Ramblings of an Architecture Student

A few weeks ago while I was at church I got into a conversation with a group of my neighbors about what I do for a living. Well, right now I work part-time at an architecture firm in Salt Lake City as a… how do I describe what I do…? intern architect who spends most of my time producing drawings for several different projects in various design phases. I’m also a full-time Graduate Student at the University of Utah’s College of Architecture. In about 2 months I’ll have my Masters degree and then I have 6 licensing tests to look forward to and the completion of a couple thousand internship hours.

If I were describe what Architecture school is like, it would be something like this… “If I’m not at work I’m at school…I don’t get to see my wife or my dog very often and I don’t really get to sleep much.” I usually look like (or at least feel like) a zombie who hasn’t slept in days. Recently, KSL did a news story about a guy here in the program who sleeps in his car to save money. The funny/sad-but-true fact is that, sure, it saves him money, but also we rarely have time to go home because we are so entrenched in the architectural education process… almost to a fault. Have I ever slept in my car at night in the University parking lot..? Sure, more times than I can count… it’s not uncommon.

Jessie has been quite patient with me and the process, and I can’t thank her enough for putting up with the craziness and uncertainty of it all. A couple weeks ago an article was published entitled something like “The most time-consuming master’s degrees” and you better believe Architecture was numero UNO! It averaged that students spent 22.8 hours outside of class-time on school work… but we all know that on some weeks that is a low-ball number. It doesn’t help that we live 45 miles south of campus so I also have many hours of commuting each week.

Now, back to my conversation at church. One of the guys said, “Oh, I’ve worked with architects before… and you know what they would always say?… well, what do you think it should look like?” This came across to me as if he thought architects just lackadaisically went about their work and didn’t put much thought into it. Another guy, on a different occasion had something interesting to say too. We were discussing how I was currently working on the new Provo High School and had told him that the design process took about 6 months before construction even started. He replied, “6 months! Shouldn’t it only take a couple of days to draw it up?” (Insert laughing hysterically)

Design is mentally exhausting work and sometimes the Construction Document packages are YUGE! Imagine hundreds of sheets of paper, 3 feet by 4 feet wide, stacked as thick as Harry Potter book. Now imagine that each one of those sheets has up to twenty detailed drawings explaining exactly how a very complicated building system is pieced together to create an amazing, well functioning building. Add a few hundred more pages of written material specifications to that document. Don’t forget the lengthy contracts either, those are important. When construction is delayed or money runs out, who is getting sued? Oh, and you can’t forget amount the weekly meetings with the project owners and consultants; they need to be involved all along the way so that they can get a building customized exactly for their needs.

The reason why we ask owners so many questions is because we don’t know what is best for them. They know what they need, but have no idea how to make it all happen. The profession of architecture is so much more than imagining and drawing buildings. We are professionals who literally build and manage teams of skilled, talented people who will all work together to produce the built environment. Not only do we officiate all that goes on in this process, but we are liable and responsible to protect the health and safety of the public. Our ethical responsibility is that we create buildings that won’t kill people. How many buildings have you heard of caving in and killing people in the last couple decades? (not including terrorism or extreme acts of nature). Not many. As architects we have to know and understand building codes. Have you ever seen the code book? It’s big. Do you know what minimum width of a door must be if you are trying to get 750 people out of a building in an emergency? Probably not. I do, and if I don’t I know where to look to find out.

Architects seem to get a bad rap these days, and I’m not sure why. Back in Greek and Roman times, and for hundreds of years after, architects (or Master Builders as they were known by then) were considered as some of the most prestigious people in the world. Did you know that Michelangelo was an architect? or da Vinci, or Raphael, or Brunelleschi? They are all names we know from the history books, but usually they are discussed as artists and inventors. So I find it interesting when people trivialize the profession as something that anyone could do. The fact is, the practice of architecture isn’t easy…and sometimes it’s not that fun, but it is extremely fulfilling.

It’s challenging to become an architect, but it is the only thing I can see myself doing as a career. I love a lot of things, like, for instance, finish carpentry, but I couldn’t do that day in and day out. I decided to endure the hectic life of an architecture student because I believe I can make a difference in the world. I believe I have the ability to enhance the environment that you and I live in. I believe that by putting in a lot of hard work up front it will pay off for me in the end. There have been weeks that I have been so stressed out and sleep deprived that I’ve considered just giving up, but thankfully I have good friends and mentors by my side who keep me going. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting very close, and I’m so glad I’ve stuck to it.

Hopefully soon I can find some time to write a post about the final project i’m working on here at school. It’s a work in progress, but it’ll all get done in time. Until then, see ya later!

 

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