The depression of the reality of architecture


indeed jones. it is a very collaborative effort among many.

Jun 2, 05 3:24 pm

that statement quoted by jones is interesting in a sad way. it shows that the disconnect between school and the profession is much deeper than expectations about the amount of design work architects actually do. it shows a discouraging lack of understanding about how a building is built and our role in that and a false sense of importance we architects can place upon ourselves. i don't mean to call out the person who posted it directly--you can hear this all the time in a number of places, especially from young architects/interns.

Jun 2, 05 4:01 pm

I'm not sure that statement shows a lack of understanding from the poster. For me that statement is talking about the frustration of pay equity among the people that put together a building. Obviously, it takes a huge collaborative effort to successfully build a building. Doing a one on one comparison, the laborer has a much smaller scope of responsibility than the architect. Quantifying who is doing more actual work could be measured in a number of ways, but for the average construction worker, their liability and responsibility in relation to the overall project is probably less than that of the architect. Large amounts of coordination, detailing, and code knowledge are required. (Again this is not usually one person doing all this, but there is often one person's name on the drawing... although I would hope that person's salary would compare more favorably to the average laborer) Maybe I'm proving your point, I don't know.

Jun 2, 05 4:21 pm

I avoid all that by just practicing on my own without a liscence.

Jun 2, 05 4:33 pm
Ms Beary

"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." true, but
the engineers (young, but older than me) I work with treat me like their mommy, and they get paid at least twice what I do. They goof up all the time, don't do anything until prompted, etc. They don't have to "sell" their design, not even to me. They want to get out of as much work as possible and it all dumps on me. From the words of one of our architects to the engineer who said "it's no big deal" - when the ducts are noisy or the room is too dark, the architect gets the call, not the engineer. Makes sense that the leader of the design team should make more money than the consultants. Or is that just the way it is around here? I do not understand how consulting engineers make out so good and screw up so often and dissappoint so much.
The electrical engineer I am working with can't even read an architectural set of plans, I have to explain everything to him. "Vaulted ceiling, yes, sloped, this is a section of it" One month later: "That ceilings not flat?" "No, (for the third time in three months dammit, i'ts vaulted! Shows section drawing again.)"
Sooo, what is frustrating, for one, is making up for everyone else's shortcomings. Their shortcomings are what makes them money, and the arch lose money.
My biggest shocker personal run-in with union workers are the workers in the print shop in our building. They pretty much don't know what they are doing if you give them something slightly complicated like printing from a CD and the supervisor knows what to do, but she can't touch the machinery, I mean the copy machines. So she comes and dictates the process. Yet, when they can't figure something out and she's not there, they have me do it! I can touch the copier, but their supervisor can't? They think it's funny. I find it annoying.

Jun 2, 05 4:39 pm

so now this has turned into a discussion about compensation? and who was it that said architects aren't as materialistic as other professions?

architects get paid much more than laborers. interns, however, are not architects, do not have the knowledge or experience to assume the liability you speak of, and are compensated accordingly. how am i, as an intern, more liable than a laborer? a mason, a carperter, or a steelworker, on the other hand (none of which are laborers), do assume more liability than i and are paid more. the pricipal of my firm is liable for my work and we see what kind of car he drives--something far nicer than i could afford yet a slightly older model than the president of ABC Construction Management. I don't see how the pay scale is out of whack.

if i was being argumentative i would ask you if you know for sure what those engineers are making. twice as much? i've been dealing with contracts a bit lately and i know that a level III designer/technician/ at a local (large mid-atlantic city) mechanical engineering firm--equivalent to my experience level--is billed out by his firm for less than i am, and i don't make very much money.

...but only if i was being argumentative.

Jun 2, 05 5:36 pm

strawbeary, now THAT is a complaint i can understand. i did a building not so long ago that had some slightly difficult requirements for the mechanical engineer and they just couldn't do the job. In the end I did it myself and had them draft it. that's where the masochism comes in i should think. But it was the only way to get the interiors to work out (project was for beautiful (ie, more zumthor than Koolhaas) new-build flats in London). Which sort of brings me back to the point above. If I didn't care about the design I could have let it slide and been happy that i had already done my "creative" designer job and was done, but the building would never come out the way I had intended...

the dream is to someday work with cecil, or a clone. think there could be one or two here in tokyo if i could just land a big enough project to need them...

Jun 2, 05 5:47 pm
Ms Beary

st. - an architect in my firm told me that a mechanical engineer with my experience would make $80, maybe he's way off, i don't know. the structural engineer, 4 years my senior, is a friend of my brother's, he knew what he made a few years ago and we exprapolated a salary of $90k+.
And interns have a liability, their career. They also have Accountability, more than a construction worker.

