The depression of the reality of architecture


As i sit in the office today i had a very interesting discussion with my head designer of the firm i work for in NJ. The talk was about the reality of architecture. He told me, "John approaching my descion for my major i knew i had an artistic personality and was creative so i decided to go into architecture. "But John!" he said so every cubical in the office could hear him, "I signed up for architecture, WHERE THE HELLS THE ARCHITECTURE!" He then began to go into the horrific stories of the proffesion and this sunk me deeper into my chair. I've been interning everysummer for this firm and it seem each summer i come back architecture gets gloomier by the hour. Does anyones else get upset thinking that going out onto the jobsite the union sweepers make more than 75% of our proffesion? I don't know just seems strange to me that this is the case and we do most of the work.

Jun 1, 05 3:34 pm

don't get me wrong it doesn't slow down my passion for design and good architecture it just blows...

Jun 1, 05 3:37 pm

im going to reiterate the most cliched statement in the world:

'think outside the box' and you stand a chance of being rewarded

Jun 1, 05 3:45 pm

if you were in the UK you should become a hairdresser:

Jun 1, 05 3:45 pm

if you're surrounded by negativity, then often you can't help but be weighed down by it. it sounds to me like you might begin looking for a new job.

there are lots of folks out there who are positive and excited about architecture.

Jun 1, 05 3:51 pm

i think it's a valid question. blindingly valid.

most of us went into architecture thinking we would be designers and have fun with that, not technology specialists or production specialists grinding away long hours with not-great pay.

our education focused on concepts, ideas, artsy forms, philosophy,etc. as if we were all going to be master builders in a rand-like world.

then...what? its a rude awakening for most.

architects have very little power and we are subservient to our clients and what they want, no matter how bad and ill-informed that is. they have the final veto and will happily go elsewhere.

if we want to design great stuff, we have a simple basic fatal problem, which is that we're selling something that isn't wanted, at least not by most of the people we want to buy it.

Jun 1, 05 4:03 pm

Where? With all due respect J, I don't know anyone that is more than 3 years out of school who are positive and excited about architecture... well, except a few who are independently wealthy. Other than that, I hear doom and gloom from everyone, not just those that I work with. Maybe it is just a NYC thing?

Jun 1, 05 4:05 pm

no its a world-wide thing.

Jun 1, 05 4:07 pm

"we are subservient to our clients and what they want, no matter how bad and ill-informed that is. they have the final veto and will happily go elsewhere."

cyn, architecture is a service based industry. of course your clients have the final veto. it's their money and their building you are designing. the challenge is to give them what they want while still fulfilling your needs/desires/interests as an architect.

Jun 1, 05 4:22 pm

Most days I would only mildly agree that things are not so good.

Today in particular - it's a wrecking yard.

These days are happening more and more frequently.

Jun 1, 05 4:24 pm

i want to start a support group, for interns who really enjoy what we are doing.
those of us that don't get to design right now, and could be called a CAD monkey. we work long hours, some of us don't get paid for it, others do.
i know i will get to do more design work someday, but that is such a tiny part of what being an architect is.
i work with some people who love their jobs, i work with others who would rather be at home with their families.
it's rough, and there seems to be some amount of disillusionment brewed up in academia, but i don't think that everyone feels the doom and gloom, and i for one am tired of hearing so many other interns complaining.

Jun 1, 05 4:25 pm

Two architectural Haikus entitled 'the state of things (bad day 1 & 2)':

beloved career

harbinger of good and ill

--Stepped in it today!

days lacking design

profession sliding downhill

answer -- marry rich

Jun 1, 05 4:30 pm

me too

Jun 1, 05 4:31 pm

academia needs to be more honest about what the reality is for students once they go out and get a job. most days aren't about designing as stephanie says.

for those not happy, go find something that will. complaining without action or solutions is useless.

Jun 1, 05 4:31 pm

Interns in any profession have shitty jobs and they will always complain. I am talking about 30, 35, 40 year-old men and women that are complaining. Damn good architects who are experienced and knowledgable, too.

