architecture in the real world


What is real anymore?

Much like any other aspect of our culture that appears in various forms of media, architecture can be misconstrued if one only sees it through the lens of a glossy magazine, a flashy online blog or website or an occasional bit role of an architect in a movie. Those buildings are real and those architects are real, but they don’t represent the majority of the profession in my opinion any more than someone in the sports and entertainment industry represent the average American (or wherever you’re from). If you are not an architect (or not one yet) hopefully this series of #architalks will give you a better sense of architecture in the real world.

My contribution to this is not intended to be defensive or apologetic, just real. Some parts are great, some are challenging. Some just are. Nevertheless, I love what I do and I wouldn’t want to spend my life working in another field or another profession – even if I had the wherewithal not to have to work.

What are some thoughts that come to mind? Today I’ll share these. Ask me tomorrow, and I’ll have a different list.

  • People do admire us and what we do. Most actually appreciate what we do for them. We need to choose our clients carefully as architects, not to be venerated, but because good clients make good projects and good buildings.
  • Not all projects are glamorous or will show up in our portfolio. In my experience, many people come to architects for services other than the design of a new building. Buildings need maintenance, renovations, updates and reconfiguring. They come to us for assistance with these needs. Hopefully we add value and a better environment, however, not too many people would find it interesting to see many of these published in a magazine. Magazines will publish what will sell magazines and advertising.
  • People want “the better”, even if they can’t articulate it. Most, if not all of my clients came to me because they realized that an architect can do what they can’t and can bring ‘something’ to the project that is special and better than other options. It’s our job to figure out what the better is within the context and limits of their project.
  • Not all tasks we do are glamorous or “fun.” My wife jokes with me that I color with markers all day and build models. She does this because she actually knows the various things I do. What we do is rarely known – even if architects show up on TV or in the movies, it’s rare that what we DO is portrayed, let alone portrayed accurately. There are many tasks to get a building planned and built besides “design.” All of them are actually some form of design, but many of them are difficult, tedious, analytical and dry. They’re all necessary. If you’re working in an office, you’re doing something important.

desk sketches 02

  • Most of the projects I’ve worked on in the past 23 years have been renovations, additions or alterations to an existing building. Some could argue that we should never build a new building again – or at least not for a long time. Therefore, we need to be adept at dealing with existing buildings.
  • Architects do not work on one project at a time. Most of us have multiple projects going simultaneously. We work on a project, send drawings and information off to the client or contractor then jump onto another project in the interim. Sometimes we develop multiple projects simultaneously. One might work on certain tasks for projects in the morning, and then spend the afternoon on another project doing completely different tasks. Out of all of that time spent, most of it is NOT spent doing what students and the public sees as design.
  • Not everyone sees the concept of sustainability with the same eyes and the same values – especially those who are not architects. Most projects are not going to be LEED certified or designed to that standard. Do we deny these commissions? No one wants to build a building that sucks up resources intentionally. However, how this plays out in the real world is quite different than projects depicted in the media. There are projects of all shapes and sizes and budgets. All of us work to think and ultimately design in a way that is smart and easy on the earth. I’ll expound on this in a later post soon.
  • Buildings get built. They don’t always get built as the original seed of an idea depicts them, but they do get built. This is good overall. (Below is an image of an addition I did a few years back. It reminds me that the original idea was replaced by a lesser exciting alternative. The client still loved it because it still solved all of their problems. It fits into every category on this list somehow). I made new friends because of it.

2013-08-09 10.30.00

This is a bit of architecture in the real world. I still like it.

Below are some of my friends who also live and practice in the real world of architecture. Their stories will hopefully share a more realistic perception to what we do as architects. Please take time to read and interact with their posts today. #architalks

photo 1 credit: Redefining reality via photopin (license)

“Bob Borson – Life of An Architect
Architecture in the Real World … sorta
“Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture
Welcome to the Architecture of the Real
“Marica McKeel – Studio MM
Architecture in the Real World
“Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet
What is the Real World: Architecture in the Real World
“Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect
The HGTV Affect
“Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC
Architecture: It’s a human thing
“Nicholas Renard – dig Architecture
Keep on Architect’n in the Real World
“Andrew Hawkins, AIA – Hawkins Architecture, Inc.
Here in the Real World
“Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture
architecture in the real world: #architalks
“Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect
Architecture in the Real World
“Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC
Architecture in the Real World
“Michael Riscica – Young Architect
Architecture in the Real World
Architecture in the Real World
“Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect
Architecture in the Real World
“Tara Imani – Tara Imani Designs, LLC
Architecture in the Real World
“Jonathan Brown – Proto-Architecture
Architecture in the Real World

architecture in the real world

16 thoughts on “architecture in the real world

  1. “they realized that an architect can do what they can’t and can bring ‘something’ to the project that is special and better than other options”
    So very well said, Lee. The current challenge is to get the other 97% of homeowners/builders to take this sentiment to heart as well. I actually have a potential client that keeps putting me off because they think they have to finish designing their floor plan before they let me get started. The wife was trained as an interior designer many years ago. I keep trying to find the right words so they’ll understand my job is to save them time, frustration and money in both design and construction. It’s a work in progress.

  2. Andrew Hawkins, AIA says:

    That is a great list. I think I can agree with most of them. I had a long conversation with some students just last week about the ideas of what we actually do as architects. At times I think it is a sad thing that not many people in the world truly understand our work. Even students who plan to join the field. And this is an issue that is coming to the forefront in recent times.

  3. “Buildings get built. They don’t always get built as the original seed of an idea depicts them, but they do get built. This is good overall.” – Yes, it is. As long as architects are there to steer the client towards making better decisions, it’s all good.

  4. yes lee, thanks for brining this up – the everyday architect, making our (and clients) environment a little bit better than the day before. just keep moving that ball forward….. towards the unattainable ideal.

  5. Nice list Lee, my list would look different that yours, but not by much. One item I wish was addressed more in a public forum is the effort that goes into a small renovation/addition. I respond to a lot of emails where I will break down the financial logistics of these projects. People are always amazed at the amount of time that goes in and then a light bulb goes off when you add value to that time. Since you said a majority of your projects have fallen into this category, I would love to hear your take on the subject.

    Thanks for participating in the #ArchiTalks series, we need your voice.

  6. Designing in a way that is smart and easy on the earth. I like that. For, as you said, most of my clients to not value sustainability. At least not to the extent that i do. Trying to find ways to incorporate sustainable ideals in way that the client does not balk at the upfront costs of it can be tricky.

  7. Great post Lee! I really like your point about working on multiple projects.

    I recently told someone that it sometimes feels like I play hot potato with these projects, by making sure they keep moving along and I’m not the one holding the potato for too long.

  8. Lee,
    I apologize it has taken me so long to get to your post. Well done! Very comprehensive and honest look at the profession. The picture of your drafting board reminds me of architecture school. I had that same green mat on my board.

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