University of Southern California (Daniel)

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    Life's Labors Lost

    By Daniel
    Jun 5, '06 12:44 AM EST

    My blogging reticence notwithstanding, the past few weeks have kept me rather busy. I am now working three or four five days a week instead of the planned two, which tells me either that I’m doing well or that my coworkers find my sunny personality irresistible.

    The firm is small, located in a suburban business park nine songs and six coffee stands from my home. They just downsized significantly, and right now there is only one principal, a computer specialist, an IDP intern, and me in the office. It’s quiet, except for the hum of the plotter and the ring of the phone. I spend my lunch hour reading lit crit in my car. This is my first job ever, so I’m naturally nervous and spend too much time working up the courage to ask my boss what he wants me to do next.

    USC begins teaching AutoCAD in second year, so I’m relatively ineffectual when it comes to doing “real” work around the office. My tasks include delivering plans, typing billing statements, compiling contact lists, clumsily collating 24” x 36” sheets of paper, and embarrassing myself on the phone. I got to update the firm’s letterhead; I got to choose the typeface (Helvetica, of course) and that totally counts as a design decision, so that was pretty thrilling. I suppose my most important job, besides making the coffee, is taking the occasional set of field measurements and photographs. These are tedious, mostly because I’m never sure how precise I should be and the pretence of knowing what you're doing is hard to maintain convincingly for more than a few hours at a time. Worse, they are quite possibly hazardous to my health: one day I had to measure the width of a mezzanine window. Standing at the top of a narrow metal stair and positioned precariously in front of a solid door that out toward me, I leaned out over the railing to measure the width of the window frame and imagined some cranky fat executive with an ugly Rush Limbaugh tie wondering what little yellow snake was creeping across the window sill, throwing open the door to investigate, and watching my body and clipboard tumble down twelve very carefully measured 7” by 3’6” treads to the concrete floor below.

    Paranoia aside, it’s mostly enjoyable. Unfortunately I’ve seen very little real design; all the projects seem to be in pre- or post-production, as it were. I sneak glances at the other interns’ CAD screens, but all I’ve ever caught them doing is labeling things and making legends. Most of the work, and not just mine, seems very mundane. I don’t know what I expected, I guess, but everything is so prosaic and straightforward and nothing like studio at all. I’m trying to absorb everything I can, from little IDP tips to general office management. Emphasizing the “learning experience” aspect of the job makes the fact that I’m being paid minimum wage a little less depressing.

    Right, so here’s the bait so I can feel validated by the comment count: what architectural periodicals do you recommend for students? I’m getting Architectural Review right now, and it seems mostly interesting, but I’m clueless as to what other publications are out there and especially which would be particularly important from a student’s perspective.


    • Becker

      DOMUS, ICON, OFX are a few

      Go to your local library/news agent to read the mags instead of buying them. save your money to buy books on people you are really interested.

      Jun 5, 06 3:29 am


      Jun 5, 06 10:17 am
      liberty bell

      Daniel, your first ever job sounds exactly like a first-ever-job should. Keep up that attitude of learning/absorbing as much as possible, it really will serve you later.

      You mentioned working up courage to ask your boss what to do: yes, you can easily spend too much time doing this and it is something you need to try to get over! I know it is uncomfortable feeling like you are pestering others, but you will be more valuable to them if you go ahead and ask and get busy. Similarly, when you are not sure of how to do something, ask straightaway, don't hesitate, staring at it not sure what to do, and thus waste time (yours and your employers'). If it is a question that involves a graphic piece, like how am I supposed to draw this flashing detail??, then sketch up or print out whatever you can just so your boss has something to sketch on and use as a tool for answering your question.

      Also, if there is some rote autocad task that needs to be done, like renumbering all the room numbers or windows, or hatching (tho hatching can be challenging) walls, or updating the date/%complete title block on each of 30 sheets, ask if someone can show you how to do that. Autocad is learned by doing, and if you sit in front of it with one simple task in mind but also do a little exploring with it, you can learn a lot.

      It sounds like you've got a good attitude. Good luck and keep us posted, I'm enjoying hearing about summer job vs. academia!

      Jun 5, 06 10:23 am

      ya, your attitude is wonderful...

      "...nine songs and six coffee stands from my home."
      love it.

      Jun 5, 06 11:23 am

      oh, the magazine...

      Architecture magazine is supposed to have a new format and mission starting this coming issue, so that may be good to keep an eye on...

      otherwise, browse El Croquis at the library, random magazines from other countries like Domus, Abitare, A+U...

      try to find school design magazines, like Oz from Kansas State, or the Harvard Design Magazine, or whatever the Cali schools put out. It's always worthwhile to have an idea of what's going on in Greater Academia...

