Before I get into my main encounter with wonderful starchitect, there were some other pleasant things about this experience. My first 2-3 cube mates were great. There was a young guy a few years older than me who was serious and very focused on his job, but always made time and encouraged my exploration and learning more about Revit, which was reluctantly being eased into the office work flow since Rhino was the main design tool. I had basic prior working knowledge of Revit, but was starting to focus on learning the nuts and bolts of family creating/editing, dynamic curtain paneling stuff, with this cube mate’s encouragement. My other cube mate was a bit younger, more passive, quiet, but very nice, good listener and was great about helping with Photoshop or showing me what I could help with and do to assist with making study models or assisting the other professional in-house modelers. He provided a lot of insight into the dynamics of both the office and some of the PM's. I'm not sure if this was a good thing or not, because I found myself more guarded and resistant to future work experiences and encounters with these PM’s.
There were other super nice and helpful people during one on one conversations, but the sum total of the office still pervaded a gloominess. Even one on one, you could see past their eyes a flicker of an alternative life that want to breathe more. Other office pleasantries included a breakfast trough on Fridays, and fairly educational lunch and learns given by fellow staff members fairly regularly. I definitely was learning a lot exponentially in this environment. But one thing I kept observing and taking note of, was that my peers who developed great design visualization skill sets, were the ones who were kept later and later and were eternally anemic or sleepy looking. In this office, there didn’t seem to be any tradeoffs for becoming a more effective employee. It seemed like the only reward was getting to stay later and later and attend 1am meeting for international clients. As I got to know different people, who was single and who had families, I really started to feel bad for the families. I couldn't believe how late these mothers and fathers were staying at the office almost every night until 8 or 9am. Yeah, some people work hard and play hard in large lump sums, but I don't think that will even come close to making up for the time in between for their kids/family.
Anyways, I digress, back to the office stuff....so with a few crumbs of good peeps, the eye candy of the models, framed renders, decent work stations, and supposed prestige of working for a starchitect, my pallette didnt really savor anything. Their icing on the cake might look great (like fondant), but it tasted funny and the cake was dry. Beyond what I saw in magazines and watched in fluff seminar pieces on TED/discovery channel/ or other marketing stuff, to be uber cheesy, there was no heart pumping behind these designs, all I saw were lifeless mechanics, regurgitations, and a cranky deflating person whose office dynamics did not match the poetics of designs I had loved all through college. I had more motivation working for Best Buy as a sales rep than I did here....I'll probably touch base on that thought later.
My actual first encounter was very insignificant. I was working on the weekend and starchitect comes in and I barely get introduced as he passes by. That didn’t bother me in the slightest, it was too be expected, but it did start to etch an opinion. When you meet someone and you don't make eye contact or shake hands,, it kind of rubs you the wrong way. I've met Tadao Ando randomly with his pregnant wife in tow and large entourage. He had kind eyes, exchanged a bow, and he offered an autograph on my sketchpad. Even though there was no handshake for obvious reasons, that exchange definitely gives you a good impression about him. British architect William Alsop (not a starchitect, but one who gets around) was very pleasant in person. Parisian architect Manuelle Gautrand, is serious but polite and makes small talk….anyways, you get the idea.
So the face to face meeting included starchitect, myself and two other project managers. I was the nube who did some of the graphics and really didn’t have any design/programmatic input to relay, so the ball was in the PM”s court. They slowly introduced the scheme and current state and the next step. As starchitect followed along you could feel the growing tension and lack of ease with my colleagues. Questions were being asked, blank shifting glances were exchanged, mumbling and bumbling occurred as I observed this crash and burn presentation. All of a sudden,
"I don't understand what's happening here, ....This is not F#cking Design....I'm not getting any straight answers from anyone"....blah blah blah, tantrum persisted for 10 minutes as the whole office looked on
And so I shrank as much as possible inside my skin to avoid attention. WTF was going on....why were my PM's bumbling around like this? Yes, I've experienced harsher language and egotistical rants in school critiques, so I actually wasn't too flustered, I was more flustered on how ill-prepared my PM's were....I was kind of embarrassed and felt like I had douchey parents that made me feel like I would be like a country bumpkin of the office. And I wasn't comfortable if I continued to learn from these two with their durrrrh empty expressions on their face.
Fast forwarding, there were more encounters like this during video conferences, telephone conferences, a lot of yelling, definitely a lot of cussing, a lot of posturing, yada yada yada. The main difference in some of the encounters, was which PM was on board and whether or not they could respond and negotiate these tantrums. Ultimately this got old, on top of the long hours as late as 2am (i had 70hr weeks, which I am told is nothing compared to my team leader pulling 90hr weeks and some more talented design visual people pulling in 120hrs), the anxiety from the bug eyed PM, sleep deprivation, and a frustrated wife, I began to think of a mantra everyday.
