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Disillusioned with architecture

kumabear

Before the title puts anyone off, I genuinely think the word disillusioned best describes my feeling towards architecture right now. I am now just looking forward to my contract ending so I wouldn't have to continue working in this environment. 

A little bit of context: As a member of the cursed Class of 2020, it was quite rough finding a job out of graduation. Fortunately I managed to land two positions at my "dream" practices, one in Japan one in Switzerland. I chose the latter, and now I am about 6 months/half way through my contract. The pay is good for architecture standards, and the projects are very unique. BUT I simply do not think what is demanded from me is reasonable, and I do not see this ever getting better without "compromise". Everybody who are in more senior positions are basically experiencing what I am, but have grown to live with it. And what is worse is that if the practice I am in is supposedly one of the "better" ones, I am almost coming to the conclusion that "interesting", "prestigious", or simply "good" architecture always comes with a price ,which is of course my life. (I personally believe that Japanese practices are the extreme spectrum of what I am talking about). This profession is sick and inhumane with what it demands out of people in the name of design/excellence. It is an incredibly labor intensive job that makes me feel like my creativity is being snuffed in the process.

Questions for those who experienced this or want to give some input:

  • How did you cope with being disillusioned? How did you move forward?
  • What are some of the alternatives (job/industry) out there?
  • Has anyone taken a break for a while and found it useful?
  • Are there "famous" architecture firms out there that has a good work life balance? (I ask this because I can't think of one)

I am so out of love for architecture right now that I can't even remember what I really go into this industry for...

 
May 10, 21 7:58 pm
midlander

your description isn't specific enough to comment on whether what you're experiencing is abusive or outside the realm of reasonable but demanding.


it's absolutely true though that working on interesting high-profile architecture is difficult and full of unreasonable expectations. whether it's stressful mostly depends on how you react to the demands - the truth is that nothing we do is urgently important and it's always ok to disengage when your mind needs it.


i left a job like that to go work in a more professionalized corporate firm doing shopping centers and office parks - and loved it. Later with more insight on what's going on and understanding of how to control my reactions I've moved back into a more competitive challenging environment because 1- i got bored 2- it pays better.


i'd recommend you try something similar, find an office working on real but unextraordinary projects where you can observe good management and understand the basics of getting things built while having a reasonable work life balance. if you later get bored you'll be better prepared to engage in a high-demand environment.

May 10, 21 8:49 pm  · 
5  · 

There is an awful lot of snobbery in the profession. It can come from clients, bosses, or peers. This leads to ill treatment, ill feelings, and ill health. If this sounds like your environment you should find a different one.

May 10, 21 9:57 pm  · 
6  · 
lower.case.yao
  • It’s OK to be disillusioned, especially when you’re still young and have options. I reached that phase in school, and tried to find my passion elsewhere. Nothing ever hit me though, and I went back to architecture, although in more of a tech role (BIM leader). This gave me the freedom away from slave-tecture to really come to terms with my career and my passions, and I ventures back into high-design and starchitecture. The difference I think for me was that I knew a hell of a lot more about the profession the second time around than when I was a fresh grad. I knew the schedules, understood the economies of construction, understood what the clients were dealing with beyond just architecture. I was more informed about the business side and sought out that knowledge in the practice. That made me really understand why we were doing certain things and why we were so crunched for time. I think this aspect is something not all fresh grads understand, and it’s a real shame they don’t teach that in the first year of school.
  • Too many roles. Client-side, developer, bim manager, computational designer etc.
  • Yes, see above.
  • There must be, but because no one ever leaves those firms, they never hire lol.


May 10, 21 10:22 pm  · 
1  · 
midlander

i strongly agree that sometimes it feels better coming back with more experience and being able to understand the situations that lead to high stress. a big part is being able to recognize urgent yet unimportant items and simply ignore them, or find ways to better organize the work. architects are trained in school to be terrible managers and only a small group of firms spend the time to retrain them into doing it well.

May 11, 21 1:13 am  · 
2  · 

Over my 18 years experience in this career I've learned many things.  One of them is that there is no reason that you should be doing more than 40 hours a week.

May 11, 21 11:08 am  · 
11  · 
randomised

That’s not a career you’re describing, that’s a job ;-)

May 11, 21 3:25 pm  · 
 · 
Jay1122

Hours have nothing to do with career development. Many firm principles making 150K+ salary only work 40 Hrs. Personally I am not against working extra hours. It just has to be paid. Whether starchitect firm/project is worthy of the extra hours without pay is only up to you. Often time you are not even mentioned on the magazine cover. Its the boss that gets the fame. I would prefer to make mad money doing mediocre stuff and build my own custom house along side my imaginary Ferrari/Porsche to wake up to every day rather than being the starchitect's slave making endless iterations of diagrams, renderings and foam models. Truth is, I will be shocked if anyone thinks working in starchitect firm = superior.

May 11, 21 5:39 pm  · 
5  · 

Rando - no, it's a career. I spend a good amount of time outside of work improving my skills and knowledge as it relates to architecture and building design.

