Architecture students that spend their time searching the many online platforms for design inspiration will be aware that the profession they are aiming to enter into is laden with an unending list of clichéd opinions (yes, we’re guilty of this, too!). These stereotypical viewpoints — peddled both within and outside of the studio — can make for great entertainment, but also serve to perpetuate preconceived ideas amongst aspiring architects that risk putting them off an incredibly rewarding career.
Here, we take a lighthearted look at some of the most frequently overheard untruths about architectural practice. Many of these constitute exaggerations of well-founded issues with the profession, while others can be exposed as vast generalizations upon closer examination. Either way, this list serves as a guard against just a few of the sweeping statements that can inadvertently foster a culture of negativity across the profession.
If you take just one thing away from the following feature, it is this: Think for yourself, and enter practice with the optimism of an open mind!
1. “Architects can never make a lot of money.”
An oft-stated complaint from many within the profession in recent times is that firms struggle to make profits that reflect the technical expertise and huge added value that they bring to construction projects. This is particularly pertinent in the United Kingdom, where Margaret Thatcher’s deregulation of the profession included the abolition of mandatory fee scales, leading to price wars and — arguably — a steady decline in the perceived value of architects across the country.
These complaints are valid in many respects, and the importance of reiterating the benefits of great architecture to businesses and the wider public remains high. However, architects must aim to be agile — there are many ways for firms to diversify income streams, and Lidija Grozdanic’s feature on new business models for architects outlines just a few. As long as the profession works hard in communicating its core ability to add value through great design, it should also be unafraid to charge a fair fee for this service.
2. “University degrees are a waste of time. Everything you need to learn comes in practice.”
Architects and students alike have lamented the current academic path for the profession, both in the United States and further afield. Indeed, valid concerns have been raised right here on Architizer, with Scott Bearman asserting that “the current system of five years in university — with a heavy emphasis on design — fails to properly prepare students for the realities of working in practice.”
However, anyone who deems the academic process or theory-based education a “waste of time” is categorically incorrect. The value of learning about historical contexts, theoretical movements and contemporary urban conditions cannot be overstated, and the integrity with which design proposals can be put forth by graduates is infinitely higher as a result. Is reform of our architectural education framework necessary? Absolutely. Should we abandon the benefits of design studios or theoretical teaching? Surely not.
3. “Engineers hate us, and we hate engineers.”
The relationship between architects and engineers has long been debated, with many casting the two professions in the role of quarreling siblings. This is probably a fair analogy if you exist entirely in a world of Facebook forums and dry-witted design blogs: One particularly spiky and widely shared meme defines architects as “engineers who can’t do math.” (Don’t worry, there is a comeback to the above image).
This could make any architect who isn’t totally secure in their technical abilities pretty defensive. However, any reports of a rift between these vital specialists are greatly exaggerated: In the real world of construction, architects and engineers enjoy a close and often inspirational relationship. For evidence, just look at these extraordinary structures, each the product of a great synthesis between architectural design and innovative engineering solutions.
4. “All-nighters are a necessary evil in the profession.”
We’ve all been there. Last-minute design alterations, a desperate desire to secure repeat business from a valuable client and an unwavering drive toward perfection can all lead to late nights in the architecture studio. The Angry Architect may have had a point when asserting that “If you sign up with a small practice, be prepared to stock up on coffee and Red Bull. It is likely that you will have to stretch your time and energy thinly, working on a number of smaller commissions.”
However, with careful project planning and an ability to manage clients’ expectations, architects need not lose any more sleep than other hardworking professionals. The key here — apart from resisting temptation to procrastinate between tasks — is to avoid over-promising to your clients and risk setting unrealistic precedents for project timeframes. Combining studio efficiency with a healthy work ethic should mean all-nighters become a thing of the past — and the new rules on overtime pay may well help, too.
5. “Architects have no sense of humor.”
This age-old stereotype is occasionally solidified by high-profile displays of disgruntlement. Frank Gehry’s middle-fingered response to a Spanish journalist showed a distinct lack of happy-go-lucky sentiments, while the late Zaha Hadid refused to laugh off insinuations that her stadium design for Qatar looked reminiscent of intimate bodily parts.
However, not every architect is so serious — just look at Mike Riscica’s cheeky but insightful advice for young architects, and YKK AP, creators of the painfully cheesy but sensationally viral “I Am an Architect” rap videos. It might seem like an insignificant professional quality, but the ability to laugh at ourselves is, in fact, a crucial aspect of architects’ broader campaign for improved public relations.
Whether architects can actually be funny to the wider world is another matter entirely — watch this movie trailer and decide for yourself …
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