      Jun 5, 06 11:28 am

      I actually really like Architecture, and always have. I wish it were possible to pick it up from news-stands still. I feel it does a good job of covering a variety of projects and level of detail and it isn't too bogged down with ads. Please, for the love of all that is holy, stay away from ArchRecord. yeesh.

      I am in a different state of life than you, but right now I am hungering constantly for construction details, because I'm at the point where I know enough about what it takes to get something built that I am constantly looking at the projects in the magazines and going, "how on EARTH do they keep that flashing so flat and crisp-cornered?!" or whatever, whereas when i was back beginning school, like you, I would have looked at the same picture and been charged by overall compositional or conceptual clues. So, right now I am trying to get ahold of a copy of Detail magazine.

      I guess where you are in life it wouldn't hurt to look at the pics in ArchRecord. Just beware of copying the projects in there... they don't copy well (tend to look derivative really fast, because in my opinion they tend to be thin on design in the first place...) but that's a conversation for another time.

      And, I agree about the school journals. And DEFINITELY el croquis! Themed journals are always, always great. Oh man, I miss living near an arch. library...

      Jun 5, 06 2:35 pm

      Details is a pretty good mag if your into tectonics.... the crappy thing is thier service. i ordered a subscription lasst year. I believe I was suppose to recieve 4 copies, I only got three and one of them is in German. oh and the shipping takes forever

      Jun 6, 06 8:43 am


      i'm also in my first architecture job and my first year at this office sounds like how you described it...i'm eager to please the boss but also don't want to get in the way too much that i ask him too many questions that i was suppose to learn in architecture school...but i ask them anyways..especially drawing boss seems to love it though...he wont stop until all the questions are answered...

      "...the pretence of knowing what you're doing is hard to maintain convincingly for more than a few hours at a time.

      hah..dude i know what you mean...i stopped trying to fool myself as well...

      on magazines...I got a free subscription from my boss of Dwell and i think it's pretty good...the magazine has varied topics and good looking images, which is important..

      Deatil is good...but too expensive for me and the articles written in german are useless to me...i've forgotten my high school german...

      keep the good attitude at work...that helps

      Jun 9, 06 6:10 pm

      As liberty bell noted, yours is the ideal first architectural job. You are learning plenty of important things, even if it doesn't feel like it right now.

      As for journals... good God, young man, have you not yet made a nuisance of yourself at Hennessey and Ingalls' magazine rack? This is a Los Angeles architecture school rite of passage! Lots to peruse (for free!) to see which of them really floats your boat before you pony up for a subscription.

      Jun 10, 06 6:25 pm
      vado retro

      we have a summer intern in our office. this fellow is not in architecture school but goes to a small liberal arts college where the boss got his undergrad. basically he's doing things like changing lightbulbs and helping the firms librarian move crap around. he doesn't talk much and hasn't offered to wash my car yet. i doubt after this experience he will want to go to architecture school. he did ask me what the blueprint machine was though. here's what you should do. make a list of the things you think need to be done. whether its organizing crap archiving drawings whatever and give it to the boss. let him look it over and see what bells go off in his head. he'll think you are proactive!

      Jun 11, 06 8:42 am
      vado retro

      here's a tip go to the local barnes and nobles or borders. make friends with someone who works there. when the unbought magazines get returned, the big expensive (like domus, abitare etc) just get the cover torn off and returned. the rest of the mag is thrown out. if your new friend who works there tells the magazine person that they want the mag they will get it. and then give it to you.

      Jun 11, 06 8:46 am
      vado retro

      doesnt the usc arch library get all the mags???

      Jun 11, 06 8:47 am

      Yes, but I want them all to myself?

      Jun 11, 06 12:42 pm

      sounds a good first job.

      as for reading for an architect i recommend the new york times, the guardian, detail, and the internet.

      used to have subscription to architecture but stopped as it seemed redundant somehow...

      lately the internet seems to have more useful info than mags, and flickr and other sites more and sometimes better photos (if you wanna learn something improtant about a building those glossy lovelies can sometimes be misleading)...and the entry fee stops with the paying off of the provider.

      seems nowadays i only buy an actual magazine cuz my friends work (and ocassionally my own) is in it...

      Jun 12, 06 3:49 am
      Chili Davis

      My personal favs.


      Arch. Record is way too political. They might as well call it "AIA Architects Only." However, Crit, put out by AIAS, a publication of student works, I want to say twice a year, always gave me insight as to what other students were putting out.

      Jul 31, 06 1:42 pm

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