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Can You Be an Architect and Still Have a Life? June 2, 2013

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.
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WorkLifeBalanceProbably the biggest surprise for me in university teaching is how much studio culture has changed in the last decade.

Ten years ago, when I co-taught a graduate level integrated building science design studio, no matter what time of day or night, students would be in studio, working away at their drawings and models.

Not so anymore.  While there are exceptions to this, my peers in the teaching profession back this up.

Fewer students are working in studio outside of class time.

Why is this? and Why is this important?

From a design professor’s perspective, there are several reasons that working in studio is critical to the development of the emerging architect and design professional:

  • Collaboration is increasingly valued not only in our profession, but many other industries
  • Learning is accelerated when learning from others
  • Bounce ideas off one another. Fellow students serve as sounding boards, providing a constant source of feedback

Additionally, working alone in one’s dorm room or dining room table can encourage silo mentality and bad working habits.

It also can increase competitive behavior – the designer surprising everyone back in studio with the magic they cooked up at home. This leads to the “white knight syndrome,” where the architect whisks into the office or meeting at the eleventh hour with the design decision intact, whole-cloth, undermining the efforts of all those who stayed up late working on alternative solutions.

I tell my students my concerns – but it has little impact on their behavior.

First School, Then Practice

Architecture students no doubt work very hard, are pulled in a number of increasingly divergent directions, all of which make demands on their time and attention. My students are no exception.

When asked, students inevitably say they don’t feel safe driving home when tired, walking home at night from studio, or don’t like to have to rely on others walking with them or giving them a lift.

Some just feel more comfortable working from home, where they are in familiar surroundings, surrounded by people they know, pets they care for, and all the media they can access at once.

And they’re right. For a long time, the studio student experience had a number of strikes against it.

Much has been researched and reported on the need for a redesign of studio culture.

And many schools have strict policies on studio culture, many of which build on these reports.

One comprehensive background and overview of the subject, Design Juries on Trial – reissued recently and now also in the form of related iPhone apps – by my university colleague Kathryn Anthony.

In her research, Anthony gathered comments from students at schools throughout the U.S. through surveys or student diaries, and also conducted extensive interviews with academic colleagues and architects. Well worth a read.

 work-life-balanceWork-Life Imbalance?

Among all advanced nations, the United States ranks 28th in work-life balance –barely better than Mexico, says the says The Atlantic.

The U.S. may be tops in housing access and family wealth, but in terms of work-life balance? Ninth from the bottom.

Want work-life balance? Don’t become an architect. Move to Denmark.

If only it was so easy.

It is impossible to talk about studio culture without delving into the larger topic of work-life balance, but I will try to keep this discussion focused on what I perceive to be a behavior among students that can potentially affect not only practice, but their work satisfaction, for years to come.

We’re living at a time where many of the work-life trends have taken-on an unfamiliar look, one that seems counterintuitive:

  • American leisure time has been increasing for decades (for most people)
  • American men work less today & have more down time than ever recorded.

While it is seldom wise to generalize about demographics, I believe it is fair to say that Millennials – the current generation of emerging design professionals – want work/life balance.

They have made this clear not only in many class discussions in the courses I teach, but also in their behavior.

Students today have seen the negative impact overwork has had on their parents – and on their marriages – and they don’t want to perpetuate this by repeating what they feel are mistakes of their parent’s generation.

Including the side-affect that working too much makes one boring.

And unhappy. One recent study indicates that between 20 and 40 percent of architects are dissatisfied with their rate of pay, practice management, promotion prospects, working hours and opportunity to use their abilities.

Like everyone else, architects want to be happy.

candlebothendsWork-Life-Work Balance

Architect Andrew Maynard points out that many women leave the profession due to the difficult combination of poor work cultures, long hours and low pay. He writes:

“But these conditions affect everyone – women and men – as well as the viability of the profession as a whole.”

He calls this situation in architecture Work/Life/Work balance, and that we must “stop deluding ourselves that architectural employees are anything other than a contemporary exploited labor force.”

The seeds of this Work/Life/Work balance trend begins in school.

In other courses, I have students who won’t do the course reading because, they say, it is boring, too long, takes up too much time, they can’t concentrate for long periods of time required to read the assigned chapter, don’t see the relevance, because reading is not among their preferred ways to learn.

Often, I see their unwillingness to do the reading as a symptom of a larger, overriding situation: a lack of balance between school work and life outside school.

Work-Work Balance

I have been told that I have a great work ethic. Even by my family.

Except my family translates a great work ethic with “you work too much.”

They would describe what I have been able to accomplish day-in, day-out for over 25 years as a Work-Work Balance.

After all, while my neighbors three floors below are loading golf gear into their car trunks, I’m up in my garret posting on Work-Life Balance.

The result is a noticeable all-work-and-no-play imbalance.

Can architects achieve a work-life balance?

Since high school, I’ve abided by the Zorba the Greek approach to life.

Zorba, who famously gave his work 100% of his effort and attention when working and life 100% when living.

In other words, give everything you do 100% when you’re doing it.

Achieving work-life balance takes, well, work, requiring time management, technology management, change management, stress management, leisure management (!) and self-management.

Can architects achieve a work-life balance? Yes.

But it takes work.

And at the heart of work-life balance is the value of “balance.”

Not everyone believes balance is achievable.

Some critics argue against work-life balance, not believing it is achievable.

