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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
I 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.Subscribe to my blog to read more about the tricky world of being an Architect in the 21st century: Shoegnome on Facebook, Twitter, 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.