This post is part of an ongoing (although intermittent) series of fictional chats between an architect and an intern in the architect’s Northern California studio.
Sitting at a redwood picnic table near the edge of a small meadow, having lunch, and reviewing the intern’s last six months’ progress, the architect continues with a surprisingly direct question:
A. How successful do you want to be?
I. I would like to do work that serves the client well and allows for the fulfillment of my skill and aptitude. I would consider that successful.
A. And how do you think you are doing in regards to this quest? I mean, do you think you are on track?
I. I think I’m doing pretty well. Many of my classmates are working in medium sized commercial and institutional offices and seemingly not getting much exposure to the breadth of architecture I’ve been experiencing here. I’m probably learning more here than I would have in graduate school. To be truthful I feel like I haven’t fully absorbed the “Office Standards” and “Basic Design Thoughts” we’ve been discussing. These are really pretty disarming – They appear simple enough yet somehow always elusive and it seems you are continually redirecting me…or pointing out exceptions… or critiquing my judgment.
A. That’s what God put me here for.
I. I guess I just need time to mature and develop.
A. That’s true, but you can accelerate the process by proactively pursuing information and looking for answers – almost as a basic mindset.
I. Most of the time I don’t quite know what to even ask…I see your process here in the studio, but I don’t have a clue what in the world is truly driving it. You or it.
A. One of the great values of pursuing information and answers is that eventually you come to realize that, perhaps unfortunately, no one has answers to give you. They may be able to impart a little bit of wisdom here and there, but, alas, you’re going to have to find things out for yourself. I always used to pump strong designers for information which might reveal their secrets, but I never found them. What I did find was insight into who, how, and why they were who they were.
I. I can accept that, but, nevertheless, how do you go about thinking about things?
A. These days I mostly just do, but I suppose I could generalize a little. I mostly consider things based on my own life’s perceptions and experiences. Second, I think about how I would like to see things in an ideal world. Third, I consider input from others – outside sources, and fourth, I consider the governing laws and regulations in effect at the time. These are practical matters that (to quote Dylan) can come in with the tide and be gone with the wind. Mostly they just keep coming. That’s pretty much my order of allegiance. Yours might well be different. For some architects the plethora of directives from governing agencies is about all they think about.
By far your own values and life experiences…goals and skills are what inform your thinking. Look, this is not all that difficult, or perhaps it’s a level of difficulty that is off the charts…the way to get better is to get better. Just do it.
Here’s a helpful tip though – be highly suspicious of sources that claim to know what others are thinking or why they are doing what they do. I dismiss this drivel in favor of what someone actually does…actions speak louder than words. And one more thing, responsibility is a basic goal to be pursued. Without responsibility you’re very likely to lose substance.
I. Excellent. I’m glad to know there is really nothing much to work on. I was afraid I was going to have to work my brains out or something.
A. And you may very well have to, but if this, in and of itself, is not a good and rewarding experience then you probably won’t be very successful. For me success is the gratification of achieving results well beyond the status quo and the thrill of searching for (and possibly even finding) that mythical goal of Sullivan’s “doing things right.”
I. Talking too much aesthetics can be brain numbing, but now I’ve got one more thing: Sometimes I’m dismayed by how narrow sighted people are only thinking of themselves. All of us. And you say?
A. At the dawn of time that was probably a perfectly good trait to have. It’s dominant in virtually every other species on earth. It’s just that now with our technical dominance other traits – like compassion and foresight – have come to have an important role in our survival. And probably for other species’ survival as well. But don’t let that dash your hopes for humanity – there are numerous thoughtful, insightful folks around – they’re just not making a lot of noise about it.
I. I wonder how this movie ends.
A. I think there are many different possible endings. Casablanca’s was pretty good…
I. What do you think about my getting a raise?