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Regaining a Sense of Self August 9, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect, change, identity, the economy, transformation.
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Today’s New York Times has a front page story on the science of identity that has me thinking about how easy it is to lose a sense of yourself at this time – in summer but also in history. When it comes to identity the media has been focused almost exclusively on identity theft and much less so on the subject of our social identity – the roles we play and how we see ourselves in relation to others. In the midst of August – especially this particular August – with a recession reversing gears and uncertain signs of recovery ahead, it is easy to consider the possibility of an identity crisis.

 

Summer months in particular often relieve us of the social roles that we play: we shed our work clothes as we do our social identity or cultural identity. Just think of Congress or the Supreme Court justices on summer recess, donning swimsuits in lieu of robes and dress suits. Summer challenges our social and cultural identities – our professional identities – at a time when we are already feeling the stress and strain of reduced hours – or relief altogether of our workday duties.

 

As for myself, I have been spending most of my waking hours this summer – when not at the office – writing my book, “BIM and Integrated Design” (Wiley, 2011) and besides the isolated sustainable hotel design or infrequent master plan, not designing as much as I might. An architect is someone who designs buildings, right? Is an architect an architect when they are writing? Or going to the movies?

 

Aspiring Architect

 

It seems that even in the media architects are in a perpetual state of becoming. A recent article noted “When screenwriters give a hero a career, it’s often architecture. Think Walter Pidgeon in Mrs. Miniver and Adam Sandler in Click. When Matt Dillon attempts to impress Cameron Diaz in There’s Something About Mary, he pretends to be an architect.” More recently we’ve seen several trailers for upcoming films with an architect in the lead role, not to mention the current hit in theaters, “(500) Days of Summer,” where Tom is an aspiring architect with a day job writing copy for greeting cards. “The public perceives architecture as a career for creative, free spirits who nonetheless earn good money while designing cool new buildings,” and yet the article concludes that “there’s a Grand Canyon of difference between the screen and reality.” This gulf is the very same one we ourselves feel – between architects portrayed on screen and the architects we are. Take that even further – architects we aren’t when we’re on vacation, on furlough or not practicing due to unemployment or by choice.

 

By the time they graduate from college, architects should be well-prepared for the identity challenges of multiple role-playing. The AIA’s Richard Hobbs believes that as many as 50 percent of the nation’s architectural graduates now work, or soon will, outside the profession. Consider this: Half of your classmates are doing something else entirely. It’s no wonder that for the 50% that stick with it and practice architecture within the profession must from time to time regain a sense of who they are – in terms of what they do. So to answer the question “When is an architect not an architect?” the best answer is probably one that finds the architect isolated from colleagues, not attending conferences and social gatherings, working alone or not working at all; going after work that doesn’t match their profile and tap into their core competencies; with each passing day living without the small but vital reminders – a coworker passing along an image found online, seeing a building that touches you somewhere deep down, an article that connects with you on some level that you can identify with – of who we are and why we do what we do. That is when an architect is least of all an architect. It is then that you know that you need to return – as so many are returning right now to school or to work – in order to regain a sense of self so that we might help others – through the work we do and the buildings we design and build – do the same for themselves. What are you doing right now to regain and strengthen your sense of self?

 

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