did i get multiple advanced degrees to work in a sweatshop?


i just left a job as an architect. it wasn't the worst job...the pay was decent, if not quite good. the hours were typical for this profession. the problem? it was an absolute dead end. the work was lame, safe, boring. the clients were cheapskate assholes. and somehow this made whatever we tend to call the "usual" working conditions seem absolutely obscene. i mean, i went to architecture school like the rest of you. i was indoctrinated into the "lifestyle" of high-pressure work environments and the intensity of creative work. i never bought into the masochism as much as others, but i've been known to throw myself into things i thought were worth the effort...but...does production work (copy/paste, copy/paste) for a corporate campus for a major pharmaceutical company count as creative work? (rhetorical question there). is that worth 80-hr weeks (unpaid OT, of course) and a salary roughly on par with that of an administrative assistant at an investment bank? and being on-call 24 hours in case someone somewhere needs a model made, or a drawing redrawn? and unsafe working conditions? and working without a raise/promotion/ANY other performance-based incentive for several years, in spite of obtaining a license at my own expense and on my own time?

give me a break. it's selling out... without any of the benefits of selling out!

most everybody in this profession gives away their skills for nothing. at every level. or rather, they give away our skills for nothing. i can suck it up for my idealism, but come on, that pharma company can afford to pay you! and they probably would, if it wasn't for that other architect waiting to undercut you at the expense of his overworked, underpaid staff. and you, and he, probably have kids in private school, while i have friends in their 30s living with roommates, trying to maintain a standard of living commensurate with their ivy-league degrees.

i still have faith in the discipline of architecture, but the profession needs a lot of work. and until some of this starts to make some sense, i'll be wasting my time doing something i can actually enjoy.

Oct 20, 10 4:16 pm
On the fence

Sounds like you are railing against the same kind of people YOU are.

Oct 20, 10 5:26 pm  · 

im flipping burgers...stop your bitching

Oct 20, 10 5:59 pm  · 

Things will not change in this industry 'for better', so don't hold your breath. In a better economy though, your career options become much wider, from choice of what types of people you want to work with to what type of projects you want to work on. Right now health care industry is pretty much the only construction client that has billions of dollars to throw around. From personal experience, healthcare projects are some of the most boring, mundane exercises in architectural design. Lab layout anyone?

You're welcome to vent out your frustrations here. It does seem that part of your anger stems from working at the lower half of architectural food-chain. Hang in there! The past 2 years have been largely complete throwaways for most of us in here, both employed and unemployed. Stagnation has been our motto.

At the same time, there is lots of small movement; we are all positioning ourselves to be better prepared/protected next time a big opportunity knocks at the door. Most of us have been thoroughly humbled by the past few years. And that too, should be seen as a positive experience.

Oct 20, 10 6:03 pm  · 

what are these forums for if not to bitch a little? life sucks for A LOT of people right now. let her bitch!

amen ellnor....i felt like i was blatantly lied to in architecture school. the perception of architecture and the actual job don't line up. i got out. if you are that pissed off, you might want to as well. it is never too late!

Oct 20, 10 6:35 pm  · 

that's a thoughtful assessment, and largely true. i do think, however, that there are structural flaws in the way this profession operates that are peculiar to architecture...there's a lot of confusion between a 'professional' system and a sort of 'apprenticeship' system, and between the 'business' and 'creative' sides of the profession. an engineer, for example, is hired as a professional right out of school, and paid accordingly he/she can go on to become a licensed engineer, which is an added credential, but even if he never does this, he is still viable (and can call himself) an engineer. and he'll probably go home at the end of the day and spend evenings/weekends outside the office. architects are expected to work x number of years under other architects before they are even thought to know what they are doing, much less call themselves architects. this is completely ridiculous, because the work they do during this time is usually professional work, and really should be regarded and compensated as such. an inexperienced architect with good educational credentials should be regarded as a professional with expertise, just as an equally credentialed engineer is. otherwise, what is all that education worth?

i have nothing against boring work per se, healthcare or otherwise, as long as it's treated as what it it needs to be done, we do it (well, hopefully), we are paid, it gets done. not so different from engineering. architects are expected to treat this transactional work as 'creative' work...i.e. work done for pleasure/growth/gain other than pay. now that's just a swindle, and i can't think of any other profession that tolerates it.

