Monday, March 13, 2006

So, you're an Architect?

Undoubtedly, whenever someone finds out that I am an architecture student, they ask:

“So, what type of architecture do you want to do?”

And, without fail, I always struggle with a response. Politely, I stutter out the rather lame excuse of not having enough experience to know. But, in truth, I know what type of architecture I want to do. It’s just that, for the people who ask, my answer isn’t that answer they are looking for.

When people ask me about my interest in Architecture, I can see, immediately, what they are expecting. They expect me to rattle off something in the following categories – residential, commercial, industrial, education, etc. Or, they imagine me telling them how, one day, I will design the world’s tallest skyscraper. How I will preside over its erection, and, when finished, stand on the rooftop viewing platform and proclaim my utter greatness for achieving a design that, for the first time, doesn’t remind others a rather large phallus. When people ask me about being an architect, that is the answer they expect to hear – well, except for that last part.

Most people, when then think about architecture, consider it in relation to how they live their own lives – the spaces they work in, go home to, pass by. Understanding a person’s profession is easiest when you understand how their work affects your life, so every time someone asks me about my work, the conversation undoubtedly steers towards the things they are most familiar with. Do I like designing houses? Am I into a specific style? Do I want to do big or small projects? And, or course, am I familiar with the work of that one dead architect – you know, with the last name Wright?

The question bothers me because, in the expected response, you automatically situate yourself within a category. You label yourself. And, well, (I sound like a complete cliché) I don’t want to be labeled.

It’s not like I want to be a rebel (that would be really cliché), or that that I think it’s super cool to be “different”. It comes down to personal taste, or perhaps a better explanation, my lack thereof. I have, what feels like, Architecture ADD. I like everything. Well, there are exceptions, of course. I have a hard time feeling warm and fuzzy about a Wal-Mart. But, at the same time, I admire the efficiency of my hometown Super Target’s layout. Honestly, I find myself admiring things that many people seem to disdain. I find it hard to criticize, to outright object. I find myself admiring many architects whose practices seemingly contradict one another. I find myself wanting to practice in many different ways, through very different methodologies. Maybe I just lack a discerning palette, but it all interests me – the blobby forms of computer-driven algorithms, the crafted details of an ancient Japanese temple, the simplicity of repetitive forms found in minimalism, the sensuous surfaces of the Renaissance and Baroque. And I admit it, I love Vegas.

And so, with things constantly catching my interest, pulling me here and there, and everywhere in between, I find it hard to carve out a specific style or approach of my own. And, even if I do, I always find myself looking at others, both with envy and admiration. And so, my work, for little better and mostly worse, is ultimately notable for not being notable.

As I progressed through undergraduate school, there were those whose work was easily identifiable. You could walk into a room, and in a glance, pinpoint who sat where, just by the scattering of materials on their desk and the studies that were beginning to accumulate. And, during final presentations, the boards would go up, and you could place bets on whose critiques would find their passionate advocates from which professors. They had a style, an aesthetic. They had made something that was clearly identifiable as their own. I, as one of my classmates noted, didn’t. And, to be honest, I felt good about that.

My whole interest in Architecture lies in the many ways it can be practiced, preached, exercised. I am amazed by those who can used mind-entangling philosophy to define their work, awed by those whose engineering acuity allow them to design gravity defeating superstructures, inspired by those who can turn the common into the new. And somehow, I want to be apart of all of it, be engaged with people practicing in all parts of the spectrum. And I don’t want to take sides, to say this way is right or wrong. I just want to see how, in combining everything together, you may achieve something that you might not have, had you already ruled out the possibility.

So, there it is, my real answer to the big question. And that is why I don’t think people will understand me if I answered them this way. I don’t have an Architecture that I “do”. I just have a strong sense of how I want to “do” Architecture.

Hehehehe. “Do” Architecture.


Blogger luciensteil said...


I jut started to read into your blog and I really enjoy your writing nd thinking! It is very refreshing and stimulating. I must tell you that I often still feel the same way after about 25 years after graduation and remin perplexed by proselytism and ideological clichés in the production and invention of architecture. I am still experiencing (with detachment now)how many of my colleagues fight ideologically and politically New Urbanism and Traditional architecture by pretending it should not be tolerated to base our contemporary work on backwardslooking references and paradigms. They mostly wish to restrict a New Pluralism to a few very unpopular and relatively arbitrary idioms of neo-modernism inspired by the Nostalgy of some 20th century avant-guards, and probably the cultish marketing of some contemporary tar architects like Koolhas, Libeskind, Gehry, Hadid and others of similar faith communities!

Lucien Steil

6:21 AM  
Blogger the silent observer said...

Hi Lucien,

Thanks for your comments...and I am glad you've enjoyed my post. Indeed, it has been a struggle for me to situate myself within the conflicts of architecture, and I wonder if I can actually engage in any debates without being pushed to one side or another. It sounds like a cop out, but I rather converse about ideas that force an ideological view. But, like I said in my post, it is really hard to do.

8:01 AM  
Blogger the silent observer said...

Btw, Lucien, if you have ideas on how to move past some of the restrictions, feel free to share them!

8:02 AM  
Blogger luciensteil said...

Hallo again

To get around restrictions and confusion, and if some try to impose these restrictions on you or if they are just a matter of fact of life and practice, you never have to accept something which offends your feelings and reason. You might have to take the professional consequences but your freedom is worth more than futile opinions and prejudices.. I believe that passionate commitment and some kind of militant coherence and persuasion and humanity, etc. help to build respect and operational independance. At least you will continue to respect yourself and love your ideals .. I also rather accept 1) not to please 2) to be partisan and biased 3) to polemicize 4) to look backwards 5) to dream 6) to actively network and connect through various positions 6)to share views and work 7) to draw and paint 8) to enjoy my work 9)to only do things I love and believe in.

I am not bothered too much by those who might discredit or disdain works, ideas and objectives I admire, understand and enoy. I am not restricted by the ideological and art-historic restrictions and dilemnas of stylistical nature and I am not scared by exclusion and marginality because I never asked to be a member of the Club and get along quite well without their help.

Lucien Steil

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am still in school(a junior in Arizona State University's Architecture program) and so glad that I read your post. I felt like I was reading my own words! I was really hoping that once I got into the profession, I would figure it all out. As days go by, I am slowly realizing that no one has all the answers. I am interested in seeing what your work looks like. Maybe you might be able to post some images? Thank you in advance.


1:29 PM  
Blogger the silent observer said...

Hi joe...thanks for dropping a comment. As you can tell, I've encountered more questions than answers, which isn't necessarily bad...just damn frustrating at times. I do know that I am getting closer to having my opinions ( I won't use answers, because I guess I now see that there really aren't answers)...and I'll settle for that.

If you look through the eye-candy, you'll see some of my undergraduate work. I modelled alot as an undergraduate, and thus, not much has made past then. I'll post some of my current work when I feel more confident I actually have something worth viewing ;)

Best luck to you out there in Arizona...and just're closer to the end than the beginning!

6:44 PM  

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