3 Reasons Why An Architect Can Never Switch Off

30 Nov 2015

Early on in my studies, our class of hopeful young bright-ones was told that architecture was not a job or a profession; it is a vocation. Once trained, you never stopped being an architect – this is a job that comes with no off button.

“Yes, sure”, I nodded, not believing a word of it. “It’s just designing buildings”, I thought, “surely you just stop designing once you leave your drafting table. Simples.”  But, like many other instances in life, I was proved wrong. Here are just three examples to show that an architect's brain has been hard-wired so it never switches off from work-mode.



1. We cannot ignore poor detailing


Once you have been trained to see spaces with an architect’s eye, you simply cannot stop doing it, no matter how much you want to! I remember being at a restaurant and being distracted by poor tiling that didn’t line up – it took the shine right off that meal! As an example, this photo makes my eye twitch. How hard can it be to line up the grout line?




I routinely walk through friends’ houses mentally redesigning the layout – adding a rooflight here, knocking a wall down there. I am, of course, way too polite to say anything out loud. I may also be motivated by the fact that I do want to keep my friends!


During one memorable stay at a budget hotel, I mentally rearranged the layout of the room because the current layout simply didn’t work, and then proceeded to bang my knee on a built-in shelf SEVERAL TIMES because I had erased it from my mental map of the room – as far as I was concerned, the absurd shelf did not exist (until my knee was reminded painfully of its presence, time and again)



2. Holidays are an extension of our working life

An architect's holidays can safely be called a busman's holiday. My husband (also an architect) and I love city breaks, because it gives us the chance to argue over architecture that isn’t British (we may have exhausted that subject). We have been known to stop still in a foreign public square, debating hotly on why the alignment of the steps SIMPLY DOES NOT WORK. Our children have long ago learnt to leave us to it. Pictures from our holidays flit between adorable photos of our children, and close-ups of hinges or ceiling tiles. Riveting stuff! The two photos below are excellent examples, taken on our family holiday in Nice.






And I know we are not alone in this trait, because we are quick to circulate our haul of architectural photos as soon as we're back in the office. 



3. Even our down-time isn't spared

I was once again reminded of this idiosyncrasy this week, as I am midway through reading The Bees, a marvellous book by Laline Paul. It follows the life of a Sanitation Bee, Flora, from her birth in the lowest order of the strict classes in the bee hive, to her unusual rise though the ranks. It is a fascinating book, with compelling descriptions of the bee hive and the life of bees – I recommend it heartily!



I thought reading was part of my down-time of NOT-BEING-AN-ARCHITECT, until I realised I was taking notes of the descriptions of the chambers in the hive. I knew I’d gone too far when I caught myself trying to work out the plan of the hive, trying to track Flora from the Dance Hall to the morgue. So much for switching off! The descriptions of the internal architecture of the hive are spellbounding though, kudos to the author for that. Look at this passage – “A golden mist...shimmered from the centre of the great atrium whose six towering walls were made of interlocking chalices of honey, and curved in to make a domed ceiling”.










And then, while idly browsing the internet, I came across another architect who had taken this reverie one step further and designed a luxury beehive. Yes, you read that correctly! [insert link : http://www.wired.com/2014/08/these-arent-futuristic-homes-for-people-theyre-luxury-condos-for-bees/



The designer hive was meant to be an ornamental showpiece for a rooftop dining destination in Mathellan Oslo, so it isn’t entirely pointless. But you can see the architect’s training to “always consider the end user of your design – the person who actually walks, talks, and breathes within the spaces you create” – peeking through in this quote from the lead architect Peter Grigis : “We extended it out because when the bees come in they’re tired, exhausted from collecting the pollen. So we created a nicer landing pad [for the foraging bees making their way back into the hive].” Once an architect, truly always an architect!


Do you have any more to add to the list? Feel free to add your comments.





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