Oct 20, 10 6:48 pm  · 

"an inexperienced architect with good educational credentials should be regarded as a professional with expertise, just as an equally credentialed engineer is. otherwise, what is all that education worth?"

The difference is that most of us come out of school with no idea how to put a building together. We are "taught" to be designers... we intern/work for others to learn how the pieces go together. I'm not saying that the system is great or that it even works...but thats how it is... Our "professional" skills are not recognized or understood by society so we are not paid for our services. Everybody watches flipping shows or read Arch digest and think they can lay out a design so they question our use.
That is why we cannot take tests after school and have 9-5 safe jobs like engineers. There is a BIG disconnect between the profession as the school teaches and reality.

I'm always surprised at the people who were "lied" to or were ignorant of the negatives/realities of the profession. Did noone do research before? I went into this knowing it was a gamble that this was not a "safe" profession with low standards of living and pay. Architecture is only meant for those who cannot imagine doing anything else... because there are alot of negatives...

Oct 20, 10 7:05 pm  · 

P.S. where's the job? Sounds like fun...Is there an opening? lol...

Oct 20, 10 7:09 pm  · 

how are you surprised by the lie? yes....i did research. but when you are 18-21 do you really have any idea WHAT to look for? our financial aid officer told us we had good packages and that we'd be able to pay our loans back with no problem. she in fact had based our fin aid on LICENSED architects' salaries. so the internship period was brutal for me.

aside from the money, did you not get the impression from school that you'd be given more opportunity for design? more opportunity for control? etc? even my first internships let me play around with design. it was not until my 8th or 9th year with my license, second recession, that i said to this it? did i spend all this money and all those years for this? when you get older, priorities change i guess. they did for me at least.

i did not expect to be a rock star. but i did not expect to need to borrow money, or to have colleagues on unemployment for YEARS. so yes, i FIRMLY think that there is a lie going on....maybe not an overt one...but those teachers in studios at 2am pushing their own agendas have mostly never lived in the real world. how COULD they tell us the truth?

Oct 20, 10 7:27 pm  · 

Actually, in my experience, engineers in the construction industry know very little about their fields or about construction straight out of school, or even a few years out of school. Yet they are still paid better, on average, than architects, and seem to display very little of the angst that is endemic to our profession.

Aside from that, design proficiency is expertise. It is both normal and natural that construction expertise is acquired with experience. A less self-flagellating profession would recognize the value of encouraging and developing young talent.

Oct 20, 10 7:40 pm  · 

There is a huge difference between an engineer and an architect. For engineers, they tend to specialize very early on. They do it to a point where they become experts at a very narrow scope of work. In fact, all the rage in engineering these days is getting a highly specialized PhD. Many of my engineering friends took that route. Bonus: the PhD's were free for them since the research they did for their schools was actually profitable.

On to architecture: a general level of architectural education is applied on a profession that has an incredibly wide scope. Design (the type you did at school) account for only 20% of architectural fee. The rest takes 10-15 years of professional experience to truly master. If you're lucky...

Perhaps a progressive architectural school will jump in and start offering specialized architecture degrees. Not sure how this could be done. In the meantime we are stuck with status quo. jack of all trades. Mater of none. etc...

I am happy to hear more architects speak up about what they think about their formal education. It's about damned time.

Oct 20, 10 7:53 pm  · 

i gave the profession 1.5 years after my undergrad.... same bullshit and decided to leave the profession....... good luck....

Oct 20, 10 8:00 pm  · 

cmndctrl, i think you're right...not so much a lie, maybe a collective self-deception. academics try to make a career/name for themselves just as much as architects...they need some expertise to sell too, and ideas are their/their employers' product.

ever notice how many younger successful architects have these hybrid academic/practice-type operations going? even the ones that have gotten a lot of exposure have little built work, and presumably pay the bills w/ their teaching jobs. more power to them, of course, but i do think it's sad that it's really hard to actually practice as a young architect these days...i look at most architects i respect and most had a few real things going on already in their 30s...

as for design, the nail in the coffin for me was that there WERE opportunities to do interesting things. maybe not off-the-wall crazy things, but thoughtful things...and everyone avoided it like the plague. i got the impression that the decision makers spent so much time during those 10-15 years mastering how to put the pieces together, they forgot why they were there in the first place.

