Monday, August 27, 2012

Architecture, why bother?

I often wonder if ancient times had any architects that were not temple builders. We live in a world where virtually nothing is built for the ages, and yet we build so much. We have architects with all types of specialties; residential, commercial, retail, laboratories, stadiums, hotels, hospitals, prisons, schools, interiors, landscapes, urban planning, factories, government, and of course religious buildings. I've personally worked in 11 of those types, though the vast majority of my work has been divided between commercial offices, interiors, and laboratories.

Perhaps it is due to a lack of understanding about ancient society, but I find it hard to believe that there were more than a small handful of architects in Rome at any given time. According to Roman census figures there were approximately 5 million citizens within the empire in first century B.C. If we generously say the were 20 architects, that would have meant one architect for every 250,000 people.

In contrast, I entered architecture school at Georgia Tech with over 100 other young students. Even with attrition, we graduated over 30 new architects from one school in one year. There are currently 154 accredited Architecture programs in the United States. We have roughly 105,000 architects in a country with just under 315,000,000 residents; giving us a ratio of one architect for every 3,000 people. Once minors (20% ~600), unemployed and underemployed (15% ~450), and retirees (12% ~ 360) are removed, that leaves one architect for every 1590 employed adults in America.

These statistics present the obvious dilemma that leave so many architects feeling disgruntled and frustrated. I however choose to look at what opportunities this creates for society. Architects receive a unique education that involves creative technical problem solving, subjective arts and humanities, geometry, history, physics, and philosophy. We are roughly equal parts artist, engineer, and lawyer. We must be proficient in each to succeed, and our career is determined by which one of these roles we gravitate most strongly towards.

This lack of specialization is the fundamental strength of architectural education and allows Architects many options for how best to contribute to society. Among my architect friends I know graphic, web, and video game designers, politicians, inventors, writers, salesmen, public policy advocates, furniture designers, attorneys, construction managers, chefs, professors, and traditional architects. I have lived primarily as an architect and entrepreneur, but mostly I thrive on the enjoyment of the creative process itself. The moment inspiration sparks is a thing of beauty, hope, and joy. Whether you're designing a building, a company, or an urban plan, good design has a way of taking on a life of its own. The proper framework allows the process to become organic and the end product to become self defining. Truly great work challenges you to match wits with it in order to not limit the potential of the design.

Truly great work makes you better...

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