Tuesday, December 22, 2009

End of the Year wrap-up/discussion, Part 1

Though any time is a good time for reflection, few times seem as appropriate as the end of the year to do a little self-survey and to take stock of who, what, and where you are now. Perhaps it's the shortening days, but even energetic little me gets a bit quiet and thoughtful. I've been talking a lot lately with a friend of mine from grad school who is now an architecture school professor. His stories of his students makes us both compare the present crop of future architects with our class almost ten years ago, when we ourselves were the future of the profession. He tells me of their triumphs and missteps, and it makes me recall my own missteps and triumphs.

While school and work for architects is very different, there are qualities and habits that benefit you in both settings, and there are lessons learned that improve your work or your creativity regardless of what major you eventually follow or job you take. A few things I learned in college/architecture school that have helped me to this day:
  • Time management. We architects love to brag about how much time we've spent in studio while we're still in school, and sometimes we continue to brag about how much time we've spent at work once we're employed. But I realized back in college that Studio wasn't the only class I was taking; the point of school is to get an education, not just to build pretty models. And once you're out in the work world, life is for living, not just for making pages and pages of flashing details and figuring out juuuuust the right angle for your building's entrance canopy. Get some sleep, go for a run, and have some fun, then come back to work and make the most out of the 8-9 hours a day that you spend there. Get your work done (and do it right) so that you don't have to spend your entire weekend futzing around with the entry canopy.
  • Good, clear communication skills. Good writing skills allowed me to do well on papers and essays, which got me good grades in school. Today, my now-excellent writing skills allow me to write good, clear emails and letters used to explain something, convey requirements for a deadline, or convince others of the rightness for a course of action. Good verbal communication involves many of the same skills, the biggest of which is remembering not to use archispeak and instead to explain things and ask questions that are easily understood by non-architects. Also, learning how to frame requests in the service of the Studio project/job/construction project goes a lot farther than "just do it my way cuz it looks the best."
  • A sense of humor. Nothing loosens up a group of people or a tense project team like a good laugh, and being able to laugh with your team can provide the camaraderie that you used to have with your fellow Studio/classmates. Laughter bonds people, and that's really helpful when you're trying to keep everyone energized, focused, and civil with each other.
So what about you? What did you learn in architecture school/college that has really contributed to your success in the work world? Share in the comments, or feel free to email me in the sidebar.

There will be more next week on this topic, but do let me know if you have a topic you'd like to see discussed here, or if you have a question for Intern 101. Thanks!


  1. On the comment regarding time management, what advice would you give someone who has great time management skills, but suffers from a project manager who unfortunately does not? What can one do when he or she is unfathomably expected to do it all on a 100,000 s.f. project?

  2. Anon: here, you're sometimes just going to be at the mercy of a bad manager, I'm sorry to say. However, you can bring some of this to the manager's attention by confronting them with the realities of their bad management: "Carl, you mentioned something last week about a code study--were you expecting me to do that? I've never done one before, so if that's what you had in mind, I'm gonna need a little guidance on that."

    If it helps you, and you don't mind me turning it into a post, email me some more details (my email is in the sidebar), and perhaps I can give you some more precise ideas on dealing with this sort of managerial wrack-looking-for-a-place-to-happen.