On be(com)ing an architect

or post-graduation-rant Part I

It’s been almost 5 months since I successfully graduated (in one piece and still breathing) from Architecture School, got my Master’s Degree and moved one big step closer to becoming a real architect, since for calling myself an architect I still need 3 years of work-experience and have to pass professional examination…

So how did I get here? … or where did I get exactly?

Choosing to study architecture

Somewhere before finishing my 3rd year of high school I started thinking about what I really wanted to do in my life. Well, it’s not really that I was ready to think about it, I was 16–17 years old, but I had to. So I didn’t really had an idea of all the possibilities in the world today. We had some guidance from school, they gave us some basic idea about what awaits us and since I went to Gymnasium ( I guess equivalent to preparatory schools in the US) basically all the options were open. I really couldn’t think of a job I would like to do for a long time, but I could think of numerous things that didn’t really interest me at all. Don’t get me wrong I’ve always had a wide range of interests but I could also tell if something didn’t spark any interest. Two of those, for me, completely uninteresting fields were Biology and Chemistry, so a lot of universities/jobs were not an option. (I actually remember the exact moment when I lost interest, it was when the teacher started explaining the angle between two atoms in a molecule. I mean really? How is that relevant for a 16 year old? )

Still, a wide range of subjects were still there. I always thought I was quite good at math and physics were always something that I found interesting. But the problem I had with those two is there wasn’t enough creative freedom in them. Art was always something I had interest in, I loved drawing since I was a kid, I enjoyed visiting the museums and overall learning about the artists and the whole world that surrounds them. For a second I thought about becoming an artist but I realised it wasn’t something for me, at that moment it seemed too impractical, too abstract for me. I wanted to do something that has an instant impact, something that improves people’s lives in a tangible way. So I came to architecture, it seemed as a perfect balance between the rationalism of mathematics/ physics and freedom of the artistic world. I didn’t really had an idea how the job really looks like or what I was actually supposed to do at the job but I was 100% persuaded that this is the thing I want to do and nothing else was an option for me.

Architecture 101

Stepping into the architecture world is basically like learning to swim. Except nobody tells you how to do it and you have no arms. To make matters worse I decided to study in another country so with my head under the water I also had to learn it in another language. (german to be precise)

During the very first semester of studying I realised a couple of things:

  1. Architecture is a masochistic world, so you really have to be in love with it in order to do it properly.
  2. You are here to observe the social life, not take part in it for the rest of your studies and bigger part of life.
  3. Nobody will tell you how to properly do something, because there is no universal way of solving problems in architecture. Still, they will make sure to tell you how not do it once you’ve tried it on your own.

Besides struggling with getting into the architect mindset (which takes about 2–3 years in my opinion) I was faced with learning how to use a wide range of programs, about 8–10 programs in 1–2 semesters. A basic introduction and showcase of advanced functions is given at the university but to be honest it is expected from you to teach yourself how to handle most of it. Here is where the problems start, suddenly I was supposed to be a professional graphic designer proficient in the entire Adobe Suite in order to make my plans, posters and brochures look good. Drawing plans is a completely different story and each architect uses a different program and methods of showcasing their projects. Needless to say that everything I did for the first year looked awful. But don’t worry, it gets better.

As I mentioned, the most important thing, getting into the mindset requires experience which requires time. So while I was trying to get this valuable experience and switch from my normal-person point of view, I realized the importance of the way I present my projects. The way I draw my plans, render my projects, put my posters together or build my models. I realized that at the end of the day I’m still just a guy trying to “sell my product” to the client. A valuable advice I gained from one of the professors was: “Explain your projects in a way that is clear and understandable to absolutely everyone, from a first grader to your grandmother.” I also realized the importance of storytelling with your project. About 80% of students (and unfortunately a large number of architects) talk about their buildings in a most boring way possible and that’s by literary telling you about every room, wall and door they placed in their plans. Don’t underestimate your audience, most of the people can already see where the things are, your job is to tell them why exactly your solution is the best one.

Fortunately for me, I realized early in my education the importance of 3D modelling and power of Photoshop. But although I realized it early, I still needed about 3 years to bring my projects to a level where I could show them just like I imagined it. Don’t underestimate the importance of this, I remember countless of times where I sketched some projects in my sketchbook and then had to radically simplify them when drawing it on PC because of my skills. This often ended up with bad results. Once I reached a certain skill level I was in my comfort zone and I could set my complete focus on the project itself.

The time consuming aspects of all of this are unimaginable for a high school student. I could have never been prepared enough for all of this and I still believe I need time to recover from it. Weekends, holidays, nights, there is no break if a deadline is ahead, and there is always something left to improve on your project. Deadline is the only way to end the project. Most of the students (me included) spent the whole night(s) before deadline working on their project and then going to present it. It is the most stressful part of being an architecture student, and it doesn’t differ much from the real life as I realized later. You have to be your best self during the presentation, you have to be prepared to answer all the questions everybody has about your project, and don’t worry there will be a lot of questions and sometimes that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Do I regret spending the nights working on my projects, staying in front of my monitor during the weekends, not going home for months, sacrificing my social life, struggling to learn all of this and completely changing the way I view the world?

No.

Why?

Because there is no better feeling than making a successful project.

But keep in mind there is also no worse feeling than investing a huge amount of energy and time into a project that fails at the end and this is bound to happen sooner or later. Important thing is to remember that this is normal, it is also the most direct way of learning.

This concludes the Part I

Part II:

https://medium.com/@IgorsonK/the-watchmaker-the-architect-8cc5a9c67114#.9km11jpbc

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