9 Lessons For Post-Architecture-School Survival

9 Lessons For Post-Architecture-School Survival

We’ve already talked about this. You’re preparing your final project (or thesis project). You’ve gone over everything in your head a thousand times; the presentation to the panel, your project, your model, your memory, your words. You go ahead with it, but think you'll be lousy. Then you think just the opposite, you will be successful and it will all be worth it. Then everything repeats itself and you want to call it quits.  You don’t know when this roller coaster is going to end. 

Until the day arrives. You present your project. Explain your ideas. The committee asks you questions. You answer. You realize you know more than you thought you did and that none of the scenarios you imaged over the past year got even close to what really happened in the exam. The committee whisper amongst themselves. The presentation ends and they ask you to leave for a while. Outside you wait an eternity, the minutes crawling slowly. Come in, please. The commission recites a brief introduction and you can’t tell whether you were right or wrong. The commission gets to the point.

You passed! Congratulations, you are now their new colleague and they all congratulate you on your achievement. The joy washes over you despite the fatigue that you’ve dragging around with you. The adrenaline stops pumping. You spend weeks or months taking a much-deserved break. You begin to wonder: Now what?

The university, the institution that molded you into a professional (perhaps even more so than you would have liked), hands you the diploma and now you face the job market for the first time (that is if you haven’t worked before). Before leaving and defining your own markers for personal success (success is no longer measured with grades or academic evaluations), we share 9 lessons to face the world now that you're an architect.

1. College gives you skills, not a job

© OMA + Caspar David Friedrich [Wikipedia, dominio público]

Let’s start with the first lesson: the university remains a symbol of upward mobility. Many of us are the first architects or even the first college graduates in our families, and being professional is a sure fire way to get a good job,  economic stability, and all that (depending on what you studied). If you weren’t born with a desire to study architect or it isn’t your mission in your life, it is likely that this aspect was more important, an idea reinforced by the media, by constantly publishing the rankings of the best-paying careers. 

However, it's a mistake to believe that studying architecture guarantees you a job. A mistake that you don’t notice when you enter the job market (again, only if you’ve never worked before) and then you realize that your first jobs are not what you thought they’d be like in college, or what society thinks an architect is.

But if we understand that college forms skills (check the graduate profile of your school), you can visualize what your advantages are and how to apply them to what you’re looking for. A lesson that goes along with the next point. 

2. Not everyone is going to design

© Dimitry B. bajo licencia CC BY 2.0, + Caspar David Friedrich [Wikipedia, dominio público]

Throughout your college career, all your courses rotate around the studio. By default, our value as architects is in how well we design things. In fact, the first fifty architectural references that you can think of will be designers. The alleged diversity in education is false: everyone can focus on what they want, as long as it is the same thing. The very final stage of your studies is a funnel: it doesn’t matter what you did during the rest of your time here, we want you to be able to design something, anything, even if just a box.

This moment is particularly complicated for those interested in landscape (in Spain landscape architects can’t even sign their own projects), urban planning, theory, construction, administration, teaching or anything else other than straight up design.

I have friends with great interest and knowledge in urban planning who had a really hard time with their thesis project. They asked them for “just a box" in order  to graduate. The commission did not appreciate "these colored drawings." My friends thought they’d never get out, but once they got past their thesis projects, their strong will and determination (and of course, the job market) revealed something else.

3. Learn to discuss, negotiate and compromise

© Glasgow School of Art, bajo licencia CC BY 2.0 + Caspar David Friedrich [Wikipedia, dominio público]

Mark Wigley, former dean of GASPP says that architecture is "99% hiding 1% displaying". If those words don’t make sense to you, think back to studio projects. Each architectural design begins with infinite potential layers of information and variables that depend on you, hide them or show them, regulations, technical specialties, budgets, deadlines, sustainability, management, construction, and most importantly, the client. Yes, someone who pays and rightly also has opinions. Because they will. You can count on it.

The university exercises put emphasis on design, they help you develop the technical capabilities we talked about at the beginning. However, in the real world, you should also discuss negotiate and make compromises with the other side of the table. There is no teacher, but there are clients, specialists, and contractors. Do not expect everyone to treat you like a big shot, the rest of the participants feel equally important and that they have something relevant to say and defend. 

4. Learning to work as part of a team

© 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia, bajo licencia CC BY 2.0 + Caspar David Friedrich [Wikipedia, dominio público]

Yes, you learned to work together at university, but often your group divided the job up like it was the putting together a car on the assembly line of an automobile factory. When the day came to turn it in, you all met up and tried to put it together mechanically.

Teamwork is more than that, and as in the previous point, it means learning to discuss. In addition, in the professional world there are corporate hierarchies and specialties. Some opinions carry more weight than others (of course they do, it’s your boss), but don’t be afraid to put your position out there, defend it and listen to the rest.

