Friday, November 04, 2005

Welcome to Architorture

It was probably an omen; the sign “Welcome to Architorture” was the only thing I noticed as I descended the stairs to the first-year studio spaces. Scrawled, graffiti-style, above the entrance, that sign, that slogan, imparted an intimidating atmosphere to the entryway; framing dark and heavy steel doors, the threshold had a slightly demonic character, as though these doors where the gates ushering us on an express train to some unknown hell. Some of my classmates laughed as they walked, and others remarked upon the refined composition of the lettering and painted character finishing his tag. Me? I just shuttered and let my eyes fall to the concrete floor as I stepped through those doors.

Architecture: the noble pursuit of shaping the physical space we occupy. It is a profession obsessed with individuality, creativity, innovation, of “breaking the box”. In school, we are taught that Architecture is the link between art and science, between sculpture and engineering, between the virtual and the real. The attraction is understandable – it is a profession focused on creation, on the physical realization of an idea, of solidifying the imaginary. Architects can make dreams become reality, can alter the way we live, work, sleep and eat. And, with a combination of timing, luck, and genius, an Architect can become an icon, a star – someone whose name becomes synonymous with a visual style, language, look; they are visionaries, challenging the status quo with images and ideas of what the world can become.

My attraction to Architecture was, in the beginning, less idealistic; when I was young, I liked building things. Wooden blocks, legos, sandcastles…it was a chance for me to make something out of nothing. I really enjoyed putting things together to see what odd concoction might evolve. No hopes of changing the world, no dreams of creating the highest stack ever recorded by man. Architecture was, in my mind, just a puzzle; except, with these puzzles, I got to decide what solution was right. If something I made seemingly resembled a building to the casual observer, well that was all the better.

So, to my surprise, there I was, trying to avoid the ominous “Architorture” sign, pondering what I was about to embark upon. Studying Architecture was never part of my plan. In fact, I had never even considered it a “real” option as I perused various college catalogues my junior and senior year of high school. It was hobby – one of those random interests you list when you fill out to make yourself seem more interesting, more educated, more intelligent. It wasn’t something I seriously considered as my profession, my future career. Yet, here I was, surrounded by seventy-five other fresh faces in various states of excitement and terror. Some already carried the air of arrogance I would come to associate with Architecture itself. Others seemed just as uncertain as I, which, while comforting, was also oddly disconcerting. After all, I assumed that everyone else had chosen to study Architecture, just like everyone assumed I had chosen to study Architecture. The reality, however, was that the opposite was true; I had not chosen Architecture. By circumstance (I refuse to say fate), Architecture had seemingly chosen me.

When I applied to college, I had focused on the various Ivy Leagues with their Liberal Arts mantras and their multitudes of possible majors. Since nothing had really inspired me in high school, I believed that college would be my haven, my place to find my true calling. When those options never materialized, I was left with my safety school and a department I had placed a distant third in my personal preferences. The idea of omens had come up then. My father stated that, apparently, I was meant for Architecture; given the circumstances surrounding my acceptance, my father called it a sign. My calling in life had fortuitously found me and eliminated me from the pesky and time-consuming trouble of attempting to choose it for myself. Lucky me. That’s what I continually told myself that summer before I entered college, what I repeated the first semester as I dedicated my life to my studio and its various projects, drawings, models and “conceptual explorations”.

The life of an Architecture student is, as I quickly found out, legendary. As freshman orientation commenced and I met fellow students from around the campus, I kept hearing the same thing over and over again. “You’re in architecture? Well…it was nice to meet, you, but I’ll probably never see you again.” The first time, I thought it was funny. The second time, I was slightly annoyed. But, as I continued to hear the same sentiments again and again, I began to seriously consider what was being said. I was completely clueless to the life I was about to lead; apparently everyone else in the world knew that an Architecture student had no life outside of their studio. That, whether we liked it or not, we would soon find ourselves, as architecture students, eating in studio, hanging out in studio, sleeping in studio…living in studio. The world that I was soon indoctrinated into revolved around all-nighters, loud music, off colored jokes and 2 am soda runs. It was a private world, a secluded world - an isolated world that, like a black hole, slowly, but steadily, sucked you in with little chance of escape.

I paint a bleak picture, but it is one that many architecture students will automatically recognize. So, given such an introduction, the question is likely “Why did you stay?” The answer is simpler that you might think, and simpler than I realized. I stayed because my five years in architecture were also captivating, exciting, and unlike anything else I had ever done.

