On architecture: education, practice, and the pursuit of happiness or late night musings in the beginning of the end... Part I
I'm going to preface this and the subsequent follow-up entries and say it's all written stream of consciousness. The last year of school is upon me within a few weeks and it's prompted me to really think about the last few years. Specifically what's led me to this point and where I'm going next.
In about a month, I'll be starting my final year at UCLA. So I've got two solid years of school under my belt along with the equivalent of basically three years of working experience (2 +change of full time years + 3 summers) at 4 different firms and other little peeks at a few others through freelancing on occasion. Looking forward towards this final year, I've been thinking a lot about where I want my career to go and how I should ultimately shape this last year at school. But that ultimately is a product of how I envision and what my goals are for the next few years.
I keep mulling over where I'd like to be, who I'd like to work for and learn from still, and at the same time have a somewhat coherent picture of the kind of architect I want to be. So then laying out the basic ground rules under which I operate has been pretty much settled upon. Firstly, I know that I want to have my own practice or be a principal/partner among peers that I share a clear vision with. Secondly, I'd love to spend some time working for those that I really think do good work as long as I can make a wage high enough to support me for that period of time. Third, I want to be in the United States in the end, on one of the coasts. I love big cities and what they have to offer, but loathe the high costs of living especially with the wages I know I'm faced with. This conundrum I'm still wrestling with. I'm still working on the rest...
School. I like school. I'm glad I went to a liberal arts school for my undergraduate and I'm glad I'll have spent three years getting my masters. Ultimately I don't think there's much of a difference in ability to think critically and design rigorously between those with or without previous academic backgrounds in architecture. The good students are good students in the end and the not so good are not so good completely irregardless of their respective educational backgrounds. I also enjoy the fact that school focuses largely on the process of design and not on the technical. I think there's merit to technical knowledge. Knowing how to detail something and understanding how it's built is critical to the profession. But it's something that can be picked up by rote and repetition which will inevitably come with time spent in the profession. Design process and intense study and research is something I find more dilute in the professional field simply due to time constraints.
At this point, I can really appreciate the processes and concepts that I've worked through in school and see these very much as the fundamental basis on which everything is built off of. In that sense, I think my educational experience has been one that's really been very much based in the liberal arts. Intense and rapid study in many areas so as to develop not niche expertise but rather an overal academic and intellectual comprehension, criticality, and rigor. These are intangible skills that I think really separate the best firms from those that are just producing seductive eye candy.
In the forums I'm always seeing this theory vs. practice debate especially when it comes down to schools. In the end, it seems so silly. It's exactly the same debate that applicants ask, what's weighted more, the portfolio or the GRE or your grades? In the end, the best are those that have it all. So shouldn't we all try to be accomplished in both ends of the spectrum? I'd like to be able to look back at a career in which I can say I tried to be as rigorous, intellectual, theoretical, innovative, moral, and beautiful as I could, but also tried to build the best building I could. By the same token, I think it's important to acknowledge our failures, ignorances, and accept if and when we are not interested in certain pursuits. I won't call myself a sustainable architect or a green one just because I'm LEED AP. I think it's important to consider these from a moral and practical standpoint but it's not my primary interest in architecture. That said, it's not something I'll outright ignore either, but I've come to understand that it's not what I'm chiefly interested in. And I'm OK with that.
More thoughts to come...