5. Speak clearly. Without poetry. Please.

© raumlabor + Caspar David Friedrich [Wikipedia, dominio público]

The architectural language is special. It’s not only special because of the technical concepts that you’ve adopted, but also because of all those adverbs, nouns and verbs that are seemingly profound and poignant but devoid of all meaning. Why do we use them? Well your professors really liked them and they bring up fond memories of architecture school. However, in the eyes of society it is one of the reasons why our profession isn’t taken seriously. We talk funny.

Talking funny is one thing. Another is having a rich, broad and complex language. Saying nothing at all is something else entirely. Examples? Attributing anthropomorphic properties to your project as if it were a pokémon is totally bizarre. Yes, it is a subjective and personal reading on your work, but it is not clear, or directly or convincing. You can put it another way.

Don’t expect someone to understand that a piece "wishes to rest on a hill and look out over society" or that its concept is "a circumstantial dynamic of urban retreat." You aren’t saying anything. We talked about this a while ago and a selection of “150 weird words that only architects use." Some advice? Save the list somewhere and try to eliminate or replace them.

6. The official wage chart is useless.

© Glasgow School of Art, bajo licencia CC BY 2.0 + Caspar David Friedrich [Wikipedia, dominio público]

Don’t get frustrated when you see that the official rate scale for architects doesn’t match your own experience. Don’t get upset with your school or your dean. For this, there are two answers, the long one and the short one.

Let’s go with the short answer: this goes beyond architecture. In a market of supply and demand, the oversupply of architects makes for cheaper labor.

7. Self-promotion. Having ideas isn’t enough.

© Phil Stanziola [dominio público vía Wikipedia] + Caspar David Friedrich [Wikipedia, dominio público]

Before we had Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. Now there’s Bjarke Ingels. Whether we like it or not, the most well-known architects are also those who do the most self-promoting. Instead of waiting for clients, they offer proposals. They established connections with other fields. They rejected the status quo of the occupation and breakthrough. They did it their way. They published, presented, and discussed. They were convinced of their principles and pushed to make them a reality.

Pro tip: It’s not enough to have the best ideas if you can’t get them across. If our profession is an enrichment to society and we’re convinced that we can contribute, then you should be able to communicate. Don’t expect that, after working quietly for decades, somebody is going to show up on your doorstep holding the Pritzker (or whatever award that you care about the most).

The best  (and strongest) ideas are dispersed, spread, discussed, reformulated, expanded and compared.

8.  Is the history of architecture a social construct or "Why don’t we know more prominent women architects?"

© Robert Venturi + Caspar David Friedrich [Wikipedia, dominio público]

I am of the opinion that history is a social construct. Its construction is the story of people who write it, schools that influence it, and institutions that validate it. In the case of architecture, it is quite clear. Don’t you find it strange that there is such little recognition of women in our discipline? Cases of injustice are numerous and, fortunately, we are uncovering more and more sexism from the twentieth century. Unfortunately, that vision of architecture is what was then passed on to generations of students. Furthermore, this also lead us to look at ethnic minorities. We are not just talking about history because the wage gap remains scandalous.

The marginalization of Scott Brown in connection to the 1991 Pritzker award of her husband, Robert Venturi. Or the constant prosecution of Zaha Hadid, even when she was already a shining star in the architect world. In the daily lives of thousands of architects, injustice knows no cultural or economic barriers, such as the 19 cases rescued by the New York Times on daily inequality.

How many women have individually won the Pritzker? One, Zaha. How many Latinos? Four. Africans? Zero. Are there no architects of this magnitude or are they invisible? In the end, architecture (and its history) is a long reading, it is assumed knowledge to be the official version and it is then taught it to us. We must avoid repeating that mistake. It's time to confront this history, expand it, make it more complex and diverse.

9. You don’t know anything, but you will learn everything along the way.


© Felipe Combeau & Pablo Alfaro + Caspar David Friedrich [Wikipedia, dominio público]

We left university thinking that we don’t know anything. We went to an all-you-can-eat buffet and chose a little of everything, but at the end of the meal, we were still not satisfied. This is one of the major frustrations of getting a degree it inhibits us from applying for new jobs and positions, or to try new things.

Don’t worry, because you will learn everything along the way. Can't you fill out the required city forms? Surely you have a teacher or a friend who already knows how. Contact them. Don't you know how to construct a foundation on wet ground? Research it, speak to somebody, review old plans, ask someone who already has been working for a while. There is always someone who’s already done it. It's not the end of the world.

You need to try, fail, figure out, and accomplish.

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About this author
Cite: Valencia, Nicolás. "9 Lessons For Post-Architecture-School Survival" [9 lecciones para enfrentar la Arquitectura tras salir de la universidad] 04 Feb 2019. ArchDaily. (Trans. Valletta, Matthew) Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/793537/9-lessons-for-post-architecture-school-survival> ISSN 0719-8884

© OMA + Caspar David Friedrich [Wikipedia, dominio público]


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