I occasionally read the Architizer blog by the veteran writer/architect Bob Borson labeled Life of an Architect. The blog focuses upon the practice of architecture and the archibiz aspects of the profession versus my blogs which have focused more on architecture itself and only occasionally delved into the social and/or business side of running an architectural practice. Borson does examine the archibiz side of things however, and does it very well. He also shades to the personal side of what it is like to BE an architect and elaborates on this theme in a recent post.
In that post he lists and explains the ten things that justify in his mind, in his words, of “why I am an architect”. It’s interesting reading, so I thought I might address each of his ten reasons to see if they align in any way with my own.
The following 10 items are Bob’s reasons for being an architect (along with my reactions):
1. “I AM A CREATIVE PERSON AND I NEED TO CREATE THINGS.”
I do not feel a “NEED” to create things like Bob says, but I do enjoy it. I agree with him however that to create anything will do, it does not have to be within the architectural profession. The work of the recently deceased Virgil Abloh for instance comes to mind. Virgil trained as a civil engineer at the University of Wisconsin (similar to Frank Lloyd Wright), and proceeded to obtain a Master of Architecture degree at IIT, home of Mies van der Rohe’s famous Crown Hall.
Or of Tom Ford’s career: before his venture into fashion he trained as an architect and famously collaborated with Tadao Ando on the design of Ford’s horse ranch in New Mexico, about which I have written previously. Or “car art” and the more elaborate corporate automobile design studios in southern California, as written about in a recent blog and posted herein. All of these examples demonstrate a desire “to create things” and so I am mostly on the same page as Bob.
2. “I (ARCHITECTS) SHAPE THE LIVES OF OTHERS THROUGH MY WORK.”
My take on this differs somewhat. I am not in this profession to particularly shape the livers of others as much as to recognize that others shape their own lives by adapting spaces to their needs. A space one day can be a warehouse and the next day be loft housing or one day afire station from 1890 and the next day a pretty nice residence. As Lou Kahn always said, “spaces earn their names.” So it works both ways.
3. “I LIKE TO DRAW.”
I totally agree, whether sketching by hand or by computer, this is the way.
4. “I LIKE TO BUILD.”
So do I Bob. I spent several summers in college working highway construction as well as building houses. I agree with Bob that making things up and building them is the complete process, not just drawing paper architecture. BUT this is where I depart from Bob’s take, unlike him I DO think there is a place in our professional practice for architectural theory as well (Bob says not in his office). I find it exciting, just as much as building.
5. “I AM JUST OK AT MATH.”
I have addressed this before in my FAQ blog a while back. I am pretty good at math, or at least I was in college, but it is probably, like Bob points out, is the most common remark we hear from people outside of the profession. The thing is that the only math architects use is base 12 arithmetic, feet and inches (or centimeters and meters), and it is not any more complicated than grade school math. Throw in geometry and one has the complete picture. In college architecture students used higher math in physics and in turn in engineering classes in order to communicate and somewhat understand structural and mechanical engineers, but I have not used higher math at all in my “adult” practice.
6. “I NOTICE THE WORLD AROUND ME.”
I do too Bob. But I am often in my own world as well, as my friends might point out. In the sense of what I would do differently I might add that like Bob, for some reason I look at the ceiling first when I walk into a room. I realize that it is not the only or most important defining feature of a space, but for some reason…. The rest of my observations have to do with how people use the space, colors, lighting(oh lighting, may be the most important, both artificial and natural) and spatial progression. This applies to exteriors as well as interiors. Often, we see exteriors as objects in space rather than having the same characteristics that we view on and in interiors, such as the definition of space, but they are the same or similar. Especially as we progress from inside to outside and from one area or room to another.
7. “I PAY ATTENTION TO THE DETAILS.”
This closely resembles the previous point, but puts a slightly different light on it in that one cannot just say to oneself that you like something, but WHY.
8. “I LIKE VARIETY AND CHANGE.”
This is basically having an open mind. Accepting that there is a myriad of ways of looking at a piece of architecture and a myriad of ways of approaching it is probably the best advice Bob is giving in his list of why he is an architect. I certainly concur. This mindset really comes into play when interacting with a client and recognizing what a client is seeking. Our job is to offer alternatives that define possibilities that clients may not have thought of, but not too many, for that is often confusing and deters a solution. So there is a fine line there for us as design professionals to travel and recognize. That is part of the interpretation we offer and makes our advice (and fee) valuable.
9. “I CAN WORK AS LONG AS I WANT AND REMAIN RELEVANT WHILE DOING SO.”
Like Bob says, we can practice architecture as long as we want. I am enjoying myself, so like Bob says I will practice as long as I want. I love architecture, there is no reason to stop. At least that is how I feel. My role models with few exceptions have practiced into their 70’s or longer. Frank Lloyd Wright practiced until he was92, but that is an exception of course.
10. “I CAN MAKE A DECENT LIVING.”
Bob says this is the one thing on his list that he takes the most flak over. I believe it. His take is that he is just tired of the arguments. For me, architecture has been good and I am grateful. It sounds like he is too. That is a great way to end the list.
Blog Post written by David Tritt, Senior Architect.