May 24, 2011

RISE UP: The Man, the System, and the Rebellion

by C. VanWingen

The recently convened AIA National Convention in New Orleans threw into stark relief some of the fundamental flaws that plague the architectural profession today.

If you are a young designer, fresh out of school, with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, and a spunky, optimistic attitude, these are your career options:
  • Search desperately for a job at an established office that may or may not (probably won't) be doing stimulating work, that will pay you next to nothing, and demand 12 hours of your day without overtime pay thanks to an obscure loophole in the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act.  With the 2-3 hours a day you are not working or sleeping, you should probably be studying for the ARE, LEED, etc exams. Luckily, you won't have any disposable cash to spend on a social life anyway.
  • You can move to Europe and use your degree to quickly start a practice and be roundly appreciated by a culture that generally venerates architects, designers, and the built environment.  Unfortunately, you would also be in Europe. And if you decided to return, Pritzker Prize in hand, you could no longer use the words "architect" or "architecture" to describe what you do.
  • You can quit, go off and make good money as a welder or a carpenter or something, gradually pay off your student loans, start a happy family, and look back at these as the dark days.
  • You can hunker down, carve out a niche in the cramped design market, and fight for those design principles you spent the better part of a decade honing.  Eventually, with a lot of effort and sacrifice, you can make a decent living, while maintaining your soul, and doing the work you love.  There is just one catch; this path makes you a threat to the "legitimacy" of the entire profession.  Should you slip up and use the word "architect," the AIA, NCARB, and KGB will pursue you as if you were slinging knock-off Versace handbags on the corner.  Never mind that the word is clearly printed on your accredited Master's degree.
Licensure is important.  It ensures that you can deliver the product that you are selling.  If you can pass the licensing exam, shouldn't the burden of proof be sufficiently satisfied?  Of course. That is, unless the purpose of the system is not to ensure that one is qualified, but to ensure that dues paying members of the architectural elite are entitled to a consistently replenished supply of cheap, obedient labor.

What if someone had a viable alternative path?  What if there were an organized network of business savvy young people that could rely on one another to navigate this convoluted system, find jobs, and produce work efficiently and legally?  What if the current experience-based economy that is architectural practice were adapted to incorporate and value talent, drive, and innovation?  What if you could make money now and tomorrow with the skill set you left school with?  What if your jaded, pessimistic, depressing future of corporate servitude could be completely avoided?

It just so happens that blazing that path is exactly what GOATstudio has in mind.  Stay tuned.

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