Full disclaimer: The following article is not meant to scare off aspiring architects towards the profession of architecture, or to bring doubt into the minds of architectural students, but to present a holistic picture of what to anticipate whilst entering the professional field of Architecture.

Architecture- A profession of stress?
Architecture – a stressful profession ©www.dezeen.com

How many times has it been when going through architectural job or internship opportunities, you notice “ability to work well under stress”, “strong resistance to stress”, “having a high level of stress control”, or its equivalent as a skills requirement? Or how many times have you added or discussed this “remarkable” ability to handle stressful situations in your curriculum vitae or the job interviews? Is the profession of Architecture entirely synonymous with stress?

With long, comprehensive design processes, numerous deadlines, and the necessity to make informed decisions efficiently, dealing with changing requirements of the client’s brief, and bringing them out into design, coupled with frequent journeys to sites, delicate team working environments, and potential low salaries, it is certainly not surprising that most architectural practitioners are often heard complaining about feeling strained and unable to manage a good work-life balance.

Moreover, the majority of architectural students all around the world are also known for regularly pulling all-nighters, isolating themselves for work, skipping meals, exercise, socializing to tend to press deadlines and to complete large amounts of work. A survey by Architect’s Journal in 2016 found that 25% of architecture students in the United Kingdom had to resort to seeking help for mental health. These discussions in the Architects’ Journal also claim that while these problems are widespread and systematic, they are also ongoing and probably getting worse. Does this information take you by surprise?

Unfortunately, while we try to assign a correlation between a problem in the field of the profession of architecture and stress, or relate to it at an experiential level, we cannot prove it as to how it exists in the whole profession. The exact nature of its cause or the elements in particular to the architectural culture being the same as what is affecting mankind as a whole is still somewhat of a mystery. Nevertheless, while we also try to extract the advantageous aspects of our field from this list of challenges, we know for sure that this is a profession defined by its own distinctive identity, shaped by an intensive and rich disciplinary history, embarking on many fields as well, with a strong dynamic culture whose beauty encapsulates the whole population. The high levels of professional networking, a sense of community engagement, and a feeling of shared purpose are one that classifies its marvels.

Yet, we also do believe that the mental health challenges that architects face originate from within the architectural culture – the workplace practices, attitudes, and experiences that exist in the educational and professional realm of architecture. A multilayered, paradoxical field as it is, it is often unsustainable and unwarranted. Coming to terms with the existence of what one faces – a well-being problem that is worsened by the culture that has been allowed to go on since its foundation, we still have very little idea of how we could mitigate the issues without undermining the aspects that seem to embody us all.

Furthermore, Tim Horton and the NSW Architects Registration Board commissioned a report on research related to “the prevalence or incidence of mental illness in the sector.” In 2016 which concluded that “there exists a dearth of research around the mental health concerns facing architects, when students, when seeking employment, and when employed.” It suggested that primary research be commenced to form “a clearer picture of the current context of the profession” and “a framework for mental health promotion, prevention, and early intervention.” While it is true that given other problems that we as human beings are facing, especially with the ongoing pandemic, the work-related wellbeing of architects might seem like a first-world problem but who is to say that action in the area is to be taken only when we hit a crisis in the field. We should certainly aim to work towards achieving a preventative measure, understanding the people affected, and the impacts that our culture is creating as a whole – thus, addressing the root cause of the problem itself.

While often we try to discuss these “adverse” situations with our friends and acquaintances from other fields, it so happens that none of them can truly understand or relate to what we feel. Adjusting a few feet into or out of a room, rotating a plan, moving a staircase, removing a wall, a column, or a beam, adding a new space, chamfering a corner, are just examples of little things we do on a normal basis that might seem meaningless or maybe just insignificant to our friends, but the consequences of adjustments needed to accommodate these changes are indeed rewarding but also mighty, and stressful indeed. Attending to last-minute changes, the printer running out of paper or ink especially at the brink of a deadline, wrong printing, unresponsively slow computer systems, alien behavior by software, crashes and lagging, misplacing stationery, conflicting suggestions, from colleagues or peers, are just a few that categorize our daily lives, often making for hilarious memories later on, but whilst we deal with them in the present, it certainly complicates the beauty of the architecture process into one of stress and strain.

The creative and highly cathartic process of architectural design, while it presents a unique culture, but this very notion is plagued by this sense of perfection, of individual authorship bringing with itself long and intense work hours and regimes. The expectations that come from an architect related to the notion of the welfare of society and the pursuit of the common good, in turn, results in them prioritizing others’ needs above their own. This, alongside limited resources and work perks that are often available in small-scale practices, tends to work against the favor of architects leading to pressure, overall high stress, and frequent incidents of burnouts. Moreover, these challenges are reflected in educational studios too that follow suit, categorized by competitiveness, deadline-driven approach, and critique that are grade and result-oriented.

As architects constantly try to design spaces that respond to the needs of people, allowing them to live well and comfortably and to feel good as well, it is only essential that these very concepts should be implemented for them in day-to-day working life. Therefore, it is quite clear that more research needs to be carried out to understand the profession of architecture and its relation with work-related stress, how it seeps into the individual identity and wellbeing of practitioners and students. Accepting the problem seems to be the first step, and then substantial, systematic research on the issue could pave the way to produce practical, discipline-specific resources and initiate a much-needed discourse on how we can improve the architectural culture and hence, bring about greater well-being of architects, and work on making significant, meaningful change.

Author

An Architect by profession, a writer, artist, and baker by interest, Amna Pervaiz sees Architecture and Urban Planning as a multifaceted avenue allowing her to explore a plethora of disciplinary elements. She sees the field as an untapped canvas; a journey she hopes would one day lead her towards social responsibility and welfare.

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