Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Things They Don't Tell You

It amazes me to think that I am actually working – that, every morning, I now go into an office and actively participate in the professional world of architecture. It’s only been a couple week, but scary enough, it seems like I’ve been here for a while.

In school, the professional world existed as an abstract place, an alternative reality to our hours of playtime. I spent my time in studio sketching, drawing, modeling, thinking. It was devotion to an idea, a concept, and image. It was big picture stuff.

Now, most days I spend thinking on a smaller scale. Suddenly, my vocabulary covers ADA turning radii, optimal sizes for the Back of House, and fitting room configurations. Floor plans fill my field of vision, and I know my layering standards by heart. At least until the go and change the standards. And I live by the mantra of maximizing your sale area square footage.

It’s a big shift that takes time getting use to. It also highlights the things they don’t bother to tell you when you’re at school, biding your time, “learning” architecture.

The argument goes something like this: practicing architecture requires such an extensive amount of knowledge that it would be impossible for any school to provide a curriculum that could do every aspect justice. Thus, certain logistics of architecture are meant to be learned out in the field. That’s why you intern, that why there’s IDP, that’s why you can’t really call yourself an architect when you graduate from school. Because, without that worldly experience, you’d be ill-prepared for the challenges that lay ahead.

School, then, becomes a sanctuary of sorts, a laboratory to explore ideas that may, in the world of everyday constraints, be dismissed immediately. The gravity-defying cantilevers, the complex repeating geometries, the hundreds of feet of glass. You learn, over the course of your five years, to address the concerns of structure, of program, of environment, and use them to shape the language of how you design. But, still, the ideas, the images, they reign supreme. Not whether you’ve managed to meet each and every requirement written in the International Building Code.

But, what a difference those little codes make - at least when you are paying attention to them. The minutiae of it all can boggle the mind, mire you in the struggle to achieve a vision. Or it can teach you how things work, or at least, why they are done a certain way.

Whether you agree with them is another issue altogether.

Each school includes some type of professional practice coursework; some places place a great deal of emphasis on their professional practice opportunities, and undoubtedly, I can now see the benefits. Nothing replicates the experience of a real office, which was something not really emphasized enough during my undergrad days. Internships mean something, as well as where you do them. Not only for where you’ll find your next job, but also in determining how you will eventual practice for yourself. I wish, sometimes, that guidance in this area had been much more direct than I received. I wish, sometimes, someone had just come out and said what everyone seems to believe – that school, while important, may not be the most important.

So I guess I’ve embarked on the architectural equivalent of a medical school residency. Only, I don’t think I’ve chosen my specialty just yet. I’m still a student, only with responsibilities. Here’s to hoping I don’t screw up.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

dive right in

So, a week blows by, and, well, with it, all sense of my daily routine. I'm still sorting it out, and making sense of the fact that, up until one week ago, I was freezing my butt off in the middle of the rockies, and am now freezing my butt off while walking down Broadway.

I should be capping up this week with impressions and a review of sorts. But, damn it all if I am still trying to catch up with life itself. I promise, soon, something will come. But, right now, between the apartment hunting, the pondering of such existential questions as, am I ready to commit to some real furniture and how important is a good mattress, and the day to day tasks of figuring out where to eat, I seem a bit remiss with time. That, and the small fact that work has kept me busier than I expected, given the first week nature of it all. Seems almost like I've been there for a month, not a week. And I've got piles waiting for me first thing monday morning.

I promise, reflections will come. If only to note that AutoCAD is really like riding a bike - you never forget.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Step 2

Things change. Blink, and everything is different.

First things first. I found a job. Within one week I: applied, was interviewed by phone, made an offer, accepted, and moved across the country, two suitcases in hand. Tomorrow I start work. A job in New York City. This boy may have just grown up.

It's a mix of emotions, when after the months of searching, you actually find yourself employed. I still haven't digested it all, and perhaps, won't even have the time to. I gotta get in early, and hear that they've got plenty waiting for me.

So, here's to the next stage of this random observer's journey through the architecture profession. Let's see what it has in store.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Post Holiday Blues

It is hard to avoid. At least for me. The end of the holidays and the resulting melancholy.

Be it Christmas or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or the Winter Solstice, the wonderful thing about this time of the year is, at least for me, the focus on celebration, on joy, on giving. It is a time of year when, for moments, the world seems a bit less divided.

The holidays never feel complete without the decorations that make there way out of dusty boxes and hidden attics, the lights that appear on street lamps and hung across city centers around the world. And while inevitable extremes (i.e. the need for 20 foot inflatable reindeer) can lend an air of cheesiness to the holiday cheer spreading across the world, it all contributes to a feeling that a certain magic has settled upon us, if only for fleeting moments.

A transformation occurs when a noble fir finds its way into our living room; it’s a family tradition, which, without fail, requires a bit of muscle, a little ingenuity and lots of patience. Oh, and a plastic tarp for insurance. But, the results are always worth it. The smell of pine wafting through the halls, the sparkle of lights which tease the eye once the sun goes down. Everything seems wrapped in a blanket of enchanted beauty. Like the moments after a heavy snowfall, when the world is silent in soft pelt of fluffy white.

The buzzwords nowadays are adaptable architecture, responsive architecture, architecture ready to meet the needs of its occupants. We dream of places that change and transform and reconfigure. And we design complex systems in order to accomplish such feats.

But, for all the accomplishment, technological glory, I still wonder at the impact, the ultimate effect, of such wizardry. Perhaps it might make life a bit simpler, a little more efficient. But, at the end of the day, will it ever create ephemeral delights matching that of a tree, lights, and ribbon? Will it accomplish what, to me, is the magic of architecture – the ability to move people in unexplainable ways.

So, as the decorations come down, the ornaments of years gone by wrapped into tissue paper and plastic bags, I can’t help feel a bit remiss that things can not stay exactly the way they are. Then again, if they were, that moment when the tree is finally done, glimmering with the happiness and expectation of a new holiday season, would be lost. So, until next year, when the time comes to once again transform our living room, I will hold to the memories of this year, and anticipate the pleasure of a season yet to come.