Lately I've been noticing a trend.
When I introduce myself, I usually say something like "I'm a designer at Hacin + Associates."
Then usually I have to explain where the office is, the kind of work we do. And very often, after a minute or two, people will respond with something like "So what do you do there? You said interior design?"
At which point I have to say, "No, architecture. I'm an architect...well, almost an architect. I'm not licensed yet, but yeah, I work on architectural projects."
I mentioned it on Twitter, and got this response:
I can understand that. I responded thusly:
Then, I was reading this Archinect discussion on what we're allowed to call ourselves when we're unlicensed and found this lovely tidbit:
Followed by this excerpt from NCARB's policies:
Wow. So I guess it's pretty clear that the word 'architect' and all of its permutations, is totally off limits until you are officially and incontrovertibly licensed.
So this begs the question--what do we call ourselves? How do we send a message to ourselves, and to the world, about the realm of our experience?
In December, I posted about my roundtable discussion on the future of the profession: I met with a group of young architects [well, designers still--unlicensed] to talk about the issues our generation is facing. One of the big topics was licensing.
No one at the table, despite being fairly advanced in their young careers, was a licensed architect. Some didn't ever want to be licensed at all. Some were ambivalent. Some were on track, but didn't seem particularly enthusiastic about it.
As we dug into it more, it seemed that the main reason for wanting to be licensed was to be able to call yourself an "architect". Sure, there were other reasons, but somehow that one was the most salient.
But in our heart of hearts, we know that we are architects. We know that what we do every day could not really be called by any other name, that it still smells like architecture no matter what name we are 'allowed' to assign to it.
So despite the fact that we live and breathe architecture, we are 'designers' [I'm personally not crazy about 'intern architect', and I know some unlicensed folks who are seasoned professionals, so intern does not apply]. And, in my recent experience, this has led to some awkward clarification in small-talk situations.
But what if it has more of an effect than simply making cocktail party introductions even more awkward than they are already?
After I thought about this question for a while, I posted this response on Twitter:
Is it possible that if I call myself 'designer' often enough, the scope of the way that I define what I do can inadvertently broaden itself, because I am forced to define my identity in a way that is not specific to my chosen field? Maybe, since I call myself a "designer" anyways, it's not such a stretch to work on interior design, or graphic design, or web design, or furniture design. It's already part of my label, and the way that I'm perceived externally. It's not a far reach to internalize that description.
Maybe that's ridiculous--what someone else calls you should not define what you believe you are. But in observing the aspiring architects in my age group, I've found a strong aversion to specificity. No one wants to be defined as only one thing. My website and the websites of many of my peers show graphic design work, web work, photography, branding, artwork, interiors...not architecture. Designer is a much more appropriate word for the things I'm allowed to do in my own time.
But at my office, I am engaged in architecture. Resident doctors are called 'Dr.' despite the fact that they are still technically in training. Are we not undergoing a similar process? Post-graduation, but pre-professional. The fact that even 'architectural designer' is technically off limits seems a bit ridiculous to me.
So here's my question. As aspiring architects, we seem to have a naturally-occurring identity crisis as it is. Could this aversion to specialization be--at least partially--a function of the fact that we are not allowed to use the label for which we were trained?
If I cannot call myself an architect, is it easier to lose confidence that I am one?
I'll end with this other precious tidbit from the Archinect thread on job titles:
We live in uncertain times. Let's use the uncertainty to redefine the way we are valued and the way we measure ourselves, to create the context for the change we want to make.