21 Sep 2010
So today’s another Blog Off, an event where bloggers of all stripes weigh in on the same topic. This week’s topic is “Do social sites like Facebook connect the world or isolate people?”
Sometimes you get more than you bargained for … but it’s not always a bad thing, it’s just unexpected. I am sitting on a panel at the upcoming Texas Society of Architects State Convention titled “The Purpose of Social Media for Architects”. I was asked to participate due to my blogging prowess writing www.lifeofanarchitect.com (despite only having been at it for about 2 months at the time). I told, them “I don’t know what I’m doing, I just started myself”. Yeah, but I do have a story and I have crammed in a lot of experience over the last 4 months.
One of the items that I was going to discuss was what has happened to me since I started writing my blog. Despite my sometime foolishness, there are people out there who are connecting with that foolishness – or at least looking for some sort of real world balance between their experiences, what they read and see in magazines, and mine. As a result, I get a few dozen emails a week from readers asking me for guidance or my opinion on what they should do next – and I answer every single one of them. I didn’t bargain on this when I started, I would have been happy if the people I worked with actually bothered to read my blog (they don’t). I’m also pretty sure that other than my Dad, my wife and my mother-in-law, no one in my family reads it either. Oh well. Being an idiot and one day finding yourself in a position where people want to know what you think is a little startling. Don’t get me wrong, until I learn otherwise, I am right on all things (something to do with the thick skin I built up while in architecture school).
I thought I would share with you 3 emails I received on the same day, within about 20 minutes of one another. I didn’t ask for permission to post these so I have removed their names so hopefully they won’t get too bent out of shape since I know that they do read my blog and might be surprised to find their email here. If you are an architect or designer and you have been thinking about the purpose of social media, keep reading below and start blogging.
I just wanted to thank you for your site. I just graduated from Washington University in St. Louis (College of Architecture), and as a young professional, it is always helpful to learn more about the profession from an actual architect. So many magazines these days have interviews with and tips from well-known architects of our day—Star-chitects, as they are so lovingly called—but these individuals make up about 1% of the working population. Their working conditions, their work in and of itself, isn’t traditional, it’s extra-ordinary. This is not to say their advice is not helpful, but rather, less tangible, less relatable. So, long story short, thanks for your posts. The circumstances you describe, the issues about what I would call “real-world architecture” are quite helpful to me, and ultimately provide me with something of greater value than what I can find in the glossies. Keep it up.
My name is [removed]. I’m an architect as well, well intern architect, and I really enjoy reading your blog. Many of my architecture friends and I love passing around your blog posts because we all can relate to your experiences as a up and coming architect just trying to make a living and still have somewhat of a social life. I have been meaning to ask if your firm or any firm you know of in the Dallas area may be looking to hire an intern architect. I left my job in Baton Rouge, La on August 1st to find bigger, better things but as you know, the economy is not helping out at all with potential jobs. I would be more than happy to send over my resume and a slide from my portfolio for you to have a look at if you would like. I also have an online portfolio that you can find at the bottom of this email. I would appreciate any tips, advice, or information you might have dealing with jobs or just the architectural profession in general. Thanks for your help and best of luck for future projects!
I included my response to this next email because it seemed relevant and I get asked these questions quite often. (If I had thought that I was going to reissue these answers so publicly, I would have spent more time on them and made myself look even smarter – of well. In an effort of full disclosure and transparency, I have included my response exactly as I had sent it off. Yes, I am now painfully aware that I did not understand the 5th question. I thought the questions was how has my architectural career changed me since I graduated)
Dear Mr. Borson,
My name is [removed] and I am a student at [removed]. My intention is to enter architecture school in the fall of next year and as a career project, I am researching both the field of architecture and information about the architecture as a profession. As part of this research, I am interviewing architects about their experience in the field.
After having come across your blog multiple times while researching architecture, I am interested to know your opinions and insight regarding architecture. I have enclosed a list of questions regarding architecture as a career. If you do not mind and have the time, would you consider answering a few? Any information would be helpful.
