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How many Architects had I met prior to applying to Architecture School?

How many architects had I met prior to applying to architecture school?

I love this question because it has an insane answer:

  1. An architect came to my first grade class. For whatever reason, this experience convinced me that I wanted to be an architect. I have no idea who this person was, or if he even was an architect.
  2. I was really good friends with a pair of fraternal twins when I was in first and second grade. Their names were Eric and Claire. After second grade they moved back to Ohio, where their parents were from. In my late 20s, I joined Facebook and like many people spent the early days on the social network tracking down long-lost friends. I found these two and learned that their dad was an architect (and no, not the one that came to our class; weird, right?). I had no clue at the time. I remember that I liked talking with their parents and thought their dad was cool, but I was seven and eight when I knew them all. I had no idea what their dad did—other than read them all the Chronicles of Narnia books.

Two.

I had met two architects prior to applying to architecture school. That’s it. The next architect I met was on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis when I was flown out there in the Spring of 1999. Wash U was courting prospective architecture students and for whatever reason thought it was worth their while to fly a bunch of us out there. It was exciting, and my first experience of anything related to the education or practice of architecture. I was unimpressed.

There are a few things I love about that trip to St. Louis that are a little off topic. I got to fly first class from Connecticut to Missouri (I think that was a mistake made by someone in admissions, and I’ve never flown first class since). It was the first time I’d been that far west (other than a school trip to Europe the year before, I’d never left the east coast of the USA). Two other people in the group of prospects were future classmates of mine at Rice University. They eventually got married. But that was years and years later. We were all strangers who didn’t talk to each other at the time. There was also another future classmate of ours who was invited but chose not to go because he had already decided on Rice University.

August 6th 1999I had never set foot in an architecture school prior to my trip to Washington University in St. Louis, so I had no idea that what I was seeing was fairly typical. But as I said, I was unimpressed. It didn’t feel like what an architecture school was supposed to be like. The primary studio we visited was the freshman year drawing class. I liked art, but I was confused why they were talking to us about drawing rather than architecture. We even did a brief drawing class as part of the visit, where we sat by the St. Louis Arch and drew the skyline. I was clearly ignorant of what architecture schools were about. I’ve visited the School of Architecture at Washington University two times since that trip—once as a student and once as an architect. Having botched my college search experience, I made a point to revisit Wash U (and Tulane) when I was older. Both times I was much more impressed. I would have been happy there, and the program looked awesome—to someone who actually understood what he was seeing. But I’m glad I went to Rice University instead.

One other thing sticks out from my trip to St. Louis, which again was the third time I’d ever met an architect, though really the second time because I didn’t know one of the other two was an architect. And honestly it was the first time, because does who you meet when you’re seven really count? So let’s say this was the first time I was dealing with or meeting or talking to an architect.

All the prospective students were in a lecture hall learning about the architecture program. The dean—or someone else important—was spouting about how great their program was (it was and is). After the speaker finished, we were allowed to ask questions. For some reason I had the courage to raise my hand. I went with the classic interview question: “what was the main strength and weakness of their program?” The speaker fumbled for a bit then said “our strength is the 4+2 program.” That meant that after six years you walked out with a Masters of Architecture. Which is a nice perk. But at the time it was meaningless to me, a naive high school senior. The amazing part is what he said their weakness was, and I’m sure it’s a weakness they fixed over the past decade and a half. He said their weakness was “technology and computers.” I walked out of that room and chose a different school.

Now I think most schools (especially all the ones that I got into) suffered from that same weakness in 1999, and perhaps admitting that was actually a sign of strength. But as I think about the past and future of my career, it’s interesting that that’s how my first true interaction with an architect ended.

I decided the path of my life without ever talking with an architect. Without ever really learning what they did. I decided to become an architect because it felt like the right decision. I then decided which school (not) to attend based on one comment about technological weakness.

Had I talked to an architect in the 1990s, I probably would have been misled. I might have even walked away before starting down the path. Our profession is a bit different now. And only getting more so—especially if I have anything to say about it.Rice University basswood modelSubscribe to my blog to read more about the tricky world of being an Architect in the 21st century: Shoegnome on FacebookTwitter, and RSS feed. And here’s an easter egg for you: that t-shirt? It was from my high school band. I was much more prepared to become a musician than an architect when I was eighteen.

Comments

  • January 29, 2016
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    This is an excellent post – thanks. I went into architecture school never having met an architect at all but having spent a year in the art program at a state college and a year working at a civil engineering firm. So I had some perspective at least. When I stepped into the studio at Roger Williams College (now university) and saw the intensity of…well..everything. I knew it was for me. I felt sorry for all the kids who came straight out of high school and were dumped into the studio. I guess that’s part of why the BArch degree is going defunct.

  • January 29, 2016
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    Your story is refreshing and familiar. As most, we pursue and reach for our dreams not usually based on questions we ask and the answers we receive, but rather from that voice within us…you know the voice that just said, “What voice?” People most certainly can inform us. I like to refer to them as the living library. An unlimited source of data and advise. Some good and some not so much. As you, I wanted to be an architect since I was a pup. I attended an intercity high school designed by Mies’ grandson Dirk Lohan and that sort of sealed the deal. I spoke a few years back with Dirk about that school. He said, that he never met a student who attended before, nor one who became an architect as a result. Thinking back on that conversation, I conclude maybe you and I did the right thing.

