Bob Borson is creator of the famous Life of an Architect blog, a Texas-based architect at Malone Maxwell Borson Architects and an indispensable guide to professional practice. We are pleased to present a selection of his posts on Architizer, each one providing amazing insight into the complex process that goes into all great architecture.
The last several years have been hard on the architectural profession. The tone of the questions I’ve received have shifted from:
“Should I become an Architect?”
“Why should I become an Architect?”
To be fair, the last several years have been hard on a lot of people, not just architects, but I’ve decided that it’s time to focus my thoughts on why I became an architect. Maybe you can relate, find inspiration or confirm that this either is (or isn’t) the profession for you after reading this article.
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be an architect. I suppose that this seems fortuitous to some people, but there were times when this presented serious complications. When I first started architecture school as a freshman in college, I didn’t have the focus or maturity I needed to tackle the curriculum and I ended up having a serious identity crisis when I was 19 years old. The only reason anyone should be having an identity crisis when they’re that young is if you're still into goth — not if you are capable of being an architect, the only profession you ever thought you wanted to pursue.
The Life of an Architect; via AIA Dallas
Luckily for me, I managed to pull myself together in time and figure out how to go about my business. It sounds a little silly to say that it took me 15 years of schooling to figure out how to “learn,” but that’s the truth of the matter. I was always able to get pretty good grades without really having to work at it, and I was smart enough to know how to work the system (I graduated seventh out of approximately 365 people without ever having made perfect grades — but that’s a different story). I think I knew that I had gamed the system a bit, and part of this identity crisis came from the knowledge that I hadn’t ever really had to work before; now that I was in one of the most premier architecture programs in the country, I felt I hadn’t really earned it. That somehow, maybe, I didn’t belong here …
It was misery.
Fast forward 20-plus years, and here I am today: a partner in a terrific firm, a previous AIA “Young Architect of the Year” recipient, projects in my portfolio that I am proud of creating, leadership positions in my professional organization (Dallas Chapter American Institute of Architects and the Texas Society of Architects). If I can get here from where I started, surely others can, as well. The trick is understanding your motivation and your skill set: What do you like to do? and What are you actually good at doing?
It should come as no surprise, but I like to talk … a lot. I also think I’m a pretty amusing guy; at least, I have my moments. Deciding to write the “Life of an Architect” blog has in many ways become a watershed moment for me in my career. Other than the fact I never really thought anyone would read it, I have discovered that there are far more people like me out there than not. This doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with one another, but we share the same sorts of passion for what we do. Because I have typically championed the small architectural firm, I wear a lot of hats and can relate to most people who have some role to play. I am not just a designer, or project manager, or salesman, or studio leader … I am an architectural jack-of-all-trades — good at all things, master of none — and I wouldn’t change that for anything
short of a few million dollars.
Should YOU be an architect? I don’t know, and you can’t write enough of your life story in an email to where I can effectively counsel you on what direction your life should take. I can tell you why I am an architect and if you see some similarities, maybe this is a profession you should consider. I am an architect because …
1. I am a creative person and I need to create things.
A pretty obvious trait really — plus the fact that I truly believe that if you are a creative person, you need to create things. ANY sort of things will do.
2. I shape the lives of others through my work.
This is something that is an attraction to most people who become architects. Most architects think that the work they create can make a difference in people’s lives. I know I believe it.
Via EnergySmart Home
3. I like to draw.
I’m not restricting this to pen or pencil on paper. This is more of a “blank piece of paper” mentality. I think through drawing and sketching, for others they might turn toward computer software … I don’t really care. Not once in my life have I ever thought “I need to work this through in a nice spreadsheet!” I think through drawing.
4. I like to build.
Partly this is about me pulling out my tool bag and thinking I can actually build something … but it’s also partly that I like to get things built. I stand somewhat in the minority in my belief that getting the work built is frequently more important than the work itself. I don’t feel any satisfaction in paper architecture. Theory has a place in architecture, just not in my office.
5. I am just “okay” at math.
All architects have heard “I wanted to be an architect, but I’m not very good at math” … at least a million times. Get yourself an architectural blog and that number will grow to 10 million times. I’m not very good at math either, but I’m good enough. I struggled taking two semesters of physics in college and three years of math and structures courses, but you know what? I did it, and I got through it. All I need to do is look at the thesis paper my wife wrote when she received her Master’s degree in MATH to know that architects aren’t really doing math. Once you get out of college, the only math you need is addition, subtraction, division and multiplication (which is what my nine-year-old daughter is currently mastering).
6. I notice the world around me.
I walk into a store, a restaurant, a movie theater, an opera house — whatever — and I start cataloging lights fixtures, wall switches, duct work, handrails, etc., etc., and on and on. I look at the ceiling before looking at the menu. I’ll comment that the way the store is configured could be better because you can see into the stock room, that the beverage station is in the wrong place because it disrupts the people waiting in line to order. I notice patterns and behavior, I look for those things and I don’t think I could switch it off … even if I wasn’t an architect. It’s how my brain is wired.
7. I pay attention to the details.
I can’t say for sure if this is just me and how my brain is wired … I have a hard time telling you the name of the street two over from where I’ve lived for the last five years, but I can sketch up a floor plan of your house after having walked through it once. This is similar to noticing the world around me but is a bit more purposeful. If I see a design I like, I start figuring out WHY I like it.
8. I like variety and change.
I happen to design modern style projects, but that was not always the case. Because the projects I work on aren’t for me, I need to be able to separate out what I personally like and what the client wants. This attitude allows me to embrace the ever-evolving landscape of all things esoteric and technical. In a very real way, I started the “Life of an Architect” blog as part of that evolution — I wanted to learn a new skill and see how it would impact my ability to communicate differently. The field of architecture is constantly changing, and having a flexible mindset is an important and valuable asset.
9. I can work as long as I want and remain relevant while doing so.
I can practice the profession of architecture for as long as I want; I’ll always be an architect even when it isn’t technically my job anymore. Most architects don’t really start to become good until later in life. I’m talking in their 50s. I imagine that you have to come to some sort of understanding as to who you are as an individual before you can start to be consistent with imparting your imprint onto a building.
10. I can make a decent living.
Of all the things I’ve put on this list, this is the one item that I would expect to receive some flak over. I’m not going to say to people that I don’t care about their circumstances, I’m just tired of the arguments. Going to school for a long time, taking a bunch of hard tests and then entering into a profession where the mean wage (per the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics) for where I live is over $77,000 … really isn’t so bad. I’m not going to tell you what I make (so don’t ask), but I don’t have any complaints. I enjoy what I do for a living, and while I would love to make more money, I’m not willing to trade jobs with someone else just to get a bigger paycheck.
Via AIA Dallas
It is my hope that if you are considering becoming an architect, or you are an architect and you’re wondering when is it going to get better, my story and the reasons why I am an architect will be of some value to you. For some, knowing that there are others in the same position as you is enough to give you a reason to evaluate why you are where you are. Hopefully you come out the other side happy with that decision.
Cheers, and happy architect’ing!
This post first appeared on Life of an Architect.