Oct 20, 10 8:21 pm  · 

I left half way through grad school and came back to it from another angle, way down the road.

No reason you can't go off and find what you want, but pursue architecture on your own terms.

Oct 20, 10 8:25 pm  · 

There is a massive difference between Architects and Engineers.

In a broad sense, the # of possibilities to design and build a project from an architects perspective is relatively open ended. From the engineers pespective, the # is limited. Being more specific allows one to more properly ascertain a business model that is more predictable.

So the problem with architecture and specialisation appears to be that either you end up sacrificing some open-endedness (creativity) for less risk. Or you specialise in crafting buildings with a certain aesthetic/process and take on risk/smaller market in exchange for more creativity.

The third alternative, and probably most common, is where practices try and be both models depending on their clients or the project. There is no mission, only submission. And I think this is a far more risky and unsustainable form of practice.

Oct 20, 10 8:50 pm  · 

sell-out, but just make sure you get paid!

and fuck a bunch of unpaid overtime and on-call architects.

Oct 20, 10 9:14 pm  · 

i was ready to just dismiss this as yet another whiny, disillusioned blah blah blah thread. however, dia nibbled around something interesting and something we don't really talk about much in terms of working method.

in school, we're almost all taught that 'creativity' is about a open ended inquiry that only comes to a 'halt' when we either arbitrarily say so or we run out of time. rarely, if ever, are we taught to imbue our work with constraints such that there is the possibility of getting to a satisfactory solution within a very short period of time. we're taught to do something over and over and over and over until it's broken new ground or has in some way achieved it's 'uniqueness'.

that's great, for what it is. however, most of our potential clients don't really 'need' that level of creativity, nor are they prepared to spend the money for it. what they want is something 'professional', that isn't going to embarrass them or cost a mint to maintain. beauty, 'freshness', etc. - that's all certainly a part of it, but it's not always their top priority, while it is considered the only thing of value in most of our training. so, there's an interesting disconnect that only gets exacerbated more in firms that recognize what that sector of the client pool is looking for and is more than happy to give it to them.

but here's the real reason for the post: why is doing the more 'professional' work such a bad thing? why do we cringe when someone comes in just needing a quick code check and variance doc to get his rear deck completed? is it a sin to take on a permit set for a chain restaurant interior fit up? these are the types of things that smaller law firms take on all the time - the wills, quick contract reviews, one time filings for a copyright. stuff that might bill 2-500 a pop, that doesn't require mind blowing amounts of creativity, but that needs a professionals expertise and handling. we don't teach people that these are things worthy of our attention. but there are people who really give us the work if we'd just take it. (and the answer i know someone's going to give is 'well, you can take it - that's not what i got into this for).

so let's try to blend the two - why can't you develop a well honed set of design strategies that you deploy over and over, quickly enough on a project that you can get great results without having to overthink every decision? is that something not worthy of aspiring to? if not, why is it better to reinvent the wheel each time? because a true profession doesn't do that - it doesn't reinvent the wheel each day. it takes a body of knowledge and incrementally adds to it. yes, there are disruptors in every field, but those are few and far between. most of us have to settle for being 'mere' professionals. so, i'm wanting to understand how to make that part better overall.

Oct 20, 10 10:00 pm  · 
"so let's try to blend the two"

Yeah! Let's! I'll bring the hot glue gun. You bring some glue sticks. We'll do a bong hit beforehand and we'll fix that mo-fo in no time.


Good post outed. I especially agree with your points about us concentrating on providing professional services. I've seen it done that way, and done well. The problem is internal. A lot of overly ambitious architects manage to claw their way into upper and middle management positions where not only are they miserable; they manage to spread that misery to anyone within an ear shot.