My mantra was: " It will not say on my tombstone that I worked for So and So and I helped with Such and such project".
This mantra was fairly specific to my life experiences. I thought about the tombstone a lot since I had lost several family members to cancer while studying for architecture. These cancers were long and drawn out and painful, just like cancer. The more architecture pulled me away from spending my life with loved ones or even just living for myself, the more I resented it, the more I felt chained. There were times I was practically chained to my desk because deadlines and or lack of communication. Most of the time I didn’t know when I could take a lunch, or even when I could leave. Sometimes as the evening approached, I thought I was in the clear and sure enough...oh we need you to stay to help with this or that. WTF. Sometimes they would pin me down as I was packing up to leave. WTF. I've never been in a work situation with such a disregard and lack of communication. Eventually, I had to start making up Dr's appts, or being evasive, just so I could leave on time at least some of the time or by 8pm on other days.
As this cat and mouse game developed and I was put on a huge project, I could sense my new PM's inability to approach me....I think they started to realize I felt like a cornered animal. The project started off awkwardly. I would get project directions and deadlines through my cube mates. This new PM never came to check on me and only checked on the ladies in the group. This PM was actually a principal who hired me and really liked my portfolio. My only explanation of this awkwardness, this unease of his inability to approach me now was this:
Lets say you farted in the office and you were trying to be on the DL but another person caught you looking around as you were checking to see if anyone detected your indiscretion. The instant awkwardness of “oops, I know that you know that I just made a stinky”. Or maybe you just went #2 in the bathroom and it was god awful noisy or smelly and you step out of the stall hoping no one will realize that it was you if only you could get out before anyone walks in ...but sure enough at the same time your boss walks in and reacts to the foulness......that's the uneasiness I felt with this PM. It was like I know that he knew that I know this shit (office) stinks. I also felt this with another PM who interviewed me and handed me off on day 1 to Mr. Bug Eyes. Who knows, maybe they realized they sucked for telling me I would be working long hours only on a few competitions (not true), and that I would have opportunities to achieve my IDP (not really true…lot of people fudged their hours), that they had me move 1400 miles, with no compensation, for non-competitive locale/market pay, working 60-70 hours minimum/week to work for a douche that had an office with no company culture/core values/perks/soul. I really wouldn’t mind it if they at least tried to fake it….sell me some company line B.S….for reals.
Just to jump to the end, I quit, got another arch intern job that gave me a 11% increase of salary, working only 40hrs/week, a bonus equal to one pay check (wasn’t expected), actual on site construction observation exposure and more IDP involvement…..I actually got to sit in on meetings with clients and consultants, instead of being shooed out (that seriously happened, starchitect doesn’t believe that “staff” should waste their billable hours learning from meetings with structural engineers …crack crack goes the whip, back to your desk you monkeys). Do I miss eye candy projects and great learning resources? yes…..but I would never go back unless starchitect retired/died/etc. If I could do it all over again, I would not have taken the job. I actually think having the name on my resume hurts me. There’s more expectations now from other potential employers who think I will bring some great design tools to the table when in fact having been pigeon holed in a sweat shop kept me myopic in a field that demands a more dynamic employee with more comprehensive skill sets, knowledge base and experience that more and more firms are looking for in this economy.
I’m sure everyone gets the idea….and I’m sure this happens in many firms. I sure do miss my first 4-person firm that had bonus’ based on profit sharing, contributions to SEP fund on top of my salary even if I didn’t contribute, all-expense paid mini office 4-5 day weekend retreats, reimbursement for tuition for ARE/LEED expenses, reimbursement for additional medical expense equal to 2% of my salary…and a salary equal to what I was making at starchitects (before I even had my m.arch), pto to volunteer, …and a lot of other company culture goodness…which actually means more to me. One of my top questions in any interview is whether or not the office participate in any efforts to do give back/ or pro bono services/ or employee volunteer programs etc. Most of the time I hear a positive response. At starchitects, there was a blank stare. If I wasn’t living pay check to paycheck, I’d probably would be looking for another career right now…..nahhh….even though I am on the downer side of things, I really love the synthesis of design, and in the right office….the collaboration part of it with all parties. One of these days I will find the right firm or start my own……………ughhhh such a long way to go. =(
Needing to vent? and maybe get some outside perspective...I sure do. And yes, one should be grateful to have a job! (but at a sweatshop?) Disclaimer: My first blog, will not respond to hurtful/negative remarks, will delete if I can, might answer some questions....will not disclose personal or professional details,....we are all learning this game...different strokes for different folks, be nice =) These post are intended to reflect on recent experiences, and hopefully gain some insight