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.


Anonymous yelda said...

Even though we are working, it is still part of school. We will keep learning till the day we die which I kind of like...

2:14 AM  

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