I'm not bitching, just observing, I think it's "interesting": not a job that i worked on, but in our office, there was a $180,000 mechanical change order by major fault of the engineer. WOW, project was under 2 mil. total.

I redline all engineers drawings and find disturbing errors. Last week, only 4 lintels sized out of 12 (I counted so that's for real) and that's after I pointed it out to the engineer that they were missing.

I challenged the engineers with some stuff lately, and they coudn't take it. They couldn't design anything, only run calcs. I couldn't undertand the ductwork on a drawing once, it looked a little excessive, so I called the mechanical engineer and the principal architect for a meeting to overview the mech systems. The mech. eng. brought his "intern". The mech. eng. couldn't answer any questions about the ducts and the intern was like, "...I don't know..." playing dumb. Me and the principal architect along with the mech. eng. redesigned the ductwork right then and there, took like 2 hours. the "intern" wasn't too happy about it and complained that he would have to "draw it all up again."

That remides of another issue with consultants, when there is a change, they act like big babies, like I'm torturing them. They expect me to hand them a building, and they hand me back engineering three months later and that's "design."

Jun 2, 05 6:18 pm

I personally find that my 'amount' of liability and accountability as an intern architect is not that different than it was as a stonemason.

Not to mention sitting at a desk working on ridiculous redlines on the worst day is still WAY nicer than beating on rocks with hammers and mixing mortar outside when it's snowing sideways. Maybe that's why I enjoy and appreciate my job as an intern architect more than many others who went straight into an office from school?

Jun 2, 05 6:36 pm
le bossman

you guys are the whiniest bunch of crybabies i've ever seen. try living in a dungeon for a change, or maybe being broken on "The Wheel." you are lucky you even have the opportunity to pursue your interests.

Jun 3, 05 3:58 pm
le bossman

YOU: "oh look at me, i'm an architect, things are so bad i wanna poop my pants"

ME: "who's the boss now?"

Jun 3, 05 4:02 pm

boy, oh boy. that sure isn't a picture of bossman.

and i remember the first time i was broken on "the wheel." good times.

Jun 3, 05 5:31 pm

wow, are there absolutely no happy architects on this forum? do you all wish you chose a different career path? i haven't heard a single positive word from anybody in this thread.

Aug 5, 08 11:22 pm

I miss John Delvin

Aug 5, 08 11:44 pm


does the business model of your architecture practice fundamentally work? And further, does your architecture practice produce architecture, or does it draft buildings?

Aug 5, 08 11:46 pm

i'm still happy.

would be nice to hear from john again, thats for sher.

Aug 6, 08 1:32 am

Do you guys think it's fair to say that arch. school subconsciously hammers in the notion that "architecture is more important than money" and that self sacrifice (all nighters, etc) is a prerequisite of been a "good architect". Both notions, (unless dispelled very early in a career) could easily lead to the kind of disenchantment echoed in the above posts... this coupled with rich kids with good parental connections who can quite happily work unpaid for years and easily undercut not so financially fortunate individuals could also have a follow on effect of unhappiness in the industry.

Aug 6, 08 5:17 am

no, that wouldn't be fair to say. it makes for a good story, but it falls into the "conventional wisdom" category and doesn't describe reality.

i like my job. i liked architecture school and i enjoyed all of my jobs when i worked for others instead of myself. i would like to earn more money but that is up to me and not out of realm of possibility. so i don't feel particularly hemmed in by the profession either. the world is my aquatic shellfish of choice, really.

Aug 6, 08 7:06 am

well, charlesfitz, if you read through this thread (from '05!), it's a pretty good indication that NOT everyone feels down about their choices. keep pushing.

Aug 6, 08 7:09 am

Definitely the fault of the rich kids.

Aug 6, 08 7:10 am

Seems to me that if the consultants are incapable of doing their job, you need to negotiate some compensation for doing it for them. You do their work, you get their compensation for that work. Pretty straightforward.
Otherwise you get bitter and angry and they learn that they can take advantage of you and have you do the work for free.
In a capitalistic society, if you let yourself get taken advantage of, you will be taken advantage's just business.
Call them on their inability or unwillingness to do the job and make them pay a fiscal penalty for it and see how quickly that kind of thing stops.

