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Why do people need to be convinced that they need an architect?
by Katy Purviance on 01/12/11 @ 01:19:32 pm
Categories: Architects, Grad School | 1044 words | 3259 views

While in grad school, I had a crisis of relevancy.

Or rather, a crisis of irrelevancy.

I was learning a lot about how to use AutoCAD. And Rhino. And Illustrator. I already knew how to use SketchUp and Photoshop, but I got better at those two too.

I learned how to make pretty pictures. I learned how to sound smart when I talked about my pretty pictures. I learned to draw from ideological concepts in order to justify my pretty pictures.

What I wanted was to learn how to build. Yes, I was naïve. When I was first applying to grad school, I had this idea in my head that part of learning how to be an architect meant that I would learn about how buildings were put together. I actually thought that we would spend a lot of time looking at and touching actual buildings and actually building actual buildings. I figured that everyone, especially educators, especially educators at an Ivy League school, knew that the best, most effective way to learn something is by actually doing it.

Learning anything in a lecture-based format is the absolute worst, least effective way to learn something. But that is how we were taught building systems. With photographs of the finished building up on a screen, and with black and white line drawings in a book.


Had I been less naïve, I would have applied to perhaps the University of Kansas, which has a year-long design/build course called Studio 804.

Or perhaps I would have tried to get one of the precious few spots in Auburn’s Rural Studio.

Or I would have applied to the University of Washington, which has a number of design/build classes, as I learned when I visited for the first time a few months ago.

Or perhaps I would have skipped grad school altogether and gone straight to one of the building schools listed below under “places where you could probably learn more about designing and building in just a few days than I did after a year of grad school.”

But, being naïve, I thought that the best place to learn architecture was at a big expensive name-brand Ivy League school.

Don’t be naïve.

Most architecture students graduate with a fine set of design skills, and little else. Most have never built anything. Almost all know nothing about how to actually run a business.

And few know anything about all of the hundreds of other things you have to know in the Real World. Schools figure that students will “pick it up” as they go along.

That logic makes sense…if the student is lucky enough to find herself at a firm where others have time to teach.

But this is usually not the case.

I’ve been following a number of threads about the dire state of the profession on LinkedIn. A couple of recent postings are highly relevant to the case of architect irrelevancy. Please read on…

In all honesty, I feel as though the profession abdicated its’ responsibility to the built environment long ago… somewhere around the time that developers, Realtors, and financiers started dictating the terms, scope, and significance of architecture as an art, science, and essential need.

Individuals have always been able to overcome the sluggishness of the appropriate professional societies and I feel as though architects (as individuals) are doing so now. It just isn’t as easy as it was before the profession caved in…

Posted by William Woodsmall


Well I personally feel the science portion of this profession has been delegated to the engineers, contractors or anyone else this can be pushed off onto as I have pointed out earlier. Simply looking at who is liable for what and the amount of liability these parties have related to science makes this very obvious. Scope has always been dictated by money. Anything involving the idea of money has always been a concept architects have had a difficult time dealing with regardless if it’s an employee’s paycheck, paying a bill or quoting a client a price.

I have covered all of the bases here but “art” which is subject to the amount of money someone is willing to pay for and it’s different for every person. What is one man’s treasure is another man’s crap. Since the profession is only left with art, it makes things even that much more of a hard sale for the architect to find work. Watching an architect try and get a client is like watching a con artist run a shell game on the side of the street. They try and provide the client a reason they are necessary which is something no other profession has to do in the AEC industry. How many times did you see a structural engineer have to provide a reason why a client needs structural engineering in their project? How about civil engineering and the survey of the land that goes with it? How about even an electrical engineer or even mechanical? They never do because people know why their services are needed, what they are held accountable for and what they are paying for in layman’s terms.

I can not say the same for an architect. This is why they need more liability, more credibility and a better education that is not all inclusive of design only leaving no regard to reality. I have seen 3 year old children draw pictures. The profession needs to provide more than pictures. They also need to make the profession have a decent return on the investment of time and money spent on taking it up in the first place. I am not talking about the warm fuzzy feeling people get either because this won’t pay the bills.

The only reason a Realtor or a financier has any power in this industry is because the architects gave it to them when architects decided all they want to do is design and have no liability it trashed their profession. This is part of the problem that needs to be fixed in order to save the profession. Right now as we speak the design build and the custom home industries are taking bigger and bigger chunks out of your revenue.

Posted by Chris Currie

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places where you could probably learn more about designing and building in just a few days than I did after a year of grad school

Know of some others I can add here? Let me know. Have you already visited some of these places...or planning on it? Let me know and I will feature your story and your photos here!

I am starting a new kind of architecture school. Unlike most architecture schools, you wouldn't have to submit GRE scores or good grades or letters of recommendation. You wouldn't have to put the rest of your life on hold for 3 to 5 years. You wouldn't have to accrue tens of thousands of dollars in debt. At my architecture school, anyone could come for a few weeks and learn how to build a house with their own two hands. My teachers would take skills and concepts from some of these other workshops I've listed above... except classes would be held year-round to make it easy to fit into your schedule. I would have a number of different campuses around the country that would teach building designs appropriate to the local climate. And I need your help. Can you donate land for a campus? Can you dotate books for a library? Can you teach a workshop? Can you provide start-up capital? Let me know.

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