What is a real architect?


“Architecture is a state of mind” Santiago Aranegui

Architects have to be highly motivated and passionate to actually become a “real architect”, since the very first moment they decide to go to architecture school, they start the really long and painful path of becoming a real architect or licensed architect with a practice, as society calls them. It is really their passion for architecture what truly keeps them focused and their source of energy to keep moving forward, doing almost physically impossible acts, supporting themselves mostly on the foundation of a very genuine and somewhat naïve believe of what architecture should be.

When applying to school, they have to go through a process of competitive selection, then if they finally make it into one accredited school they get to experience the best and worst years of their lives in school studio. Becoming and staying an architecture student throughout the whole program is really challenging, that is why many change majors or never finish. It is a sacrifice that not many are willing to make, some have it easier than others but in the end it is a very arduous major, mentally, physically and even socially. Many architecture students have health issues due to lack of sleep, stress and improper eating habits, this is without considering the financial situation and how expensive the architectural books and materials are. Architecture school could leave consequences such as insomnia, additions and grey hairs to say the least, but a great feeling of accomplishment. Nonetheless, after the graduation day and the celebration, they start to realize they cannot call themselves students anymore; however it is still too soon to call them architects.

Lots of very original innovating architecture related job positions are created due to this phenomenon. Firms are not following the AIA standards and are being really creative with their job titles for recent graduates, to a point where there is no real definition of responsibilities of a particular job. The recent graduates can consider themselves very lucky if they find a decent job in architecture with no experience required and just enough to become independent financially and of course to pay the student debt. They indeed are very fortunate and they value so much their job that they continue to do whatever it takes to prove they can be real architects and to learn as much as possible. The majority of them continue the same school lifestyle staying overnight, not eating correctly, and having too much caffeine. They still don’t find the time to spend with their family. Some of them go through a life crisis where they ask themselves “why they studied architecture” and some are able to successfully answer and keep focused on their career with the hope for better times, and others switch to related fields such construction and real state. This is the second moment in their lives when they have to reassure their beliefs and those who stay are perhaps who still think they can make it and most importantly the ones that believe it is all worth it.

Then, the process of realizing they don’t really know anything about the real world of architecture strikes them, they start taking on more and more responsibilities at work just to be exposed to the unknown things and learn about a wider variety of subjects and all the phases of design. Hopefully, the firm is willing to offer all these learning opportunities. If so, after a while they decide it is time to start taking the board exams. In the end that is all they need to become a real architect, or at least that is what they think. They start studying at night, after work, again sacrificing themselves and their families in so many ways. After a couple of years some of them, the ones that stayed focused, the ones that knew exactly what they are doing and where they are going once having the license, pass the exams and become registered. However, sadly most of them give up trying. Therefore only those who had that unbreakable passion and truly uncorrupted believe stay. It is almost like a filter that has many layers that get tighter and tighter as you advance.

The next layer, starting a practice, takes not only a license, but lots of connections and good amount of money to start, which is almost ridiculous as architectural related jobs are one of the worst paid in the country. The ones that come from a prosperous family have a really good chance of making it. Then hiring the right people and using the most efficient software, can lead to a prosperous architectural practice, even to become locally well-known and to have a voice in the community; again taking a great amount of effort not only from themselves but from their families and colleagues as well. But somehow, it is then when they seem to forget the reason why they started this painful and meaningful path. They start being architecture machines, most of them do not get involved in the AIA, which is the only political force that they have to truly make a change on the community, just like how they use to dream as young students.

At this point when they have become a real architect or licensed architect with a practice, as society calls them, but can they really call themselves architects? Are they truly doing architecture? Are they being truly passionate about what they do? It is almost better to say they had been architects all the time during the painful path and now they just forgot what it was all about. Sadly most of them by this time have started ignoring their own believes, that is why they should try to go back in time to realize or remember all they have sacrificed to truly answer the question of their lives, “why being an architect” or even further, are they real architects?