It is not uncommon to see some dreamy-eyed fresh graduates from Architecture school joining their first Architecture Firm hoping to be the next Frank Lloyd Wright or Le Corbusier. But the reality is harsh and toilet drawings are important, and neither FLW nor LeCorb had a degree in Architecture.
Instead, they started early and taught themselves through experience.
There is a huge gap between school and practice that professionals keep whining about and schools turn a blind eye to. This gap often takes months, if not years, for young ambitious architects to cover to become a productive, creative member of the society. Most of them, however, don’t make it and comfort themselves in the Architecture-doesn’t-pay club.
A growing number of schools are instilling into their students with an ‘artiste-mindset’. That they’re going to populate the streets with ‘their’ expression, and Architects, in some mystical way, are above everyone else they are dealing with. The greatest architects are the Creative Geniuses who create arbitrary shapes on a paper napkin and magically get them built (which would be an unfair judgment of Frank Gehry too)
It is not that Design isn’t important, it certainly is, but Architecture schools over-emphasize it and give students the impression that it is the only thing worth knowing.
Are you an artist or a craftsman?
Further, most schools are machines with decade-old cogs who no longer are in touch with technological advancements of the construction industry. Professors who teach full-time (and that’s most of them) tend to keep to the academics — repeating the same material sometimes over decades of their teaching career.
Architecture as art is as old as humanity itself and there are timeless principles that govern our sense of beauty and composition; Architecture as science, on the other hand, is a constantly evolving field that requires rigorous discipline and keeping an eye out for the latest advancements – in related as well as unrelated fields. For example, CAD which was revolutionary 30 years back is being replaced by better-integrated BIM programs which reduce the workload by half. It is no news that designing buildings has a lot of repetitive tasks and can be delegated to sufficiently advanced software programs. With recent developments in AI, it is foreseeable in the coming decade to have entire residences designed by computer software, provided it has just enough information.
Where does that leave the Architects? Not drawing or managing, but conceptualizing and dealing with the bigger problems.
The purpose of Architecture school is to help the students appreciate the built environment with a fresh untainted perspective, making sure that their designs are safe to live and presenting their ideas to clients. At best, an Architecture school is an incubation center for novel concepts and ideas, giving them space to develop and concretize just enough before moving into the real world. At worst, it is an echo chamber of clichéd design advice and outdated criteria of evolution.
There are many successful Architects who never completed a degree in Architecture, including but not limited to world-famous architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies Van Der Rohe, Louis Sullivan, Peter Zumthor, and Tadao Ando.
Architecture is ‘learned’ first through observation, then the cycles of Ideation, Drawing, and Execution – with inspiration sprinkled now and then.
It is combining vision with grunt work in order to actualize it in the real world.
Architecture requires a variety of skills and having a mentor, who knows how to balance the vision with the grunt, can rapidly accelerate one’s learning curve; Bjarke Ingels had Rem Koolhaas as his mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright had Louis Sullivan. Great breeds great.
Self-governance is a crucial component of learning anything on your own. Adaptability and teamwork another. If you can’t learn on your own, keep up with the changing trends of the industry, don’t expect to go very far.
Learn to sketch. Learn to observe. Ask questions. Understand why buildings are built the way they are, who are the people involved and what role they play in the process? Understand first and innovate later.
Leave the drafting board. Travel. Observe and discern patterns – among building facades and movement of people, and how human behavior differs from one environment to another.
Practicing Architecture is playing God, and God is a skilled craftsperson.
Stay in school or not, take your learning in your hands. There is no other way to be.
Himanshu Kalra is an Architect / Writer on the mission to understanding the interplay between individuals and their physical, societal environments. His latest obsessions are perceptual and environmental psychology, systems thinking, cultural evolution and Zen.