I fully expect to have some people disagree with me today, even go so far as to unsubscribe because this is the post that they finally decide I am truly an idiot (something that they should have already figured out quite honestly…)
Last week I wrote the following line:
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it doesn’t count if it doesn’t get built.
– Bob Borson
That line prompted a lot of people to send me an email to let me know that I was wrong, that I wasn’t considering all the angles, that there were ideas in those projects that didn’t get built that could serve me well down the road. I even had good friend and fellow architect Jody Brown from Coffee with an Architect write an article because he couldn’t get that comment out of his head. His article, titled ‘What architects do doesn’t count‘ came out and included this phrase:
…I mean in general, my work isn’t about a built project. It’s about a vision of an unbuilt project. Or more specifically, my work is about visualizing an as yet realized building. My work isn’t a physical thing that you can order from Amazon. My work is not a thing at all. It’s a path to a thing.
– Jody Brown
I like Jody quite a bit and would generally concede that he is smarter than I am but I think he’s only telling a small portion of the story. I should say that I think he’s right about visualizing an as yet unrealized building – but every single building that any architect has ever worked on fits this description. Getting the work built is what makes it real and tangible and not just an idealized version of a possibility.
What about a chef that doesn’t cook? Could you imagine going out to dinner and having the waiter explain to you the vision for that night’s specialty (probably something with foams, sperification, and prepared sous vide) and then the waiter brings out an empty plate because it was a concept that might lead to other actual realized specialties? I suppose what I am trying to say is that you can talk about food all you want (and people do like to talk about food) but until it shows up on the plate and you can actually taste it, I don’t think that counts either. There is a lot that goes into making a dish than the concept – call it the execution – and any architect who tells me that their project turned out exactly how they drew it is full of baloney (pun intended). Maybe that’s a lazy analogy but it’s just one that comes to mind. As architects, we strive to create buildings and spaces that shape and impact the lives and experiences of the people who use and interact with them. Anything less is a disappointment.
What about the person who spends 5 or 6 years attending architecture school, then spends another 3 or 4 years going through the NCARB experience requirements, and then never sits for the architectural registration exam? Seeing something through to completion is important to me regardless the circumstances.
The point I was trying to convey when I wrote “it doesn’t count if it doesn’t get built” was not to discount the process or the value the experience might convey. I have worked on a lot of projects that have never come to fruition and I have some sort of disappointment associated with every one of them. I became an architect to get things built, to get my ideas realized, to shape the lives of the people who use them – all of these things.
The process, the path, the journey …whatever you want to call it – they all have value but the people who come to us for the services we provide are looking for a way to realize some vision that they have and they need the help of an architect to articulate it. Nobody really cares about the drawings we create – those are a means to an end but it is that end that brings us to work. Jody is right that … no one is ever passionate about actual pieces of paper … but rather what those pieces of paper represent – a realization of something ethereal, an idea, a possibility. Getting those dreams or needs realized in built form is why I come to work. If all the work I put in was never actually seen through the entire process and actually built, I wouldn’t be an architect.
But it would seem that I am alone in this regard … or at least in the minority.