As a result, after the projects, classes and late nights, I developed a love/hate relationship with the education that I came from and the profession I will eventually enter. That intense dichotomy made it possible for me to bitch with the best of them without ever dropping out of my program. And for many of my friends, this is also the case. While many of us bemoaned the heavy workload, can recount multiple horror stories of the sleep-deprived delirium experienced during our push towards final presentations, deep down, something about what we did, what we were doing, kept us plugging along. So much of what myself and my classmates learned through our experiences in Architecture studios, within the culture that has grown up around the specialized approach of an Architecture education, binds us together in ways that differentiate our college experience from others. It also allows us to meet other Architecture students and immediately relate to one another through a set of very, very familiar experiences.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

im a first year architecture student from Malaysia. just read this post. interesting.relatable

4:22 PM  
Blogger s c h i e n said...

Hi! Like the previous person, I am a first year architecture student from Melbourne. This article gives me an inspiration and hope to hold onto my dreams while tolerating this love-hate relationship with architecture. Sounds cliche, I know but its 5am now in Melbourne and had just finished my model. Feel like breaking down (maybe wayy too exaggerated) but something tells me its gonna be alright!! :D

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just graduated my first 3 years. Yea, it was hell and can't wait to go back to the hell hole for the next 2 years. For some reasons, you hate it but you're addicted to it. I still don't know where I choose to stay in this course after much suffering. Good luck to the rest of you out there.

10:25 AM  
Anonymous Pierre said...

“You’re in architecture? Well…it was nice to meet, you, but I’ll probably never see you again.”

A classic.

8:50 AM  
Anonymous Breanna said...

You said it flawlessly. Archihell, here I come.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just started 5th year after the year out in practice we take in the u.k between part 1 and part 2 and its a week to the end of a project and the module leader is giving us a mock pressentation to do pushing all the deadlines a week earlier for reasons i'll probably never understand thats 54 hours away yes yes you start to think in hours because there are of course 24 in a day. Its 2am ha ha ha. I hate architecture beyond words hence why i looked this article up. I've work 14-16 hour days for the past 7 weeks and its never enough. Even after you have qualified that grade means very little in the long run. Why oh why am i doing this to myself.......

Its so damn personal that you can't give it up................

When i've finished 6th year and i'm back in practice again then got my part 3 after another year or so and i've done a building from start to finish i better be damn happy. It better be worth it or i'm sodding it and becoming an illustator.

7:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello there everyone. I go to Upenn, and I just finished my 3rd semester with a major in architecture. I have observed many times, including what the author of this article had to say and what you all have stated in your comments, that many of you have a "love-hate" relationship with architecture. Additionally, you have all made it very clear to me that, despite the torturous regimes and sleepless weeks, there is still something about it that makes you stick with architecture - something about the unpleasantries that somehow enthrall and captivate and, ultimately, keep you from leaving the major altogether.

In my own studio, basically everyone has this mentality, except me. There is no cliche "love-hate" for me, oh no. Only irritation and frustration, despite just having received an A- for the semester. The work is not worth it in my opinion.

I have interned in firms before, and I have seen what is on the horizon for at least the first 15 or so years that I would spend, hypothetically, as an architect. You never build models, as you do in college. You never create intricate pencil drawings, as you do in college. In short, as an early architect, you never really utilize any form of physical creative expression, save a few sketches of possible designs with a number 2 pencil and a notepad.

No. The only thing that you will be doing, for a VERY VERY long time, as an architect is connecting lines with CAD. Over and over and over and over and over again. That's right. You sit at a computer for almost 9 hours a day connecting lines with CAD, fixing up any little mistakes, creating layers, adjusting curves, and other monotonous, boring, technical shit. Sure, most architectural firms are switching over to 3d programs like REVIT, but the repetitive cycle of "fixing up" and "adjusting" will continue, until of course you are the head architect who is calling the shots. Then and only then can you be the one to come up with the ideas and the master architectural plans. However, by the time you reach that position, much of your youthful life will have already passed.

But hey, to each his or her own. If you guys feel content with this, then by all means continue with your architectural vocational callings.

I on the other hand want more out of my life, which is why I am dropping my major ASAP.

3:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to sound like an a**hole but black hole's don't "slowly and steadily" suck something in, its done rather tremendously fast. Also "little chance of escape" is wrong, because light can't even escape it, so virtually there's zero chance of escape.

2:52 PM  
Blogger the silent observer said...

Thank you for being an asshole. Comment noted.

From wikipedia:

To a distant observer, clocks near a black hole appear to tick more slowly than those further away from the black hole. Due to this effect, known as gravitational time dilation, an object falling into a black hole appears to slow down as it approaches the event horizon, taking an infinite time to reach it.

4:56 PM  

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