Architects hear questions that run the gamut when it comes to what we do. Outside of ‘work’, in social settings and friendly gatherings, we’re constantly peppered with varying questions that make us wonder if those outside the industry truly understand what an architect’s role really is. “Who’s your favorite architect?”, and “What have you designed that I would know…?”, and “How much would it cost to add a bathroom?”, to name a few.
We may have answers to all of these, and we certainly enjoy talking about these subjects, but an architect’s professional life is spent solving problems about design & construction – building program, community planning, health, safety & welfare of the public, space layout & flow, code regulations, composition, scale, and yes, even the color of paint. Architecture is everywhere, and in everything, so we’re constantly learning, and searching for great ideas. The questions we get from most rarely go into technicalities, and it’s usually centered more around Frank Lloyd Wright…or maybe even Mike Brady…than building height, context, area, or professional practice. More than anything else, these conversations remind me of questions I once had, often presumed, and continue to learn about our complex profession.
The fact is, our industry got hit hard by the Great Recession and a large generation of Boomer architects are nearing retirement. The gap of talent is rising, and the next generation of architects will need to be prepared for changes to the traditional role. I wish I had a crystal ball and an answer to provide for future generations of architects about what these changes will be, but this will only be realized as time progresses and we adapt to changing client needs and market demands.
I recently had the privilege of speaking to a career exploration class at my alma mater, Covington Catholic High School. I was invited to speak to the class by Rob Schneeman, and I graciously accepted the opportunity to help answer some of the questions I once had when trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. More than anything else, I believe strongly in giving back, and will always welcome the opportunity to help mentor and educate our future leaders about architecture and the built environment.
While speaking to the class of students, I’m happy to report that they all remained engaged (i.e. awake), and asked very intelligent questions. We talked about the tallest building in the world (Burj Khalifa), a day in the life of an architect, and important topics like education path & salary. One seemingly basic question from a student stood out to me: ‘What’s your favorite building?’ I probably should have expected this one, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t catch me off guard. Several things instantly ran through my mind – historic hotels, invaluable months spent exploring Europe, a trip to La Jolla to see the Salk Institute. My answer was the truth – I don’t have one. I appreciate historic and modern buildings alike, simple details, and the intentional, and unintentional happenings of natural and man-made public space.
As I was writing this article, NPR ran a story titled, Teaching Students to Hear the Music in the Built World, about Dianna Agrest, professor at Cooper Union in New York. It’s an interesting story, and worth the read and listen. Click here for a link to the broadcast.
The most important thing I learned from such a basic question is the reason I became interested in the profession in the first place: find your passion. I can’t tell, sway, or even show people how or why to become an architect, but this question caused me to reflect about why I chose the path. The answer may have started with a building as inspiration, but the reason I stay motivated today is much different. More than anything else, I hope the students and future leaders of our world understand that passion should be the guiding principle in choosing your own path. If you figure out what motivates you and let it lead you, you’ll never be wrong.
So, what’s your favorite building?