Those are the only times I disliked my job(s). Dealing with fellow architects who have no perspective, no sense of humor, no leadership skills, but have somehow managed to get into positions of power through sheer will (or madness). blah.

Oct 20, 10 10:50 pm  · 
Distant Unicorn

I got a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and I'm not even qualified to work in a sweatshop!

Nor do I have the age old romance of small pox or tuberculosis to kill before age 32 like the old days. Sweet, sweet old days.

Oct 20, 10 11:22 pm  · 

UG, Bachelor of Conservative Arts would have gotten you to Washington by now. hah...

Oct 20, 10 11:38 pm  · 
Distant Unicorn

Well, that's technically a lie. My degree is cheesier than a Liberal Arts degree and less respected even though it was harder.

My Diploma technically reads Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies-- Art, Humanities and Urban and Regional Planning and Economic Development with Certificates in History of Antiquity, Black American History, Governmental Program Accountability and Art History.

4 Classes away from two more certificates in Performance Cello, Womens' Studies and Near Middle Eastern and African Art.

Take that 230ish? credit hours of lame state school education! I'm technically only 7 classes short of 3 separate degrees.

Oct 20, 10 11:51 pm  · 

Remember the house in Fight Club? I lived in conditions little better than that for years while paying off student debt from multiple degrees. My first arch job paid 22K/year. Despite all the crap that I've been through, there were bright moments along the way that kept me going. Things do get better. Most of what I've worked on is forgettable but there are a handful of decent projects that I can be somewhat proud of. After almost 20 years in the industry, I'm still looking to do that one special project. It may never happen; for me, it's about the journey.

Oct 21, 10 12:57 am  · 

steelstuds - after this week, a bong wouldn't be the worst idea...

Oct 22, 10 3:58 pm  · 

Ya I hear you eli...but what the heck ...go to work for yourself and see where it gets you in 20 years when the next big depression comes along and sinks your ship...that is if you stay in the profession...mdler least your not flipping burgers in Bismark North Dakota.

Oct 22, 10 5:02 pm  · 
snook_dude sure you don't need a boing? I think a boing is always better than a bong....

Oct 22, 10 5:03 pm  · 

when they ask about the profession, I always tell people: imagine that everyone involved in the production of a book -- writer, editor, production manager, publisher, marketer, distributor, etc -- were all called Author. that's effectively what we've got. school treats everyone as a FLW in the rough, prepping them to be "the writer", but fails to talk much about the majority of the labor that the profession bills for, and which 90% of grads are going to be doing 90% of the time...

Oct 23, 10 12:22 am  · 

it is so hard out there....
it's about that time where you take what you can get right now and suck it up and then when things turn around you find the job you really wanted.

it is what it is....and it sucks.

Oct 24, 10 12:13 am  · 

It's been called a 'feast or famine' profession. Before the downturn, honey was flowing. The more you put aside during the feast, the better off you'll be during the famine.

Oct 24, 10 1:09 am  · 

These laments hardly are unique to architecture. Virtually all "creative" endeavors are populated predominately by starving artists ... certainly that's true for most actors, writers, painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians, etc. It seems only those willing to "sell out" or become "shameless self-promoters" stand any real chance of economic success - and, of course, those individuals are despised by all the "true" artists in that discipline.

I've grown to believe that the more "art" one wants to bring to one's work the less likely one is to achieve economic success in architecture. I recognize this is heresy for many. I also recognize that this is a concept totally out of step with the academy. The academy tees us up; the profession smashes us down, unless one recognizes early on what is happening and adapts.

For me, architecture as a profession reflects many of outed's thoughts above. The more we focus on serving our clients' needs quickly and efficiently - and the less we concentrate on our own ego-centric design aspirations - the more likely we are to earn a decent living. That may not provide the professional satisfaction we're conditioned to expect in school, but it does help pay the bills.

In the end, we've each gotta decide how we're going to lead our lives - the environment in which we operate is relatively fixed. In the overall scheme of things, we're relatively powerless to effect the kind of change that would bring about the "utopia" threads of this sort always seem to seek.

Oct 24, 10 9:29 am  · 

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