Working and studying architecture

I took several years off between college (major in architecture) and graduate school to gain experience working in the field. While I was working, I knew that I wanted to go back to school. There were practical considerations; having a Master’s in architecture is becoming a requirement in most states to sit for the ARE’s, but there were also personal motivations. I felt that I could use more design education; time to sit and think through a project of my own making without the concerns of practice at the forefront. So now I’m in the midst of grad school, a semester in with 4 or so to go, and I have re-visited those thoughts about working in architecture and the experience of studying architecture; two areas that can be but aren’t always related.

The first thing that comes to mind is that both practice and school demand direct and effective communication. Whether I am standing in front of a critique board or talking with a principal about a detail, I need to know what I am saying and why I’m saying it. Whatever illustration I have with me needs to back up my words. Grad school is a testing ground of sorts for an aspiring architect’s communication skills. It is a step closer to practice, where the words and drawings have a physical, tangible impact.  In school, that impact isn’t measured in dollars, it’s measured in grades, a meaningful repercussion but without the same heft as practice. In practice, my work will be looked at and evaluated by people with a dog in the fight. The owner will look at the work to see if it matches the design intent, the contractor for pricing and constructability, and the principal or project manager in the firm, for all of those things. The quality of my work, essentially how effectively I communicate, will ultimately determine my future in the profession.

The obvious and crucial connections to the realities of building in part, define the world of practice. In contrast, studio, and graduate school in general, is a tremendous opportunity to explore my own ideas with a looser tether to those realities of practice, that need to answer to folks with a dog in the fight. At school, my time is intended to be used thinking about design, about space, about form, and about my own design sensibilities. I can think of no other point in a designer’s life where they have such freedom to create. Change the design drastically in the middle of CD’s? No problem. Add a ground source heat pump because you just learned how awesome the technology is? Sure. Propose half-burying the building because of the thermal benefits?  Why not!?

The manipulation of space and form, the potential of creating space and form with intent is what drew me to architecture. Practice does provide similar opportunities, but in my experience, they are typically smaller in scale and not left up to a young intern or architect. School and studio is where these opportunities live to be rigorously explored in all their ridiculous glory.

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