Aug 6, 08 7:31 am

jump, you rock!

i think half the battle is attitude. I am currently an intern as well and very happy at my job. sure, its a luxury of the young to be able to move about, and that helps to keep me feeling fresh and energetic about whatever job i find myself in. However, given my rigorous design backround, oftentimes even the 'mundane' does and should provide me with a fair amount of challenge and engagement to see what I can get out of it. I also think its important to be around people who you respect and enjoy working with.

but, i reiterate, noone in life is going to bend over backwards for you unless you get very lucky. You have to go out there every day and do what it is YOU want to do with your life.

Aug 6, 08 8:25 am
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.

Hmm, make the education more reality based and in the process reduce the abundance of arch grads....sounds like a win-win situation to me.

Most of the complaints are from fresh grads, interns, etc. If the education matched reality of the profession those people would've been drummed out long ago. Secondly, I say it over and over and over again, but our low wages are all part of supply and demand. Reduce the supply of architects while demand stays flat and we have more negotiating power. I'd tell about 1/2 the US architecture colleges to go the way of Bennigans and never come back again. See ya.

Aug 6, 08 8:41 am
dilettante [(dil-uh-tahnt, dil-uh-tahnt)]

"Someone who is interested in the fine arts as a spectator, not as a serious practitioner. Dilettante is most often used to mean a dabbler, someone with a broad but shallow attachment to any field."

This old thread was new to me ... I read it through completely this morning. While I try very hard to have empathy for the people who post here, I have to say that whenever I read these whiney, self-absorbed posts about how we never get to design, about how painful it is to actually put together a set of CDs, about what idiots our clients are, about how everybody else works fewer hours and gets paid tons more money than we do, about the ineffective AIA that doesn't magically solve all of our problems, about why we actually have to pay for software, etc. I just want to scream.

Come on people - get a grip!

Architecture is not soley about pretty pictures and visionary dreams. It's about getting good stuff built. Architecture requires broad skills and interests that go way beyond the simple ability to conceptualize a bitchin' form and the skill to render that form in some wiz-bang software.

Architecture is about process and relationships that involve a lot of other people besides the architect. Architecture requires a wide variety of skills and expertise. It's not about you ... it's about what the team can accomplish, working together - each member working with the other, contributing a high level of skill and knowledge. It's messy and it's hard. It's definitely not school - where you pretty much work on your own and have all the time in the world to tinker and change your mind and you don't have to worry about budgets and schedules.

We each enter architecture school for our own reasons. There we each learn a different body of knowledge and develop a different set of skills. We each are exposed to a different perspective on the profession. However, in the end, practice isn't remotely similar to school. If your school didn't teach you that, perhaps you should ask for your money back.

In practice, clients don't give a damn about your ego and your little problems ... they only give a damn about their little problems. And, they pay us to help them deal with those problems. They will pay us very well when we actually help. Yet, they despise us when we only care about our own agenda and act like their desires and needs are unworthy of consideration.

To be successful in architecture one must understand the realities of practice and embrace (but not necessarily accept) those realities. This is the canvas on which we paint. If you're a student and cannot accept that reality, you'd probably do yourself a favor by changing majors now. If you're a young practitioner and can't accept that reality, you'd probably do yourself a favor to consider ways to transition to a new career.

Architecture needs talented people who are committed to working through the process that exists, who are committed to finding ways to make that process work better, who are committed to making a personal investment in the future of the profession, and who have a passion for making great buildings. Architecture does not need dilettantes who just sit on the sidelines, carping because their idealized and naïve view of the profession isn't instantaneously matched by the reality on the ground.

Sorry for the rant.

Aug 6, 08 8:58 am

Sometimes, I really don't get why we whine so much about money. I've spent less than a year working stateside in an arch. firm, I'm not even out of school yet, and already I make as much bank as my should-be-retired mother who has spent her whole life working clerical jobs. People, it could be seriously fucking worse!

Aug 6, 08 9:02 am

don't be sorry, quiz. good one.

Aug 6, 08 9:10 am

perspective...we dont have that "stateside"

Aug 6, 08 9:24 am

The key to this whole problem, I believe, is better and more educated clients.

Most clients don't want Architecture with a capital A. They want comfy buildings that don't challenge them. They want architects who are the equivalent of hairdressers: "give me what I want, I pay you."

Not, "advise and educate me about Architecture, and give me an exciting building." Which is what we all hope for in a client. But these kinds of clients are almost nonexistent in the US.

How, then, do we educate America/the World about Architecture?

