has a split personality, or a disconnect between brain and hands. Design and methodology happen on both sides, but if you were only doing one at a time, as most do, I don’t doubt that it would be difficult to not come out a little skewed. After all, in studio, we’re predominantly arguing about concepts: entry sequence and the intrinsic properties associated with space types, and how space makes you feeeeeeeeeeel. No budgets, few parameters, no clients waiting for meetings…design in a vacuum is awesome, but only works in real life if you’re an architect and also a billionaire playboy.

I’m beginning to learn that in real life, you might spend 40 minutes fussing over the particular specifications required for ADA-compliant toilet rooms in addition to having to work on the overall design for the project. And then maybe spend an entire OAC meeting fussing about the finer points of balancing an HVAC system. And then go back to refining your design and vision. And then trim some bits to fit within a suddenly-smaller budget than what your client started with…I mean, it’s just a small sampling, but it’s truly a whole ‘nother set of thangs which don’t seem as present in my studio assignments yet.

And I would think that if you did this sequence in the traditional order, rather than in the foolhardy way I’m pursuing it, you’d have a pretty rough time not getting cynical and/or resentful. I’m lucky though, compared to most students. Number one, already totally cynical (I keed, I keed…). But mostly, I get to work with people who seem really aware of that tension between design imperative and achievability, and aren’t afraid to talk-talk-talk to me about it. And really, how would you mitigate this difference in a studio environment, anyway?

Kellee in the DC office had an idea that sounds pretty solid to me: if A-school students had to team up and build tiny models based on their partners’ drawings every semester, they’d learn a whole hell of a lot more about communication of design ideas and the actual purpose architects serve (besides being awesome). I would totally enroll in that class like, five times. Because that’s probably what it would take for me to get it, but WHATEVER.

I guess at the end of the day, all’s I’m asking is that I don’t come out of school – both kinds – completely unable to tell some poor dude on the construction side how my mega-amazeballs faceted curtain wall connects to the floor.

Not that that’s ever happened, of course.

 

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