The problem as I see it (and hear about it) is that there is little upward mobility. Things don't get much better and you don't make much more money. And you certainly don't design more. In fact, in the firms I have worked at, the interns do most of the design while the more experienced architects tend to be pushing paper and managing projects.

Hell, even many partners and principles of firms have it rough.

Jun 1, 05 4:37 pm
The commish

So why not a Rand like world. Maybe us architects need a John Galt.

Jun 1, 05 4:40 pm

my true reason for bringin up this topic is that of the education. should we strive twords a more realistic program that focuses on the reality of what the proffesion really is or should we go into the program of our choice (such as SCI-Arc) for the love of design knowing what lies ahead...

Jun 1, 05 4:50 pm

"the challenge is to give them what they want while still fulfilling your needs/desires/interests as an architect."


assuming that one is even designing (which one usually is not) in the architecture world, i don't believe this is possible unless the architect's vision of design is quite close to the client's own vision.

I agree that architecture school sets a student up to think he'll be designing his heart out.

I think for those who are chronically unhappy the only short-term solution is to find another career, perhaps in the art world. Even the graphic design world or the fashion design world would offer more creative freedom and be less focused on the money aspect, IMO. Alternatively one could set one's sights on becoming a starchitect with more creative freedom but not necessarily more financial gain.

The only long-term solution is for architects to take back some of the initiative, either by getting involved in the material aspect (retooling the profession) or the money/developer aspect or leveraging the professional aspect so that contractors have to have architects who do the designing.

Jun 1, 05 5:07 pm
plexus 1

during your years in school did you ever ponder the relationship between what you were producing in 'the ivory tower' and what you gazed upon while driving back to the dorm or the apartment?

certainly you recognized the idealized bent within academia....

Jun 1, 05 5:14 pm

"i don't believe this is possible unless the architect's vision of design is quite close to the client's own vision."

as one of my former bosses taught me, it is just as important for us to interview our clients as it is for them to interview us. this is done in order to minimize conflicting visions that you mention above. the visions will never be identical, but you must be able to find some type of common ground with your client in order for any project to be successful.

Jun 1, 05 5:14 pm

the most studio-like office i worked at was in London. Small, incredibly vulnerable to client whims and shifting markets, zero security and all that but very satisfying to work. i think part of that is because the architecture system is more flexible than in North America and the clients more interesting. But it is also because i looked around for a good while. One solution to archi-ennui is to be ready to move. And only take the jobs that you want!

there is a real disconnect between reality and school in our profession, however there is I am certain a similar disconnect in med school and law. wonder if they complain too...still I have always felt the profession is what you make of it, just as school was. bringing the education down to the lowest common reality seems a questionable way to deal with things.

Jun 1, 05 5:30 pm
vado retro

what's depressing? the continual reappearance of this sort of thread. as i have stated on every previous related thread. if arch schools education reflected the real world most of us would have bolted to other majors.

Jun 1, 05 5:45 pm
The commish

Jump, I couldn't agree more.
The ideal is never reality, and that is just the way it is. But that doesn't mean that you have to sucumb to the pitfalls of the "depression of the reality of architecture".

JK-If you are going to SCI-Arc (which I think you are) you are going to be in an environment that encourages you to take risks, paly with big ideas, and try new things. That sounds like fun to me. Enjoy that you have that going for you and worry about the reality when it comes your way. Or, just don't worry about it at all, and just enjoy what you do.

Jun 1, 05 5:45 pm

Did'nt you guys get "the talk". In my first year, in the darkness of the lecture theatre, a friendly and wise history prof told us all that 95% of us would end up doing menial architectural work, for not alot of money, and that only 5% of us would either design and make money.

I'm sure that the darkness helped to muffle the sound of 75 students heart's breaking and perception's shattered. I'm sure that in the Western world, the general belief is that architects make alot of money and spend their time designing

I recent heard a story of about a dinner party where one guest, a draughtsman with his own business, was basically hounding a young architecture student about how she would never make any money and that he employed architects, and that he as a draughtsman was way above architects etc. - It is a sad world when a draughtsman can berate and belittle an architect based on their comparitive salary's.