Aug 6, 08 11:05 am

i think that architects need to educate architects (and students) to realize that not all great architecture has to look like it fell out of the sky and is a whole new experience...

a whole lot of great architecture was done before the last couple of decades and just because something is 'contextual' doesn't mean it can't be interesting and challenging...

i do almost entirely university work- typically on campuses that has some kind of well-established 'character' which there is some interest in maintaining...

many scoff at such work as if its too historical or just watered down...and alot of the times that is what it is b/c the various architects that have made contemporary additions to the campus have never taken the time to get past the 'historical' part and so they make a crap copy of it and never challenge it or understand it...

the key is to realize that this is going to be a predominantly brick building and try to make the best damn looking brick building you can...and then search out opportunities to make 'modern' additions to the established context while not rocking the boat so much that you degrade the campus aesthetic...

design is design no matter what the end product "wants to be" or is "dictated to be"...

if a client says that a building absolutely has to be in a 'georgian style' than take that and run with it... identify what it really means to be georgian and then figure out how to make that modern and might have to educate them a bit about their own assumptions of what georgian is but you don't need to stair down your nose at them and criticise them b/c they didn't let you put a big self-referencial-architect-wet-dream blob on their campus...

Aug 6, 08 12:32 pm
won and done williams

some were meant to design "contextual" buildings, some were meant to work in a service-oriented office, some were meant to be project managers, some were meant to make a lot of money, some were meant to be designers, some were meant to produce documents - there is no one architect, there is no one profession. learn who you are and become that architect. to believe the profession as a whole is miserable is really a symptom of one's own laziness.

Aug 6, 08 12:42 pm

it really is a world wide subject.
i want to thank quizzical who come on every post of this nature and relentlessly and generously shares his experience.
he is usually right on the money.
if you want to change the way you practice this profession, be ready to make sacrifices and even then you might not come very close to what you have been visioning, but it is worth the try, your experiences will be beneficial to some.
don't expect to come out of school and be handed over the design of a project your firm worked years to qualify, deserve and get. just do your part and try to close the gap between skill sets.
delusional stuff usually wears out and reality must be embraced.

i was talking to a first year student, whom i like, yesterday in a friends office and when i asked him about the summer internship, he said he is missing to go back to school so he can be on his own again.
but he is a smart kid who also appreciates the menial tasks he has been given. highlight of his internship was that he was let to work on some diagrams and made some revisions to a site plan of a very groundbreaking project. he was very grateful for that and i encouraged him about his patience and young wisdom realizing his location on the long and treacherous road.

architecture is one of the most beautiful professions known to mankind and it will be your friend for the rest of your life. you have to commit to it and stay the course. if you want to practice it differently, it is even more demanding but you must stay the course and be ready to make sacrifices.
either way, if you stick around, it will answer to your ambitions in time.

Aug 6, 08 12:59 pm
liberty bell

Yeah, quizzical, good one as always.

I also like this comment from jump i would like to earn more money but that is up to me and not out of realm of possibility.

Right now I love my job so much that it seriously is like a hobby that gives me a paycheck that allows me to give a highly decent existence to my family. If I drastically needed to increase my income I could - but see no need to, because my work is what makes me happy.

Aug 6, 08 2:15 pm

While on my homeward commute, it occurred to me how similar many arch school graduates are to Little Leaguers - i.e. a large proportion really believe they'll play some day in the Majors.

I think there are something like 120,000 licensed architects in the US - for the sake of this discussion, let's assume there are maybe 500,000 individuals worldwide with comparable credentials.

However, as a group, we probably couldn't agree on a list of more than 50 active "world class" architects on the planet. Even if my calculation is off by a large margin, those are horrible statistics - probably on the same order as the % of Little Leaguers who make it to the Bigs.

I don't make this case to discourage anybody or to burst your bubble - I believe in dreams and ambitions. I just think a realistic view of the probabilities would help more people develop realistic and rewarding careers.

Dream big - just be careful about betting your whole career, and your entire happiness, on an improbable dream.

Good luck.

Aug 6, 08 10:14 pm

aww, nothing like a little archinect thread-surfing to raise the first-job-out-of-grad-school-searchin' spirits...thanks guys.

i can always count on you as a source of optimism!

Aug 6, 08 10:53 pm

i've actually met a few architects who were in complete self denial that architecture was just not what they wanted while they were in the profession. 5 years later, their clouds bursted and now they're back in grad school doing other things. how many of you here are secretly like this ;)?

Aug 7, 08 12:45 am

I wonder is better educated clients is a solution at all.

If a client is educated to a level that he/she is able to appreciate all the intricacies of good architecture does it not stand to reason this education would also empower them to challenge their architects design at an "architecturally" acceptable level?

