20 Oct 2015
Like every single job on this planet, being an architect comes with its own set of myths, some more incomprehensible than others. So, to inaugrate this blog, I thought I’d address one of the biggest myths I come across. Now let me be clear that this is not a myth about actually WORKING in the construction industry – that is for another blog post on another grey day. No, this post is about the myth of BEING an architect.
I will not lie; being an architect carries a certain amount of cachet. If only I had a pound for every time someone said to me, “Your job is so glamorous”, I could retire from being glamorous. Sorry, I mean, from being an architect. This is reinforced by public opinion polls like this one ranking architecture as the sexiest perceived profession for men.
This is by far the most common reaction I get from people when I tell them what I do, especially if they have no dealings with the construction industry. I figure that it’s because the only exposure most laymen have to architects is from films. So let’s see how that looks on screen...
Tom Hanks in Sleepless In Seattle –boring office shirts, crew neck tees when in casual mode, an office with floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking NYC, drafting table covered with drawings. Yes, that is a bit glamorous, but then this is Tom Hanks, guys...Tom Hanks can make a castaway look glamorous. So, moving on...
Liam Neeson in Love Actually – so, what have we here? Crew neck cashmere jumper, leaning over a drafting table covered with drawings. And that monochrome office with steel bookshelves. Well, I’ll admit that is pretty cool, but it is very unlike any architectural office I’ve worked in. Readers, this is an architect imagined by Richard Curtis – reality isn’t really his strong point.
Next up is Keanu Reeves in Lake House. There’s the crew neck tee again, as well as the drafting table and the floor-to-ceiling glazing overlooking the woods.
Actually, I cannot hold this question back any longer...WHAT IS WITH ALL THE DRAFTING TABLES?! Don’t these oh-so-cool architects have the money to invest in computers and a nice basic cad programme? Probably not, having spent all their spare cash on heating up the fully glazed spaces they work in.
In the interests of balance, here is the only female architect I have come across on screen (fiction mimicking reality?) – Michelle Pfieffer in One Fine Day. In the film, she is struggling to balance a presentation with childcare and looks slightly more harassed and harried than most fictional architects, but she still manages to look quite glamorous. And, for bonus points, she even dons the obligatory crew neck cashmere jumper towards the end of the film.
I think I’m beginning to see why people think my job is fascinating. I am here to burst your bubble (you can thank me later) and reveal the ugly truth that being an architect is...well, it’s like any other job. There are good days, and there are bad days. And when you spend your entire working day hunched over a computer drawing and erasing the same line until it feels perfect, it can feel anything but cool. And, believe it or not, there is no law banning architects from wearing colour, and don’t let Richard Curtis tell you otherwise.
Our working day is not at all mysterious. There is always the pleasure of working up a design that pleases everyone in the team, which is a harder task than you can imagine. But these are outweighed often by the ignominious moments of working gruellingly long hours, having to defend your architectural vision, and dealing with difficult clients. There are the days when you are told that the project you put your heart and soul into will not be going ahead due to financial issues. The days when your design is turned into something unrecognisable after a cost cutting exercise, in spite of your best efforts to salvage your creation. The days when you spend hours on a calculator working out the slope of a ramp or the density of a storage centre.
But then, there are also the days when something that was just an idea in your head is taken by a team of dedicated professionals, and turned into reality. It is hard to describe the feeling of walking round a completed project. If I was forced to choose a word to describe that feeling, one word...well, it would have to be...yes, COOL. Pretty cool indeed.