My advice is that you have to continually re-evaluate your goals and current position and make sure that they correlate with where you want to be. Often, when we want to change or do things differently, we feel restricted by the percieved perceptions of our co-workers or the profession in general.

For example, there is a set of limitations in place that mean that architects are loathe or even discouraged to engage in property development - which is gradually starting to change now.

I guess that the ideal driver for an architect, in my mind at least, is the pursual of an individual vision in a successful and ethical way. Often this rubs the wrong way with the architectural profession, which at the end of the day, is an elaborate protectorate. But who cares?

You've got to do what you have to do, to get where you want to go. And you have to use all of your facilities to do this.

Jun 1, 05 5:46 pm
Ms Beary

"In fact, in the firms I have worked at, the interns do most of the design while the more experienced architects tend to be pushing paper and managing projects." -- this is the way it is where i'm at, and frankly i was happier being the monkey picking up redlines, no worries. in fact i was estatic my first year working, i thought it was the coolest ever.

i've held other jobs before, i am sure we all have - meaningless retail and production jobs, etc. and I thought they sucked till this. they sucked but they don't knock the very life out of you.

However, I do know several architects who at least appear to like their jobs, and one friend who absolutely loves it. so I think there is hope for me! :) I just have to find where I fit in. lately i think interior design is where its at - no liability, no frustrating technicalities, no specs, no production, no IDP or expensive licensure renewal/insurance, plus you design all the time and do nothing else and get paid about what an architect does anyways!

Jun 1, 05 6:31 pm

Do some competitions in your own time.

Jun 1, 05 6:31 pm
for those not happy, go find something that will. complaining without action or solutions is useless.


are you hiring?

Jun 1, 05 6:46 pm

i think the most depressing thing about architecture is the disjunction between the notion that it is a 'profession' and the shocking realization that it is just a 'service industry' with no more respect and probably less pay than the average licensed plumber.

for 95% of it anyway.

i love architecture, but i hate the service industry that it has become, which frankly is not interesting and usually quite tedious and menial. I'm not sure if this is a fairly recent phenomenon or not, but it seems that up until the 1950's anyway an architect had more creative freedom and professional respect. but maybe that is a romantic nostalgic view and not fact.

and yes, i have found other things to do that are more rewarding creatively. i'm personally not complaining, but i empathize with those that are.

Jun 1, 05 7:10 pm

"the talk", yes, generally 'A students' would go on to be professors, 'B-C' students would go on to be average, and the 'C-F' students with good looks and wealthy families would go on to be 'successful'...and they'd get your girl.

Jun 1, 05 8:23 pm

there are numerous structural problems with civilization as it exists today that work against trying to do 'good' architecture. if you do the math it may not even be worth trying in some governmental jurisdictions. ecologically, 'good' architecture may be more destructive. i'm talking about 'the math', the 'big picture math'.

...but, take heart. you could design the fiddle to be played as Rome burns....or design those Titanic deck chairs...

find a fissure in the system and exploit it for good for your 75 years until its swallowed up in mediocrity again.

Jun 1, 05 8:30 pm
vado retro

go into nursing! get a sign on bonus. actually help people. make an excellent salary marry a hot doctor. move anywhere.

Jun 1, 05 8:38 pm

i've said this before but i'm just happy that i'm not working at the hog plant with the rest of the family. because of my background i may have a different perspective than some (university wasn't exactly a place i was expected to go when i was a kid) but i find my profession far too rewarding to get upset by its complexities or its boring bits. and I never waited for anyone to bring me what i wanted either...

I mean come on any student with half a brain must have noticed the difference between school projects and the work most real firms were doing. If that wasn't enough of a hint, the courses on building law and professional practice surely must have opened your eyes, no?

But architecture schools are not meant to teach you to become architects anyway. They are places where you learn to think. Silly to blame your school because you didn't use that education and take a peek outside before graduating, ennit?

Jun 1, 05 9:01 pm
vado retro

which hog plant? we may know the same people.