1. How did you prepare yourself for the work that you are doing?
My answer isn’t particularly specific to doing architecture or being an architect. I prepared myself by showing up every day, paying attention, and trying to do my very best.
2. What is an average day like for you?
Not very glamorous I’m afraid. I am a senior project manager and designer so I spend a mixture of most days talking to contractors, teaching junior architects what they need to know, designing and working on the computer. I do not have a typical schedule because the nature of my practice requires me to be available when my clients need me. That generally means I work a lot of weekends and evenings. That having been said, the social nature of the process means that my meetings are frequently like friends getting together and simply talking about things they want. At times, it does not seem like work.
3. Describe your first two years in the field.
I graduated in 1992 and went to work for a sole practitioner whose practice focused mostly on retail design. There was quite a bit of travel – but not the glamorous kind, day trips to look at an empty retail space, take some measurements and travel back home. I did get a considerable amount of responsibility at a very early age simply due to the fact that our office was very small and everyone who worked there had several tasks that they were responsible for completing. Within 2 years, I was meeting with clients by myself, creating the designs for their projects and doing the construction drawings by myself. I didn’t realize it at the time but my skill set is well suited to doing several things at once. As I progress through my career and found myself working at larger firms where my tasks were singular in nature, I became bored and unfocused.
4. What skill that you learned in college have you found to be most useful?
Hard work and personal ownership are two traits that every successful architect demonstrates. It goes beyond being proud in your work – most architects feel that the work they do creates a meaningful environment for people and shapes how people go about their day. To know that your work will be on display for everyone to see and judge can be a strong motivator.
5. How has architecture as a career changed since you graduated college?
I don’t think that it has changed me – it has played a part in shaping who I am but that is more of an evolution that would happen to most people as they get older and become exposed to more things in life .
6. Describe your architecture firm.
My firm has 8 people in it and we primarily design middle to high end residential projects. Our typical project lasts about 18 months from start to finish. We are a group that gets along very well and we are allowed to express ourselves through our work and our office space. It is not uncommon for music to be playing in the back room nor is it all that unusual that we get together when we are not working.
7. What preparation do you suggest for someone interested in architecture?
Get used to looking at the built environment. One of the skill sets every architect (or designer for that matter) has to have is the ability to articulate why you like or dislike a thing, space, material, etc. That is probably the singular most trait that separates me from my clients. They might show me something that they like and if I ask them what they like about it, a typical answer might be “it just feels right”. I might look at it and think that the ratio of room width to room height is well balanced, the natural light is coming in from a north window, and with the dark floors and light colored walls, the room appears larger while still maintaining a sense of enclosure rather than exposure.
8. What are the distinctions between Environmental Design, Industrial Design, Architecture, and Interior Design within your work
For me, this is a difficult question to answer. I work with people every day with these various degrees but they are all still designers so we are able to speak the same language. The real distinction is that the training and path to becoming professionally licensed is different for each of these groups. If I need to go into greater detail, please let me know.
Maybe as an indication of the times we are in, I have become an advocate of the architectural profession – defending its merits to panicked college architectural students wondering if it’s too late to get out or is there anything else they can do with their degrees once they graduate.
One evolving reason I have continued to write posts for my blog is that I do feel more connected to the design world. The “Social Media” aspect of this process is very real and has had a profound impact on my immediate bubble. No longer am I focused singularly on how I go about my day – now I spend part of my time thinking about how other people are going about their days. For those people who have reached out to me, to establish some sort of connection, looking for some sort of answer or common ground, this is a brief but meaningful connection, or at least I hope it is. This is how people are communicating – globally. There is something happening here and I don’t want to miss it – it’s not that big a leap to wake up one day and realize that I have become irrelevant and can no longer speak the language of the next generation, and for an architect whose greatest asset is his ability to communicate, that would be a tragedy.