I am an Architect. The proudest moment of our lives, we earned this through public humiliation in the jury, endless crying, sleepless nights, and the bitterness of the black coffee. The dream has been achieved, you are floating on the clouds and suddenly a relative asks, “I heard you are architecture now? Will you design my house for free?” And you are back in the ill-informed world with so many fascinating questions like these. I once dared to answer “How about you pay me?” then came the baffling reply “It will give to the experience I am giving you a valuable opportunity.” Hence, began the journey of experiences.
As Zaha Hadid said on the frustrations of life as an architect, “If you want an easy life, don’t be an architect. Ask anybody in my office. You have to work all the time. If you want a nine-to-five job and go home and relax, just don’t do it.”
The first job, most definitely not your dream job because have you seen the salary of fresher architects in India. Still every bit excited as it is the dream job you arrive in the actual field of design hoping to design extraordinary concepts for buildings with huge budgets and amazing sites, but end up with designing toilets. Then comes the most astonishing conversation everyone of us has had, “Didn’t they teach you anything in college?” And this is how they welcome you to the rest of your sleepless and laborious life where you are always like a cat on hot bricks. Then hit the nostalgia of those good old days of college, the coffee with friends, hating on professors together, those late-night prints, how can we ever forget those ‘group projects’ basically a justice league where everybody is struggling until superman shows up.
We do trade up from humiliating juries to ignorant clients that assume Pinterest is a better designer than us. Yet they still provide us with a chance to create something that will last, probably not as long as those juries.
I remember my first site visit; I was super excited to see a design that I worked on actually being executed. But don’t be fooled by my enthusiasm, the contractors are about to build a windowless wall in the toilet of my hopes and dreams. As a fresher architect, you have to prove yourself to contractors on the site that you know what you are talking about because they will test you no matter what. But if you are lucky enough to be a woman in architecture may the lord provide you with the strength to argue with every contractor who believes he knows more than you and be ready to be talked over you as if you are invisible.
We are not invisible.
I have had contractors assume that my design is wrong and he needs to act independently of me and approach the client with his designs that are ‘the latest designs’. I could as well be a third wheel on a date between my client and my contractor. The stereotypes don’t end here, because you most definitely will have a relative ask you “Why don’t you do an Interior decoration course it will help you as it is the field for women.” So, you are elevated from explaining the difference between architecture and architect to explaining the difference between interior design and interior decoration. The patriarchal roots are not limited to the ignorant people around us but extend to the practitioners of the field this becomes clear when I saw the male to female ratio in the courses named Interior Design and Interior Architecture. These programs were the same in content just different in name but as dictated by societal norms Interior Architecture is more masculine and hence a larger density of male students.
At least the fresher architects don’t have to worry about the pay gap as virtually nobody is getting paid anything. As they say, if you want to earn good money in the architectural field then open your firm and if you are a woman hope you will get to run interior projects in the said firm.
Architecture and architects have their flaws but, it also is the most diverse and passionate field of design, you can venture out into so many different paths. We could be a photographer, writer, painter, product designer, interior designer, fashion designer, game designer, and the list just goes on. Here everyone is different, so anyone can fit in. Architecture is always hopeful, be hopeful to find the path you are most passionate about but not too hopeful to dream about eight hours of sleep. We all made a deal with the devil and sold not our soul but our sleep, in exchange for the proudness to be called an Architect.