Jun 1, 05 9:04 pm

canadian prairie. good work i suppose, but i am far too lazy for factory work.

Jun 1, 05 9:08 pm

i think that its wierd that architecture school is where you learn to think...then you go to work in a firm and have to lobotomize yourself to get through the rest of your career.

Jun 1, 05 9:18 pm

i have NEVER found that to be the case. If a firm is creating that sort of workplace then they are wasting their time and yours.

I know a few architects who chose to park their brains but they aren't interested in design or in a flash career and basically are waiting to retire. But they make good draftsmen, and seem happy, so why not... however, the office never asked them to go that route, they chose it themselves.

Jun 1, 05 9:26 pm

it's just a bad bad day... don't extrapolate too much into the future. "this too shall pass". things will pick up and your idealism will come back intact. Hang in there until the good times return.

Jun 1, 05 10:01 pm



why are there so many architects unhappy with their careers then? i'm not sure i know anyone in architecture who is really happy with the type of work they are doing, the quality of their life (what is left of it after the long hours), the status it gives them, or how well they are paid. Unless they see it strictly as a business and are milking whatever advantages they may have in terms of political and social contacts. Most of the people i know from architecture school are doing other things, probably wisely so.

but hey, if you're happy, i'm happy.

Jun 1, 05 10:07 pm

no never. ive never heard that before.

i come from scottish stock so pessimism is in me blood. But even with that i have always enjoyed my life as an architect and never really felt like my abilities were being mis-used. Yes, i have done a few crap buildings along with the nice ones (who hasn't?), but have no problem with being a servant to the money, and for the last few years at least have been working with design-led offices or on me own with interesting clients, so its fun to go to work every day. Maybe i am lucky. Mind you the one time i felt like there was no more to learn in the office i moved on. masochism may be scottish, but so is standing up when you need to...

but even when when i do CDs and project admin i am totally into it. its usually challenging; there are always problems to be solved, a contractor to negotiate with, a detail to be worked out, a client to soothe. i love the communication part of the business as much as the design-as-thought-experiment aspect, so maybe i never set myself up for unreasonable expectations. Getting things built is as much fun sometimes as dreaming it, no? the way i do it, all that reality stuff is an extension of the design intent/concept, but i think maybe that approach is rare for a lot of offices.

Absolutely, the profession is frustrating, sometimes dissapointing, but no i have never been asked to put my brain aside and just plog away like a machine in a factory. i dont see how any office would organise itself that way. its gotta be unproductive.

Jun 1, 05 11:02 pm

well, if you go back to the post that started this thread...the frustration was that the designer had an artistic personality and knew he was creative---that's why he chose architecture.

i think as well if you are one that leans more towards the cultural-discourse side of architecture, interested in spatial order in philosophical or social aspects, it is equally frustrating.

i can see why someone with a masochistic personality, and who came from a disadvantaged background, and who enjoyed the technical and people and business sides would be pretty happy as opposed to the other types mentioned. don't you?

Jun 1, 05 11:56 pm

ha ha ha.

but really, creativity isn't about picking nice colors and making nice compositions, its about doing more with what you got than is apparent at first glance. which is why its very hard work.

btw, i love (and live for!) design too, i just don't buy into the idea that the creative work stops once you've got a rendering done. i suppose thats what sets the good architects apart from the mediocre ones. Stephen holl, koolhaas, Ito and Sejima, that sort of architectural practice clearly believes in taking the idea right down to the detail and the construction. Its a holistic approach. The bonus is that the work experience is more positive because no matter what your job you are contributing to the design and make a difference. but it can't be done if all you wanna do is sketch in a wee book and be "creative" on yer own in the sense you seem to imply.