No longer would the client be demanding something because they just 'want it that way", they will be also backing it up with very valid arguments, precedents and obscure French architectural philosophy...

It's a catch 22... either they remain uneducated, unappreciative and at their architects mercy, or become educated to a level where they can appreciate their architects decisions but also have the knowledge to call out their architect on his/her design.

Aug 7, 08 3:36 am

Or architects could become more educated as to the needs and wants of their clients.

Aug 7, 08 8:13 am
liberty bell

rodgerT, an understanding of valid arguments and precedents, as well as functional and structural issues, is welcome from the client and a good architect should listen seriously to their point of view. Quoting French philosophy *may* be relevant to a particular project, and again, an architect should listen.

But listening isn't doing. We owe it to clients to give them the best built project possible, based on our expertise, their expertise, and the builder's expertise. Our job is to bring those three things together while being mindful of the project's role in the public purview, as well.

Aug 7, 08 8:39 am

The difference should be talent. I can describe how I want a gorgeous painting to look, give ideas and inspiration, but I am not going to kid myself and think that having knowledge of art history, knowing the composition I desire, etc., will give me the ability to make a great piece of art.

For that, I would hire a talented artist.

A good client is one that makes suggestions and engages a conversation about the process, the solutions, etc. It is the designer/architect's job to capture the energy and inspiration from the client and bring it to life in the architecture.

Aug 7, 08 8:48 am

Architects should crawl out of their own asses & embrace humanity.

Aug 8, 08 5:12 am

but only plantonically. lets not get too carried away now.

i don't think clients need to be educated. or at least not in the way that suggests i need to teach them how to get up to my exalted level. that would not be a good way to start a job in my mind.

to be honest i quite like the money side of things and the dickering about how big the nurse's station should be and all that stuff. what i don't like is (i.e.) when the client doesn't think a hospital should be healing and can only think about how many beds he can get and what percent will be for single ocupancy, how many VP rooms, and so on. I believe both can/should be achieved and will work pretty hard to convince a client of that. I'd like to think i would walk away from a client who was willing to make crappy hospitals out of blatant dis-interest. hasn't come up yet, though my old boss seemed to be able to accept such a situation.

anyway, when it comes to education of clients maybe that sort of situation would inspire me to get a bit preachy (though i hope i have better people-skills than that), but otherwise i think the clients should be basically partners in design, and their ideas as valid as my own...

Aug 8, 08 11:05 am

it seems seriously unrealistic to think we can educate the public in a meaningful way about architecture ... when we have these discussions, our motivations always seem to be rooted in "how can we change these morons so they'll allow us to do what we want to do" I think we have that backwards.

Apple didn't "educate" the public to like the iPhone ... they produced a product that was well designed and captured the public's imagination and served a useful purpose and represented a good value.

When the public doesn't like what we do, why do we always assume it's because the public is either ignorant or misguided?

I don't think the onus is on the public ... I think the onus is on us.

Aug 8, 08 11:17 am


Your a naive little fellow arn't you?

'Educate' the public to like the iPhone and all the rest of their gadgets is exactly what apple have done. Only the more appropriate term that they 'programmed' the public. They spent millions upon millions to on advertising to create a desire in joe six pack to want an apple product. Why else would everyone buy apple products? They produce absolutely terrible equipment & their sales are based on style over substance,

You say apple represents good value?? Dont make me laugh.

You say apple makes a purposeful product?? Are you a comedian, you must be!

Go on crawl out of your own ass.

99% of architects think the are so intelligent & above the 'masses'.

Step into reality.

Aug 8, 08 11:38 am

Some clients are educatable. Others are not. But I don't believe for a second that it's the only architect's responsibility to listen to his/her clients -- It's also our responsibility to educate, and to share our hard-won knowledge.

We have two house clients right now. The first client believes that they hired us in the same way they would hire someone to wash their car: we provide a service exactly as they want, bringing no opinions of our own to the table. They override our well-considered knowledge with their own whims, they override our attempts to make the details and materials integrate with their own offhand desires, they override our stylistic suggestions with hundreds of "things they've seen around the neighborhood.." We will have to struggle to make this project good.

The second client has entered into their project as a collaborative learning experience. They bring their own examples, but are also excited to hear about our opinions. From meeting to meeting, their opinions change and grow (as do ours, working with them.)

The first client is tiring to work with, and a pain. The second is exciting and energizing. Both will always exist, but I'd like to reach a place where I could turn down more of the former and accept more of the latter.

Aug 8, 08 11:48 am

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