explaining the punch line


Most architects, perhaps I should say many architects have visions or goals for their careers. However, despite the common modes of thinking that I often write about it’s unfair to say we share all of the same career goals. Yet I am going to make an assumption that doing really great work is one of those common goals.

If you do much reading about the architectural profession, or more specifically how an architectural practice operates, you’ll often find architectural firms categorized as having either a business or service centered philosophy or a design centered philosophy. Some may be a mix of both but a business or service focus is likely the most popular. We all know that this is a business and to some degree income has to be generated in order for that business to be sustained. That is simple economics. And yes, delivering the best service to our clients is paramount and axiomatic. We’re talking about something else that drives architects.

Many of us didn’t get into this profession for business or service reasons. Let’s be honest; don’t be offended. It’s a bit more complicated to explain the mind of the architect.

Some enjoy their job. Many are just interested in making a living. For those who own (or partially own) a business they might be consumed by having a regular volume of business in order to maintain their living and pay their staff. The management team is primarily focused on maintaining enough work. I too am concerned about maintaining enough work to keep me afloat. I get it.

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However, there is more to this thing called architecture and many of us have bigger reasons for getting up and going to work. I would dare say most of us go into this field with some vision or some goal of creating architecture that goes beyond the immediate need for function. Read my past blog post here.

If you are more design oriented then you will endeavor (or least hope) to get certain types of projects. Perhaps this is hard to understand and appears selfish. We’re just here to serve clients and nothing else right? Most of us see architecture as something that will outlive all of us and something that will become the fabric of our built environment that will hopefully endure long afterwards. Our works may change hands many times, have multiple owners and most likely have multiple functions. This seems to be fleeting in our current culture.

Beyond the thought of that, architecture is about ideas. It’s our way of communicating ideas as human beings. Architecture is the mode or fabric that we as architects use to communicate. Each project informs the next one and we learn from each one over the course of our lifetimes.

This is a creative field and we are naturally creative people. Therefore, the medium in which we work is primarily ideas. These ideas are given form and these ideas define space and ultimately these ideas serve some type of human function or human condition. Perhaps at a primal level it is a manner in which we feed our souls.

However, if more discussion is needed to understand, then I liken it to explaining the punch line of a joke. It’s no longer funny.

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photos are from the nfsa photostream on Flickr (used under the Creative Common License)

explaining the punch line

4 thoughts on “explaining the punch line

  1. It is impossible not to be passionate about architecture ……… is an addiction …… the problem was like ……. how to live without …. by cash or pleasure ….. but let’s be honest it is very good to do … What do we love ….hugs.

    1. passion is a huge part of it, but I think there’s so many parts to our beings that need to be fed in order to stay alive in this profession. it’s too hard otherwise. thanks for sharing your passion.

  2. Lee — This was a timely and insightful post for me, thank you. I have heavily emphasized my service approach and it has worked well, maintaining my young solo firm the past 3.5 years. However, many of my projects are remodels on uninteresting housing stock for clients who aren’t that interested in design. I’m now actively in the process of figuring out the direction of my firm so that I can bring in more *architecture* projects and re-fire my passion for the work that I love. Like many of us, I feel I’m underused….brimming with ideas that clients aren’t ready for or design iterations and refinement they aren’t willing to pay for.

    Each of these pedestrian projects pays bills and I enjoy solving client problems, improving their homes and lives; I am genuinely improving their built environment. It is often more technical than artistic though. For all the work that goes into making architecture I’d like to find those clients and projects that push us both to go to new places, be bold and make something worth being passionate about.

    I’m learning that the clients interested in my past designs and portfolio are those looking to do architecture, while those who never ask about my past work and just emphasize timeline and cost are just out for a permit. Maybe that’s harsh, but it seems true to experience.

    In short, the vision for my career has been derailed of late and I’m working to figure out how it gets back on track. Life is only lived once, so it’s time to get to it and make changes…..if I only knew how to steer it in the right direction! That’s another topic – how to get the “good” clients and projects.

    Thanks for all your posts. Of all the arch blogs I read, yours most often seems to tap into topics that resonate with me and my experience.

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