  • January 29, 2016
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    Great article, Jared:

    Having grown up in an urban, working class side of the city in England, I didn’t ever meet any architects when I was growing up. But what transported me to the future with its technology and a world full of inventions was a comic strip I read every week called “Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future” The amazing art work of Frank Hampson and his team at The Eagle comic depicted a bright, technologically rich future (50 to 60 years from the time they were published) where community, friendships spanning the the globe and the whole economic spectrum actually worked. Space exploration and adventures were of course the core of the series but the detailed backdrops were as interesting as the plots themselves. It was this comic strip (famous in the British Commonwealth) that inspired me. And I think it was probably the spartan and often dysfunctional living conditions I grew up in-although I never felt poor at all-that got me into thinking about human habitat and how it could be radically transformed for the better.

    I remember commenting on the origins of my interest in architecture to the group of faculty who were interviewing prospective students for the School of Architecture. In the group interview of which I was a part, my fellow applicants all knew or had parents or relations who were architects or bankers. My dad drove buses and mom was a fantastic seamstress and tailor. ” Ooops..” I thought, “this isn’t good!” So when it came to my turn to talk about why I was interested in architecture, I talked about Dan Dare and the fascinating and exciting future that I thought had the capability of reshaping the places we inhabit.

    I was offered a place at Kingston University School of Architecture, London and 7 years later took my RIBA Part III professional practice license exams. Many years later in London, the Science Museum had an amazing exhibition called “Dan Dare and the World of Tomorrow.” It showed how influential that comic strip was on a huge array of inventions and products we have today – including smart watches, hybrid jet and rocket engines (www.reactionengines.com), orbiting space stations, Interstellar spacecraft design and engineering, certain building materials and a host of other gadgets. I also noted that in on scene on the spaceship Discovery, in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey, both astronauts were having dinner while listening to news broadcasts. They both had flat-screen tablet computers.

  • February 3, 2016
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    Thomas Burger

    I knew I wanted to be an Architect when I was in 6th grade doing a report on Japanese architecture; who needed to to talk to an architect after seeing (in print) those wonderful buildings?

    I applied to exactly one school – the University of Cincinnati because of their co-op program. After high school graduation I was a tenant coordinator for a building in my home town. I met a young architect – Gary Douglas – and a UC co-op student – Doug Walton. I knew I made the right decision. I only recently threw away the construction documents Doug drew and gave to me as samples. They were works of art that conveyed the design to the contractor beautifully. I miss being able to capture that level of art in the computer generated drawings we produce today.

    After starting classes, I attended a jury critique of Doug’s work. A Cincinnati bank building. At the end, I recall Professor Niland saying that this design is too good for paper – you have to build it. It was the highest praise I ever heard from Professor Niland.

    After all these years I still remember my visiting with Gary and Doug.

    And there is still nothing more exciting to me than sitting down with a roll of paper and developing designs with my clients.

    • February 3, 2016
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      Thomas:

      Responding to your missing the art of drawing, way back in the early 1980s, GDS, one of the first full blown BIM systems that was developed by ARC (UK) , had a really neat feature in line weights and styles. You could select a line style (dotted, solid etc.) and a line thickness just as you can in ArchiCAD today. But GDS also gave you the ability to choose whether the line thickness was centered, inboard or outboard of the zero line weight defining the line or the object’s boundary. It made details so much easier to build and to see at almost any scale because thin-sectioned items like flashings didn’t get swamped by an adjacent object’s line thickness as is often the case with ArchiCAD and other systems today.

      I’ve requested that GRAPHISOFT look into this feature.

  • April 22, 2016
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    I never met an architect until I worked for one my 3rd-6th years into my five year B.Arch degree. I decided in middle school that I wanted to be an architect during a drafting class. I confirmed I wanted to be an architect, but it would be hard work, when the high school drafting teacher’s son got the only left handed drafting machine (high tech, eh?). I selected NDSU because unlike UofMN I would not ever have to take calculus (my brother is an actuary, got all the math genes). I was admitted directly into the architectural program, I still believe because someone misgraded my SAT test, before I started my first year. I struggled with (almost) every studio class and professor I had because they were completely impractical and has no basis in common sense. (Thank God I was not at the UofMN)! I knew I was in the right career the moment I started my internship at a small Fargo firm, RPA, still in business and run now by the very competent Brian! They were practical, detail oriented, service oriented, folks, who created “regular” buildings for everyday people. All but one of the six firms I worked at were filled with similar hard working folks with integrity. One of the best (and worst) things I experienced was getting laid off in 2008 along with everyone else. I got a job w/ Pella Windows and got to meet hundreds of MInnesota Architects, including Jared at SALA. I became aware of the vast array of perceptions, purposes and passions in the field. I clarified that my role as a (STILL NOT REGISTED JARED…) can we say AIT legally yet, ughhh…22 years now, whatever the hell I am, is to walk the line between good design and constructable buildings that work. After 2+ years on my own this is the lesson. It does not matter if you know one or hundreds of architects if you do not know what YOUR values are and what you were created to do, there is a very wide berth in the architectural profession. Find and focus on what you are good at and are passionate about, and help others find their sweet spot in the AEC world. Oh….and don’t be an egoist or egotist….stupid Ayn Rand mandatory reading. Hate that I still love that book.

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