This is an easy question for me to answer because I have always wanted to be an Architect – even before I knew that the word “architect” even existed. The key word in that previous sentence is “knew” because I am at a loss to explain how a 5 year old would know such a thing. I can also tell you that the moment this decision was clarified in my mind was on Christmas day, 1973, when I was 5 years old. That year I received from Santa Claus; a T-square, an orange 45 degree triangle, and a laptop drafting board (which was basically a 24″ x 30″ piece of nice wood). I didn’t know what these things were but I remember looking at the drafting board and having this conversation:
5 year old Bob: “Man, I can’t wait to cut this up and make something cool!” (or something similar in 1970’s lingo as appropriate for a 5 year old)
Dad: “Hey, hey, ho hey!… that board’s not for cutting, it’s for drawing”
5 year old Bob: (thinking – “How can I draw with this piece of wood?”) … once a smart ass, always a smart ass.
the rest – as they say – is history…. (needle screeching on record) … What?!? No it isn’t, it’s not even close!
When I decided that today’s topic would be “What did you want to be when you grew up?” I thought I could take this opportunity to describe a few things that happened between that moment almost 39 years ago when I decided I wanted to be an architect to today. Despite me thinking from an early age that I knew what I was going to do when I grew up, I had many, many occasions of self doubt where I questioned my ability to actually be an architect. These moments were almost always followed by an overwhelming sense of panic – the sort of panic that occurs when you lose some sense of your purpose and self-identity. At these critical moments, I would tell myself that if I couldn’t be an architect, I would become a chef (don’t ask me why but that was my back up plan).
I didn’t take any drawing classes when I was in high school, I didn’t even take art classes. I did, however, take drafting classes every year but anything I learned from my drafting teacher – who was really the strength and conditioning coach for our high school football team – was quickly “un-learned” when I got to college. I also wasn’t very good at math … I have short term memory issues and hadn’t learned how to deal with that yet when I was in high school and the sort of linear thinking that math demands did not suit my beautifully complex yet disorganized brain. I was able to skate through high school with relative ease because I was smart enough to work the system and eventually graduated 7th in my class out of 365 (or so) kids. The bar wasn’t set that high at the public school I attended and without knowing the difference, I headed off to one of the highest rated architecture programs in the country thinking I had everything alllllll figured out.
When I arrived on campus and started off in the architecture program, I painfully became aware that the entrance requirements had separated the wheat from the chaff and there was little dead weight in any of my architecture classes. The amount of time and effort that was required to produce the work was staggering and I simply wasn’t prepared for the demands. As a result, the work I generated was beyond terrible and it was embarrassing to pin my work up next to that of my classmates. I shortly entered into one of those panic moments I described earlier where I thought “being an architect is all I’ve ever wanted to be …. and I’m terrible at it! What the hell am I going to do?”
What I did was take a year off from design studio and focus a little bit on growing up while trying to decide if I thought I had what was clearly needed to compete with the other students that were coming into the architecture program. This is not the sort of life crisis an 18 year old should have to deal with. I spent the next school year doubting myself, my abilities and my commitment level … it was not a good time for me. Towards the end of my sophomore year, one of my sisters pulled me aside one day and said “Mom and Dad are going to pull you out of school if you don’t get your sh*t turned around”.
I have since asked both my sister and my Dad if they recall that particular conversation and they have both denied it ever having taken place. Let me tell you with no uncertainty –
I remember it
I remember that conversation very clearly although, it wasn’t so much a conversation as it was a single declarative statement from my sister. Something did happen, though it may have been subtle. When I came back for my junior year, I was a different person and most everyone who remembers me from that time recognized it. That was when my competitive streak and fear of failure combined to create the perfect scholastic storm. From that moment on, I haven’t ever wondered if I made the right decision continuing down my chosen path as an architect. Some days are better than others but I can’t recall wishing that I had bailed out of the architecture program and switched in to something else. That same sister of mine has told me on several occasions that I should have gone into sales but that’s probably just because she knows it hasn’t always been easy for me to pay my bills. Luckily, those days have been behind me for many years.
If you are considering becoming an architect, or you are already in architecture school wondering if you should bail out now, and you’re thinking about sending me an email – you should consider the source you are asking. I have always wanted to be an architect and just had to find a way to make that work for me. If you do send me an email with either of those two questions, I am going to tell you that you should follow your dream – because regardless of where your dream puts you, you are going to have to put in the work to make it happen. For those people, would you rather look back and answer the question “What if?”
There are other posts in this series, they are:
Wanted: Advice from other architects (read the comment section)