At the very least the amount of dues I have to pay a year to AIA, NCARB, and my licensing fees should make it a career.  ;)

May 11, 21 6:00 pm  · 
1  · 
randomised

a job where you have to pay the fees to even be allowed to work :-P

May 11, 21 6:05 pm  · 
3  · 
randomised

I don't have a job nor a career...I only have a calling

May 11, 21 6:07 pm  · 
1  · 

You're going to become a hermit living in a modernist concrete box. Your only possessions will be three toothpicks and feather.

May 11, 21 6:32 pm  · 
 · 
randomised

I don’t need that much, can do with two toothpicks

May 12, 21 3:06 am  · 
1  · 

Damn! A hard core minimalist! ::bows in respect::

May 12, 21 10:07 am  · 
1  · 
square.

sounds like religion, not work.

May 12, 21 10:57 am  · 
2  · 
randomised

Amen!

May 12, 21 2:43 pm  · 
 · 

As long as you have a big hat you'll be good to go as a religion. Just look at the pope. ;)

May 12, 21 3:39 pm  · 
 · 
monosierra
  • How did you cope with being disillusioned? How did you move forward?
  • Consider working on your projects, collaboratively with friends or even competitions, outside work. It keeps the spark alive. Alternatively, some folks find new life goals when they start families and the job becomes, well, just a job.
  • What are some of the alternatives (job/industry) out there?
  • Specialist consultants, owner reps, technical designers, working for contractors ... and if you do transition out of the industry, UI/UX is a popular option for those looking to work in 2D.
May 11, 21 11:38 am  · 
 · 
randomised
  • How did you cope with being disillusioned? How did you move forward?

Changed office. But after too many changes realised that won’t make too much of a difference in the end, as the one constant factor in all those places where I got disillusioned was...me. I think I care too much about architecture that I get frustrated when things don’t go as I want or believe they should go. But then I got a kid and another one and I suddenly love going to work (most of the time). I guess I stopped caring too much. Also am working towards being my own boss or switching to academia/research/writing to be more in control of my own destiny (early midlife crisis probably)


  • What are some of the alternatives (job/industry) out there?

Academia (although I can’t/don’t want to separate practice from theory of architecture)


Teaching (those who can’t, teach)


(Spec) Writing


Artist/Illustrator


Furniture designer/maker (every architecture student had to design a chair in class at some point)


Civil servant


Monkey (BIM or render)


UX/UI/Graphic design


Chef (you’d be surprised how much cooking and architecture have in common)


  • Has anyone taken a break for a while and found it useful?

I take breaks all the time: went to work for a cultural institution for some years, been a stay at home dad for (in total) a year or so, went travelling around the world between jobs. All very useful to realise there’s more out there than architecture, but it also made me more determined to do things my way and succeed on my own terms.


  • Are there "famous" architecture firms out there that has a good work life balance? (I ask this because I can't think of one)

Yes in the Netherlands for sure, even at so-called starchitects a 4 day contract is an option, and when having a 5 day/fulltime contract then by law the office  has to grant parents a day off per week (parental leave) (unpaid) if they request this. Some offices here even close on Fridays...

May 11, 21 4:03 pm  · 
4  · 
square.

i'm disillusioned daily, but i think it has less to do with architecture and more to do with a society that, even with all our wealth, necessitates toil and drudgery.

May 11, 21 4:05 pm  · 
7  · 
JLC-1

Don't work with people who think everybody else is there to serve them anytime, anywhere. That's how I got fired in Madrid, working on projects in Kiev, Marrakech, Tripoli! and Canary Islands, refused to go to work on a Sunday, by Friday I was asked to leave. Not going to spill the beans, but the firm didn't succeed in their expansion dreams and it's still confined to miami and the caribbean. Thank dog!

May 11, 21 6:41 pm  · 
 · 
Seiji

No experience from Switzerland, but I went to Japan after graduating in London. Still here six years later, working exclusively with larger buildings, offices, hotels, etc.

  • How did you cope with being disillusioned? How did you move forward?

Kept working and putting in those 13-16 hour days. I was more or less constantly depressed but made a vow to continue until I had led a project that got built in Japan. We finished it in 2020, got a Good Design Award, and with that I quit the office (in a nice way, no point burning bridges).

During the fraction of free time I had which wasn't spent sleeping or doing laundry, I tried to cultivate interests completely outside of architecture. Like cooking. The world is bigger than architecture and spending too much time inside of it had made me lose touch.

  • Has anyone taken a break for a while and found it useful?

After finishing above-mentioned project I took a more corporate job where I can leave at 6. That amounts to a break for me. It allowed me to improve health, start a family, earn more, sleep more, learn more (as my brain fog cleared). Sure, I'm not jetting around doing international prestige projects, but right now that's not a priority. Life is long. And sometimes "famous" doesn't always translate into "best", in terms of design. As you keep working, you form your own idea of what excellence means, and strive to pursue that.

May 11, 21 10:35 pm  · 
3  · 
quasi-arch

I’m also highly disillusioned currently. That feeling went away for a bit when I switched jobs the last time, but it’s back. Like someone said above—common factor is me. Still trying to figure it out... 

May 14, 21 10:48 pm  · 
1  · 
quasi-arch

Can’t edit posts from my phone... my point was, if you feel this way after just a year out of school, I think it’s definitely worth trying another work environment.

May 15, 21 8:16 am  · 
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