The Generation Gap

The profession of architecture has been around since the beginning of time, literally.  And since the beginning architects have seen it change and evolve, each generation being less like the last.  As I look around my office today, compiled of Baby Boomers, Generation X-ers and Generation Y, I can’t help but notice the differences between each of us.  These differences range from the programs we use on projects, to the way we interact at the office and even how we approach design problems.

For example:  I’m sitting here at my desk, working in Revit while listening to a Podcast on my Smartphone. Sitting next to me is a woman in her early 40’s. She knows Revit enough to move things around but does not do the drawing herself. She doesn’t listen to an iPod, or Walkman for that matter, while she’s working and her days are spent managing the project team on day-to-day tasks.  A few desks over is a man in his late 50’s. To be honest I’m not sure he’s ever opened Revit, let alone any recent version of AutoCAD in the last 12 years.  He spends his days in meetings, which by default makes him less involved with the day-to-day work and more involved with the overall picture of the project. While we all work on the same project, our daily experiences couldn’t be more different.

Of course one can say that these different work routines are due to our professional experiences, or lack there of in my case, but I think it goes beyond how many years we’ve been in the profession.  At some point everyone was an intern. What’s important to look at is the experience of the intern today compared to the experience of an intern 25 years ago. Ask anyone in their 50’s and they will tell you that they didn’t draw on computers, that they created details from scratch rather than copy and pasting them from project to project, and that someone had taken the time to technically train them.  Back then, Architecture was taught to the young interns in the office.  They took the time to make sure each young professional knew about constructability and good design. Today, it’s all about what computer programs you know and how efficient you are in them, at least in my opinion.

I would challenge each of you to find someone of the Baby Boomer generation and make them your mentor.  Talk to them about the profession of architecture, ask them to tell you everything that they have learned and plead for them to teach you the same way that they were taught so many years ago.  Our profession is changing, but is it changing for the better?  Taller, skinnier, more organic buildings are cool to look at but what do they teach us if we can easily design the tallest building in the world with just a click of the mouse? As young professionals it is our job to remember where architecture came from and not loose sight of the lessons each generation before us has learned.  Otherwise, aren’t we just all computer programmers?

For reference, here’s how the different generations are broken down:  Baby Boomers (born between 1945–1960), Generation X (born between 1960-1980), Generation Y (born between 1980-2000).

3 thoughts on “The Generation Gap

  1. Thank you for recognizing the value that a boomer may have. Design is a process and an art not necessarily dependant on the tools being used.
    And I want to thank all of the X’s and Y’s that have helped me with my computer, AutoCAD and my smart phone. Education can go both ways.

  2. This is an interesting and insightful post. I am a Gen Xer who struggles to remain up to date on the latest software; I am even considering a sabbatical to do so. I enjoy learning from those with more experience, and really love teaching what I know to those younger than me.

    I understand your frustration in the lack of training young architects receive, and I think your insights are largely correct. But I would ask you to consider that you too may be part of the problem. Anyone who is sitting at their desk, listening to a podcast on their phone is to me, by definition, someone who is not interested in learning from their surroundings. The way you phrase this entire paragraph indicates a certain disdain for the technological capabilities of others, but more importantly the work that they do. So I would encourage you to come out from under your earphones, eavesdrop on your office, and chatter with your neighbors while working on your computer programs. I think you might be surprised by how much you’ll learn from listening to your office, and letting your office listen to you.

  3. Jay_

    What a perfect and timely response. As I read this, I was listening to a podcast detailing the latest developments in our economic tailspin. I took the headphones off, overheard a phone conversaton a few desks away, and offered some insight on a previous experiance I have had. As it turns out, the conversation and subsequent advice saved somone else a great deal of time, and in turn, saved us some money.

    As a contributer to this blog, I speak for all of us when I say that we greatly appreciate when others chime in with insights, critical and otherwise. Thank you for taking the time to take us to task. Perhaps I’ll save my podcasts for a long drive.

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