High school geometry, algebra, calculus, physics; a bachelors, then masters degree and certified licenses? Is that all it takes to being an architect?
This article looks beyond the classical path of profession, exploring what more it takes to be a ‘good’ architect.
If you are not an architect but have travelled with one, you know the horrors of critiquing ensuite bathroom layouts, pointing at ‘dimension flaws’ of the hotel stairs and historical narrations of the cathedral they dragged you into. Flight tickets just may be the expensive candy you give a premature architect. But what is it, that allows travelling to be numero uno on the list for looking beyond the quintessential?
Artist Salvador Dali, once mentioned that there was no such thing as originality. The birth of every great idea, was consciously or subconsciously, inspired by the existence of something else. This makes travelling for architects, a kind of mandate. Seeing and understanding the world at a macro level encourages architects to make space for world cultures while including diverse needs and wants in their planning. This is specially vital in present day globalised condition of society. It also familiarises them with a range of aesthetics and design fundamentals, allowing them to refine personal design strategies.
Le Corbusier, like many other famous architects travelled to cities such as Athens, Venice, Vienna, and Munich, while working for different firms.
2. Travel without moving your feet : Books & Zines!
Tadao Ando, the Japanese architect responsible for the church of light in Ibaraki, Osaka; was a boxer before he discovered his passion for architecture. Financially incapable of attending university, Ando decided to take on the profession by teaching himself. Books played a huge part in this process, while he attended night classes as well as studied buildings in Japan and overseas.
Similar to travel, books are capable of transporting one out of their linear thinking process, expanding their confines by offering diverse perspectives. Architecture books cover a wide scope of topics including construction, history, social responsibilities in architecture, psychology, philosophy and so on; all essential for an architect to develop skills beyond studio academia. On the other hand, magazines may provide latest news and updates on trends, expositions, professional idols in addition to advertisements of products and technology which may change the course of an architect’s practice.
3. Internships or Apprenticeship
Internships are when university students acquire a short term chance to work in an industry for them to gain experience. This may be a paid or an unpaid event, exposing students to the realities of the profession.
Whereas apprenticeships, unlike internships are long, paid term training programs in an industry; usually ending in the employee getting a job at the firm.
Industry experience has been key, in the lives of emerging architects. Irrespective of their formal architectural training, mentors they seek education under seem to be a great deal responsible for shaping the design character possessed by an architect. For instance, contemporary architect, Peter Zumthor apprenticed with an expert local cabinet-maker before turning to design education and the greatest American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright based some of his initial work after mentorship under Louis Sullivan.
4. Sketch to study
Architects are visual professionals. From the beginning, it has been vital for architects to sketch out their vision to sell their idea to a client. Following Corbusier’s philosophy of ‘drawing leaving less room for lies’, architecture tutors in institutes insist that students must have at least basic sketching skills for them to easily communicate without lengthy, monotonous pitches.
In the thinking hand, architect and theorist Juhani Pallasmaa in his book, the Thinking Hand emphasises on how the hand operates as champanion to the eye and the brain; allowing a certain porosity between emotion, imagination and drawing.
On taking a visual arts class, initial studies most definitely would require the artist to sit in front of an object – a fruit, a glass full of water or maybe even a composition for them to study and draw an impression of what they see. As time passes by, the qualities of the same object are somehow enhanced because the amount the artist sees, increases. Practice would allow the artist to not only understand details in a profound manner but also incorporate the physical process of drawing as muscle memory. Similarly, if an architect, walks up to a building with the intent of ‘empathising’, sketching parts of it – plan, section, elevation or joinery details; would allow the architect to imprint the case study in their memory. Moreover, prove as assistance in thinking about how the structure is compiled and stands as it does.
5. Familiarize yourself with the art world
As diverse as they are, artists and architects – one having an image of being free spirited and wild while architects carry a stern, sincere, formal reputation; history shows visual arts arena to have greatly impacted architectural movements and philosophies. Architects have known to have been artists, have artists as contemporaries or even as muse.
Familiarity with and passion for concepts other than architecture could escalate the quality of designs produced. For instance, architect Oona Stanescu known to have merged pop culture and architecture claims that rapper Jay Z’s Carter III played an important role in her thesis project.
Specifically, in the case of visual arts, artists are known to start revolutions and think beyond what is considered, at times, acceptable by society. They are known to break barriers between materiality, ideology, time and space; essential components to making ‘good’ architecture. Although, the purpose of this part of the article is not to equate the profession of architecture to that of an artist, but to suggest that communicating with artists while indulging in an art form can encourage stimulating work.
6. Network and connect
Monkey see, monkey do! Well, at the end of the day Homo sapiens are distinct species of the hominid family, the great apes. So, it’s safe to say, the people we connect with on a daily basis, may just be setting a tone for our lives too.
Many of the trends of today’s job market revolve around ‘knowing the right people’. Talent aside, if you have enough and apt contacts, you might just get a job at the most popular firm in the state. When we say networking, we don’t mean faking relationships while licking arse.
Networking can very much be a natural, wholesome and real process about connecting with others similar to you or mentors you admire, by being absolutely genuine in your approach. Just as in life : Not everyone will validate the way you approach the situation, but those who do will respect you for the kind of person you are.
Another thing to remember while networking is how important it is not to look, solely, beyond where you stand currently. Networking can be amongst your university peers, juniors and seniors, at your current job or even at an informal architecture conference in the city. To make it easy, be nice. Make an attempt to communicate with people around you and that would be your attempt tp network.
7. Find your jam, build your brand!
We recognise Philip Johnson by his peculiar round, dark, imposing glasses, Zaha’s work by the organic curves of her building, Donal Trump’s pungent personality by the way he says, huge! And his orange-ness of course.
According to Forbes, branding oneself has never been as important as it is today. From fashion choices to personal social media curation to definitely the kind of hair you keep – says something about you to someone who does not know your bones.
Although, it is important to realise that external appearances are just a marginal percent of your personality; it is as crucial to consciously recognise the power of the brand you carry.
For architects, branding also exists as choice of building materials, form or composition volumes in a design. Something that instantly suggests the involvement of a particular person or group of people at the glance of a built structure. It makes them recognisable and relatable. Forbes magazine, in an article on branding states,”No branding, no differentiation. No differentiation, no long-term profitability. In the business of architecture, as egoistic as it may seem, it is the truth about contemporary ‘starchitect’ culture. Most times, importance is given more on long term than it is on profitability because just as an artist, in this way an architect becomes immortal even after her/his demise.
Currently a student of Architecture at the University of Sydney, Shristi Sainani is an artist and a certified interior designer. She is an absolute enthusiast for learning – an avid traveller, reader of anything non-fiction, a lifter! Yes, she could be your typical gym bro or even you local potter. But her all time favourite job is the one she’s doing now, for RTF— writing about architecture!