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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Architecture, a Glorifed Profession

Madison Square Park
Photo by myself outside Tabla at Madison Square Park.

The modern Indian menu at this restaurant draws a crowd, especially for drinks outdoors in the warmer months. Sample their signature tamarind margaritas and kumquat mohitos.


I think people have the tendency to romanticize architecture and design because they're not too sure what it means.

I don't blame them. It's a complicated profession and we have a great PR department.

I've run into many people who say they love architecture and how cool it would be to be an architect. I'm a licensed architect in New York, by the way, so I can call myself an 'architect'. Legally, if you're not licensed, meaning if you haven't passed all seven exams, you can't call yourself one.

Having a license means that you can stamp drawings for a building and apply for a permit with the Building Department. You're taking legal responsibility and you can be sued! Some folks work for years doing fine architectural work, but never become licensed for whatever reason. They might not want to take all the exams or they don't see themselves doing work on their own.

Anyhow on my first day at work yesterday, I jumped in to help a swamped coworker prep for a client meeting. Dan had already drawn the upper and lower floor plans for a large, three-bedroom house in Palm Beach. He had exterior elevations sketched out by hand on translucent paper (what we call 'trace', or glorified tracing paper. It's also called 'bumwad', meaning the equivalent of toilet paper or stuff that's pretty disposable).

While Dan reviewed the plans in detail, I started drawing the sketched elevations in the computer. I referenced books on historical buildings at the same time, drawing details and adjusting proportions as best I could to convey the idea.

The project is a tricky one, since we're taking over the project from another office. The windows have already been fabricated and the house is in mid-construction. So there I was, referencing history books and the technical drawings for the windows at the same time. I was stitching together the real and ideal into our vision of what the house could be.

Dan started drawing another elevation of the house, borrowing elements from my drawing. This is one of the benefits of working on a networked computer system - you can borrow from other drawings pretty easily, which is something you couldn't do so well in the old days, drawing by hand. I left at a normal time last night (it was my first day, after all), while Dan stayed into the wee hours.

This morning we finalized the drawings and put a nice presentation together for the client. It was essentially one full day's hard work, but you'd never know it.

Eventually, all the details will have to be figured out. The drawings will be labored over and dimensioned and revised many times. The initial idealized sketch can take a moment. A presentation can be whipped up within in a day or a fortnight to sell the idea to the client.

Then the real work begins.


oldmanlincoln said...

Some people do not want to assume the responsibility of buildings falling down. I would guess that is the biggest impediment for taking the tests to be a licenses architect.

I worked for several years in research and development and found that very restrictive but also very safe. The company assumed the risks on things we made for the Vietnam war and for things like photochromics, microencapsulation, thermal printing and rescue beacons

I do like some of the more modern designs coming out of Japan. Some of their new furnitue designs reflect trends in Scandinavian furniture designs that I used to like. Minimal in black.

I don't like the hodge podge designs and crazy angles found in recent trends in the Netherlands. But that's just me. LOL

I do appreciate, more than anything, you visits to my blog and for the comments you make there. Your little icon is like looking at a porcelain doll.

Abraham Lincoln
Brookville, Ohio

Kitty said...

Mr. Lincoln, you are up much, much too early.

Design is such a subjective thing, ain't it? I too love Scandinavian design, but then I don't mind the modern stuff that's around. I'm eclectic.

I love visiting your blog. It's really a breath of fresh air!

Spandrel Studios said...

Architecture is the ultimate right-brain/left-brain occupation! You need an understanding of math and science(physics, geometry?), the creativity to design something appealing in the space provided, the chutzpah to deal with contractors and the communications skills to tell everyone what's what. I'm exhausted just thinking about what your day must be like!

fishwithoutbicycle said...

I don't know, technically you train for longer to be an architect than you do to become a doctor :-)

I did the first year of an architecture degree before realising it wasn't for me and switching to a maths degree. Funnily enough I get more gasps about the maths degree than I ever did for architecture :-)

Reluctant Blogger said...

Wow, it sounds like you have settled straight in there.

I would be a hopeless architect. I can't even build a house of cards.

But I do love buildings - not just traditionally pretty ones.

Ming the Merciless said...

I know a couple of (unlicensed) architects who have worked for years but never took the exam. The reasons, I was told, ranged from the difficulty and length of time it took to get licensed, to the fact that most licensed architects don't draw but conceptualize projects and seek out clients.

That said, I do admire architects and designers. I love furniture design, photography and art.

But I work in something that is totally opposite of all that I love. My Chinese parents thought it was in my best interest to get an "employable" degree. The balked at the idea of me studying anything in the arts.

And they were right (to a certain point).

Tammy said...

That sounds like a lot of hard work, but it still seems glamorous to a housewife. I'm glad you had a good first day!

Kitty said...

hey spandrel
Sometimes I think design is interesting, sometimes not. From a distance yes, it seems kind of ideal.

hi Fish
how neat the you got a math degree? You sound much too hip, in my view, lol.
There must be so few math majors?

I can't build card houses either. Oh dear.

Hi Ming!
furniture design seems very cool, though competitive!
I guess having the photography as a hobby is not such a bad thing?

Fredrik said...

I have a question to you as an architect. What is it about steal, glass and huge windows that attracts so many of your colleagues in the west at this time, do you think? I think the futuristic look that is so popular can be cool, but sometimes it gets quite impersonal and cold. Perhaps it reflects the national character of today. (Oops, this sounds like I'm bitter, but I'm not!) Interested to hear your thoughts.

Kitty said...

Hi Fredrik
You make a great point. Traditionally the west coast has been more experimental. They can afford to with the warmer climate. The cities are less traditional and younger, too.

I'd say they're expressing themselves and our time through architecture as a medium. If we were a society with ipods, computers and masonry buildings, there'd be a serious disconnect. Many architects want to express the latest technology or aesthetic, much like fashion.

There's something rather ironic about expressing transience in an object that should be permanent, but realistically, buildings change. A building may be used as a retail space but then become a restaurant or a bank.

Transience may be the way of life today, but I agree with you. I think we as humans like to feel rooted. We like to belong to a place and feel like we and the place will be here forever.

Daphne said...

Hi Kitty,

I have read your (entire) blog for the past month and I really love it! School can get boring sometimes, so reading your blog is like a breath of fresh air. I esp love how you view your work and transportation issues!

I was in NYC last Dec and stayed in Brooklyn for 8 days. Nice touch on the D train at the beginning of your blog in 2007! I took the same train and it was a full hr gg to Manhattan!

I miss NYC but it's great to know more about New York from your blog!

Sunny in Singapore,