In approximately 3 1/2 months I will be standing on a stage in Washington D.C. at the American Institute of Architects 2012 National Convention talking about blogging and social media for architects. Most of the people who swing through here probably don’t much care about that – and I don’t blame you (you already know that I’m making it up as I go). However, what struck me this morning as I was standing in the shower (where I do some of my best problem solving), was how blogging, my presentation for the convention, and architecture in general, all have something really important in common …
Come on and admit it – we’ve either done it or we’re thinking about doing it. It’s the siren’s call of moonlighting, beckoning you to the edge with the promise of being addressed as an architect and getting something built that is uniquely your own. Moonlighting has dark undertones as it’s very name might suggest. There are advantages and disadvantages to taking on work outside of normal business hours and I think it’s worthwhile to review what they might be. I read an article on moonlighting in Residential Architect some years ago and there was a quote in there I will never forget (well, I did actually forget it so I am paraphrasing here):
“…moonlighting presents a dangerous risk, if a person wants to do their own work, let them start a firm and struggle and starve..”
Yikes! That person sounds nasty, either that or they have been burned by the liability issues that moonlighting creates for architectural firms. The other remarkable thing about this phrase was that at the time, it came from the chair of the A.I.A. Practice Management Advisory group. For me, the part about “struggle and starve” suggests that the person taking on the moonlighting work is ill-prepared and unlicensed, which suggest youth and inexperience. So for my purposes here, I am going to focus on that demographic: the youthful, inexperienced and unlicensed.
Within the last few months, the number of emails I have received from people asking whether or not they should get out of architecture has been staggering. Equally surprising are the emails I receive that ask for direction on whether or not they should go into the field of architecture. The answer to both questions is easy:
For some people, the first question I ask them – the ender question, is always the same:
“Why do you want to be an architect?”
People go to college to learn how to learn and to train their brain to assess problems and determine what possible steps could or should be taken. You go to a technical college to learn how to do a thing or perform a specific job. You want to learn how to work on HVAC equipment there’s a school for that – they’re important – but it’s not the same set of criteria used to measure the success of college graduate from a typical four or five year program.
What I am really talking about is critical thinking – a skill that requires good logic skills but demands that the thinker employ accuracy, relevance, clarity and significance.
Urinals – do they need to go? (1st pun)
I just don’t understand why urinals are the way they are. The function they serve is obvious and I am pretty sure that the invention of the first urinal was one of those Eureka! moments when necessity and opportunity collide. Like all really good ideas, they are simple and based on addressing a perceived issue or need (i.e. Let’s invent a toilet that take advantage of the fact that men will pee just about anywhere and on anything). As time has gone by, it is the functional parameters that seem to be dictating the direction of urinal design; as a result, they have become more efficient and streamlined (2nd pun).
So school started a few weeks ago and architecture students are back in the studio environment – Aaahhhhh (breathing deeply) the familiar smell of despair, B.O. and basswood. There are a few things that I thought I would share with all you new studio rats. These are things you will probably have to figure out for yourself but I wish someone had told me some of these things when I was still spending 35 bazillion hours a week up at studio. There are many different experiences people might value from their time spent with other future architects but I would like to expose some commonly held urban legends associated with architecture and design studios.
One the first things you must consider when starting your new architectural firm, is what to name it. The choices are varied and the ramifications staggering. If the personality of the firm is going to be projected by the name, you had better take it seriously – every one else will. That’s where Life of an Architect can help (not really) - because I am a creative and critical thinker and somebody has to think about these things.
Originally, before architects were licensed professionals and to add some credibility to the profession to help distinguish themselves from the other trade crafts (like carpenters and contractors), architecture firms turned to law firms as an example and starting stringing together the last names of the founding individuals or partners (i.e. McKim, Mead & White) . This method is still wildly used simply because it is the easiest albeit least creative method. It doesn’t take much to recognize that some of the older more established firms have chosen this method:
What do these people have in common? Yes they have all been awarded the AIA Gold Medal “in recognition of a significant body of work of lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture” – but I’m not interested in that and it’s not what I am talking about. No, the correct answer is that none of them are named ‘Bob’.
Should I be worried? No disrespect to all the other Bob’s that are out there but can you really be that good of an architect when your first name is Bob? A certain amount of evidence exists that is not in our favor. Dating back to 1907, there has never been a Gold Medal winner whose name was Bob. What about the architectural equivalent to the Nobel Prize, The Pritzker? Nope – not a Bob to be found. We did get Robert Venturi in 1991 but he’s a Robert and not a Bob. From what I understand, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe used to call him Bob but they didn’t like each other and I think it might have been meant as an insult. (I’d ask Mies if he were alive and I could …. but he probably wouldn’t have accepted a phone call from a ‘Bob’)
What does your signature say about you? The way you leave your name behind on a piece a paper tells more about you than just saying “sorry I hit your car but I don’t have insurance“. It should come as no surprise but I don’t subscribe to mystical thinking like being an Aries and that my horoscope tells me to “prepare for an exciting trip” … yeah, right. Getting pushed down the stairs should hardly qualify as an exciting trip. According to those people in the mystical know – how you sign your signature actually does mean something and does provide some insight into the mind behind the name.
Your first name relates to your individual ego – If your first name is larger than your family name, it suggests that you are proud of YOUR OWN accomplishments. However, the larger the first name, the larger the desire to APPEAR important. This can also indicate a low self-esteem.
The Family name projects social status – If your family name is larger than your first name, you take great pride in family achievements and reputation, rather than in your own accomplishments.
Legible signature – If the signature is legible and simple, the writer is unpretentious, honest and straightforward. This person will follow the rules and do as they are told… just the same as when they were in school.
Illegible Signature – If the signature is illegible, the writer may be in such a hurry that they can’t take the time to shape the letters properly… doctors, executives, movie stars. An illegible signature is often a sign of a big ego… someone who expects others to KNOW who they are. This person also wants to keep their personal lives private and shielded from the outside world.
Check out some of the world’s most famous architects’ signatures after the break.