And, as importantly, not every architect believes balance is desirable.

They feel that architects are artists and there’s no room for balance if they’re going to achieve their dreams.

And so, they ought to go about living life at extremes, burning their candle at both ends.

Want work-life balance? Work for a firm dedicated to upholding values that support a work-life balance.

Or create one of your own.

– Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED-AP

On June 20, 2013, I will be leading a early morning session on how to lead in the new world of practice, at the AIA 2013 Convention in Denver – live in person and also on-demand for the virtual convention. To learn more, please click the link below:

TH107: (Re)Learning to Lead with BIM and IPD

2013 AIA National Convention

Thursday, June 20, 2013 | 7:00 AM – 8:00 AM

Denver, CO Convention Center, Room 201

Earn 1.00 AIA LUs + GBCI

http://eventscribe.com/2013/AIA/TwitterPres.asp?Pres=33487

Also, in July 2013, I will be leading a 2-day seminar. To learn more, please click the link below:

BIM: Lessons in Leadership

Harvard GSD Executive Education seminar

July 8, 2013 – 9:00am – July 9, 2013 – 5:00pm

Gund Hall, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA

Earn 14 AIA/CES

http://execed.gsd.harvard.edu/programs/bim-lessons-leadership

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Why Didn’t You Teach Me How to Practice? November 21, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, career, change, education, employment, IDP, pragmatism.
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19 comments

What architects don’t get from architectural education has to be made up in practice.

But can it?

That’s certainly the intention of Intern Development Program (IDP), the comprehensive training program created to ensure that interns in the architecture profession gain the knowledge and skills required for the independent practice of architecture.

Setting aside the validity in today’s economy of an independent – as opposed to integrated – practice of architecture,

Is the office the best place to train to become an architect?

In firms, these days, almost everybody draws.

And everyone is as close to 100% billable as humanly possible.

No more can architects consider themselves “knowledge workers,” unless that knowledge includes working knowledge of such software programs as AutoCAD or Revit.

With many architecture firms pared down to skeleton staffs, training is a luxury few can afford.

And teaching recent grads on a client’s dime is something most clients will no longer tolerate.

Building clients have never warmed to the idea that they are footing the bill for an intern’s education on the job.

As one senior designer said to me over coffee, rather loudly with an emphatic pounding on the table:

“Work is not school! Not school! Not school!!!”

Tell that to any firm that has set-up and administered a corporate university.

Building bridges

Neither academia nor practice, we’re beginning to see emerging entities that are starting to fill-in the gap, gaping hole or (for those attending Cornell) gorge between architectural education and practice.

Hybrid education. Just-in-time education.

Enroll in the equivalent of a four-year lunch-and-learn.

Don’t pass go don’t collect 200 dollars go straight to jail.

At the same time, we’re seeing bridge students who take-up architecture and engineering; or engineering and construction management; or architecture and an MBA, to help segue between academic and real-world pursuits while presumably making themselves more attractive to an employer.

Perhaps it is best that training – whether in continuing education or in practice – stay outside academe’s ivy walls.

Training is still seen by some as parochial, vocational.

In some academic circles “practice” is a dirty word.

Why sully your pristine education with practical consideration?

Some architecture schools won’t have practitioners on their faculty so as not to infect their student body, as though practical considerations were a disease.

This, despite the fact that practical knowledge is a job requirement on the road to becoming a full-fledge professional, every bit as much as residency is for a doctor.

Before building-up $150,000 in student loans, would-be architects – in most states – know that they will have to pass through an apprenticeship prior to sitting for the licensing exam.

Remind me: What exactly did you get for your $150,000 education?

Learning in school vs. learning in the gap vs. learning on the job

Architects like to think that they are alone in many things, not the least of which is their inadequate education and training in the face of a constantly moving picture of practice.

They are of course wrong: they have plenty of company.

This is evident in the many parallels with other areas of study.

Just consider these quotes:

“What they did not get, for all that time and money, was much practical training.”

“Schools have long emphasized the theoretical over the useful”  

“Professors are rewarded for chin-stroking scholarship”

 “They are (practitioners) in the sense that they have…degrees, but they aren’t ready to be a provider of services.”

First-year associates at one…firm “spend four months getting a primer on corporate (practice.) During this time, they work at a reduced salary and they are neither expected nor allowed to bill a client. It’s good marketing for the firm and a novel experience for the trainees.”

“This has helped to hasten a historic decline in hiring.”

“The essential how-tos of daily practice are a subject that many in the faculty know nothing about — by design.”

“One 2010 study of hiring at top-tier…schools since 2000 found that the median amount of practical experience was one year, and that nearly half of faculty members had never practiced…for a single day.”

“The academy wants people who are not sullied by…practice.”

“Where do these students go?…There are virtually no openings. They can’t hang a shingle and start on their own. Many of them are now asking their schools, ‘Why didn’t you teach me how to practice…?’ ”

These are just a few quotes from the New York Times article, “What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering.”

They  sound remarkably – and uncomfortably – close to what architecture students go through.

What is one thing you wish recent graduates, interns or emerging professionals were taught in architecture school?

  • A better understanding of ___________
  • Greater familiarity with ____________
  • Deeper knowledge of  _____________
  • Basic skills, like how to perform ______
  • A stronger grasp of _______________

Let us know by leaving a comment.