ALL architects are at least a wee bit masochistic, aren't they? ;-)

Jun 2, 05 12:38 am

good points jump. you are mainly taught one aspect of architecture in school >> design. yeah, you get a little pro-practice. what? 1, 2 classes?

architecture is a complex business with layers of issues >> regulations, codes, engineers, finances, client's needs, politics, and yes design. i think maybe some think they have been lobotimized because they now must also think about these other issues that can be equally important and now they are overwhelmed with the complexity of the problem. as jump said >> "creativity isn't about picking nice colors and making nice compositions, its about doing more with what you got than is apparent at first glance"

Jun 2, 05 11:31 am

"Getting things built is as much fun sometimes as dreaming it, no?"

jump made a pretty important point, it seems. maybe the ones who feel they've been lombotomized by the profession are "designers" and not "architects". the distaste for the service-side of the profession (mentioned by cyn and others) would support that argument. it might be, cyn, that you're not in the right job [in all seriousness and with no hostility].

Jun 2, 05 12:27 pm

Part of the problem, st., is there are very few opportunities for "designers" as you describe them. I'm sure there are quite a few "architects" that would be happy to give up the service-side work, and focus on the other aspects. (design) I think many of us do not relish the project management or doing cds.

uggh.. I have more to write, but I already know your response. "get over it, that's just how it is..." and you're right, I know. it's just frustrating. In the design process alone, there are enough setbacks, difficulties and frustrations to make the work challenging, but it's coupled with the rewards of working on a creative process. I think for some, the other aspects of the profession (the 90% of what we do) has very little reward, and is all frustration, setback and disappointment.

Jun 2, 05 12:44 pm

i guess my response would be that those unhappy with the 90% of what architects do, really might not should be architects. if i worked as a restaurant chef and only enjoyed creating experimental desserts, then maybe i shouldn't be a chef. i would find a job i enjoyed more and find another way to engage my passion for desserts.

i see where one might say, "well, how can i make a living just on the design-side of architecture?" you most likely can't--at least not easily--when there are so many architects willing, and even eager, to focus on the 90% you hate. as in the case of the dessert chef--he might open a specialty restaurant with a limited menu based on his preferences, but how many of those last?

and i certainly don't mean to knock the aspirations and desire to simply design--designers have had a great influence on the profession of architecture. and i would expect to hear a bunch of bitching, like that found in this forum, from anyone enjoying only 10% of his job. but that isn't a knock on architecture--just personal preference. you simply don't enjoy "architecture".

Jun 2, 05 2:02 pm

your probably correct. I think part of the original point of this post was in school you are trained to think, but to think about design. I don't think that's a bad thing, just misleading with regards to what a lot of your thinking is dedicated towards once you start working.

I think I hear tiny violins playing, and the sound of people not caring...


Jun 2, 05 2:26 pm

maybe i'm just baffled by how anyone could have reasonably thought that JOB was going to be like SCHOOL. i have very little sympathy.

Jun 2, 05 2:41 pm

i shouldn't say that. i do have sympathy--because i think it's a real problem--just not a problem with the architectural profession, which most seem to bash when a discussion like this goes down.

Jun 2, 05 2:43 pm

teh secondf most postled topic on archjinect, right bedhind wha'ts the best sclhoo ofarchincture. 'Any happy architects here?'.

Jun 2, 05 2:55 pm

I didn't take any offense. I think different people have different tolerances on what passes for "design" work, and different offices give different amounts of responsibility in design to their employees. From what I've experienced and discussed with colleagues, I have about average design opportunity, and it's next to nothing.

Working summers while in school, I always heard people I worked with saying, "get out while you still can" and stuff like that. I thought they were joking. I thought it can't be as bad as they make it out to be, at least I'll be doing some design, it's different from school, but it must have some corresponding properties...

I think I just missed the boat on that one. whatever. I'll be dead in 30-50 years anyway.

Jun 2, 05 2:57 pm

oh no soda! that's a sad story! don't be so hard on yourself.

I think what bugs me about the question is the part:

Does anyones else get upset thinking that going out onto the jobsite the union sweepers make more than 75% of our proffesion? I don't know just seems strange to me that this is the case and we do most of the work.

I don't believe that we do most of the work! Anyone out there tied steel, pitched limestone, sat at the table with a mechanical or structural engineer? The work of an architect can be difficult but it's far-fetched to say we do most of the work. It takes a lot of people to get a building built.

Jun 2, 05 3:21 pm

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