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The Architect’s Journey August 13, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, change, marginalization, questions, survival, technology, the economy.
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A few years back, right before the economic downturn, the AIA came out with a promotional piece entitled The Architect’s Journey.

The pamphlet was subtitled “Exploring a Future in Architecture,” with the focus on becoming an architect.

Then came the upheaval.

Whereby merely remaining an architect today is a hero’s journey.

Not ‘hero’ as ‘architect-as-hero’ in how director Sydney Pollack presented Gehry in Sketches of Frank Gehry.

But rather hero-as-in-heroic.

To be an architect today requires bravery, courage, ambition – qualities rarely discussed in these do-all-you-can-to-stay-on-the-boat days.

Architect’s careers once followed archetypes common to what Carl Jung (CJ) or Joseph Campbell (JC) might have called “the hero’s journey.”

Mythic structures that all architecture careers follow.

Something along these lines

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. (Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, p.30)

Mythic, that is, but not formulaic.

Recognizing that each individual has their own story of how they arrived at where they are

  • The Call to Adventure
  • The Road of Trials
  • Meeting with the Mentor

And so on.

And yet, with

  • the convoluted process of earning one’s architectural stripes, stamp and seal
  • the downturn in the economy and the subsequent loss of colleagues and mentors
  • the inevitable flattening or organizational hierarchies
  • the loss of loyalty on both ends
  • the advent of new technologies in the workplace
  • work processes redefined
  • design itself becoming more collaborative
  • risks, responsibilities and rewards shared

Can it still be said that an architect’s career path has a recognizable structure?

In terms of storyline, can it still be said that one’s career has a dramatic arc?

Or – in lieu of former goals to attain one’s license, start a firm, win recognition from one‘s peers – is one’s career closer to an undulating succession of successes – and travails?

Becoming an architect is one thing.

Remaining one is something else.

There are many impediments one faces everyday

  • Unwitting clients
  • Unappreciative public
  • Demanding employers
  • Insensitive plan reviewers
  • New technologies and work processes to master

So many hurdles, in fact, that to remain an architect today you have to be driven from within.

And possess a fire in the mind.

Only, for perhaps the first time in our storied history as a profession, one has to wonder: is that enough?

Some other questions to consider:

  • How important are myths to the architect today?
  • Do you believe that a career in architecture can still have an underlying mythic structure?
  • Is it still possible to create careers with mythical power?
  • With eyes glued to monitors and seats to bouncy balls, could it still be said that architecture – as a calling – can be something more than the daily struggle to honor the bottom line?
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