Wednesday, November 4, 2009
When do you get to be an architect?
The blog-topic gods were kind to me today. I had no trouble coming up with a topic, in fact I now have several in my head so I hopefully the trend continues during the November Challenge. It started innocently enough. I was taking a quick break from work to check out Apartment Therapy (I swear I look at other blogs! I just needed to do a little research for my sister-in-law and I ended up there) and lo and behold there was this great post about a new documentary called God's Architects. It's a film by Zack Godshell and, as AT describes it, "The film is an in-depth look into five structures built without blueprints or end goals. We got the chance to preview the film, and we think if you're interested in architecture, folk art or religion you'll find these structures and these architects quite intriguing." Seemed interesting enough, and when I saw that there is an upcoming screening in Austin at the Alamo Drafthouse, I knew this must be a good one. Then I scrolled down and read some of the comments to the post, and that's when things got really interesting. The first commenter derided AT for referring to the builders in the documentary as architects, saying that it is a title that must be earned. A second commenter commended her and went as far as to say that becoming a lawyer or doctor in the U.S. is easier than becoming an architect. What followed was a litany of arguments about the proper use of the term and who deserves it and who doesn't and which profession is more difficult to obtain. Wow. I could probably spend a good long while on this topic, and it's actually something I've been meaning to write about since I know it can be a bit confusing to the general public. What is an architect? When can you call yourself an architect? Well, it's a big subject, and one I have had lengthy discussions about among friends, both architects and non-architects (and by that I mean people I work with or have gone to school with and those that are in other professions). I don't really know where to begin, other than saying that technically (by the letter of the law) one shouldn't refer to herself as an architect unless she is licensed as such. Obviously, this is mostly in the case of printed materials (you cannot advertise yourself as an architect if you are not licensed) and in terms of trying to obtain work in which you are paid. Architects are licensed by state, and some states are more strict with this law than others. Texas, where I am registered, is quite strict with the use of the term. Georgia, where I was living this past year, not so much. I haven't figured out Virginia yet, but it doesn't matter because I'm registered and a card-carrying member. I'll admit, I was pretty hesitant to use the term to describe myself even though I'd been through 6 years of school specifically for architecture, I was working in architecture, and I was taking the exams. But after a while it gets tiresome explaining the finer points of the law (read: it was a downer at parties) so I would just say "architect" when someone asked me what I did for a living. It's tricky though, because we architects are silly and we call anyone working in an architecture office with the intention of becoming registered an "intern architect" which is just dumb, because no one beyond college really wants to be referred to as an "intern". Thanks, Ms. Lewinsky. And the thing I've always wondered is why is it no big deal to call someone an engineer, even if they haven't earned their Professional Engineer status, but the architect is somehow set apart from this logic. Honestly, it's just semantics that delve into legal-speak and I hated being in that gray-area. I am so glad to be in the free and clear now. There are some famous "untrained architects" by the way: Tadao Ando and Thomas Jefferson are two I can think of offhand. No one really questions their abilities or knowledge or asks about their stamp. Would I call Michael Pollan an architect? I don't think so, and I would guess he wouldn't either since most of his profession has been about writing. But what a great coincidence to be considering all this after yesterday's post. One final thought. During my second semester of grad school I had an amazing studio professor, David Heymann, and we got in to a similar discussion one afternoon during studio. I remember him telling us to quit thinking of ourselves as students and start thinking of ourselves as architects. It was so empowering. It really changed the way I looked at work and school because I suddenly had this ownership over it. It didn't matter that I technically still had a few years ahead of me before I could legally call myself an architect. The only way to make any progress was to think like an architect- be an architect. Those were important years, not to be wasted waiting to be an architect. Just be an architect.