Special Interest Architects – Architecture Intern 101

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Special Interest Architects

The Profession of Architecture is huge.

It’s too huge…

It’s soo huge that 2 different architects could spend their entire lives studying, practicing and working both becoming experts in sub niches of Architecture without ever crossing professional paths or having overlap in their work or knowledge. Health, Law, Engineering and even Rock and Roll are other topics that are similarly as huge.

What is a Special Interest Architect? 

Architects are trained to be generalists in everything under the sun. Yet once they become generalists, they cannot help themselves from being Specialists in a few niche subjects in the realm of architecture.

A Special Interest Architect is an architect who is an expert and specializes in a specific sub niche of architecture. Sometimes Special Interest Architects might even think the entire architecture universe revolves around that sub niche of architecture or possibly them.

The Building Envelope Nazi

When I was in my first year of architecture school, I worked in a very large firm on some very large projects. I provided a ton of drafting support to more experienced architects and helped put together many sets of construction drawings. I was 22 years old at the time and still very inexperienced.

One day while I was working on building details, one of the old-timers in the office (I’m pretty sure he’s dead by now), whose only job was to redline our drawings had a freak out temper tantrum. He was really, really upset because he did not think our window/wall details were up to par. He yelled at me and everyone else on the team. No one was too concerned about it, because we still had plenty of time to make the corrections he was looking to see and eventually did.

Instead of using it as an opportunity to teach us, he brought up the fact that the junior staff in the office needed a lot of help with detailing the exterior of buildings at the next company staff meeting. He told the larger group that “None of us would ever become Architects unless we started caring as much about building envelope details as him. blah blah blah….” Everyone at that meeting rolled their eyes, patiently waiting for the old man to shut up.

A few weeks later, I was reading the local architecture magazine. There was a letter published from the Building Envelope Nazi, complaining about how architecture schools are not educating the future architects about the importance of building envelope details and everyone needs to fear for the next generation of architects.

The fact that this guy was a total jerk and belittled everyone who wasn’t as knowledgeable as him, rather than use this as an opportunity to mentor and share his passion…  is not the point I am trying to make.

What is the point I’m trying to make?

To care more about building envelopes details?!??  No Way Jose! Not at all, thats boring.

It’s….

You Don’t Have To Care About Something Just Because Someone Tells You to.

It took me a few years to realize that the Architecture community has many, many special interest groups and architects, who will tell you that you need you to be an expert in (or care a whole lot about) whatever subject they are personally passionate about.

Maybe those subjects are:

Building envelopes, preservation, sustainability or the many subcategories of sustainability, BIM, engineering, project management, Environmentalism, LEED, CAD standards, waterproofing, codes, Star-architect fanaticism, history, building construction, accounting, urban planning, windows, landscape architecture, plants, programming, marketing, politics, what NCARB or The AIA are doing, architecture licensing, or whatever sub-niche could fall under the broad term of “Architecture and Design”.

Sure, If you become a Licensed Practicing Architect you will need to be knowledable about these topics.. But the reality is, many architecture grads or people working in the profession do not become Licensed Practicing Architects.

There are many sub-niche topics within architecture and life that I find completely boring, and I have no interest in them, regardless of how important someone tells me they are.

OK wait, I take that back….  

It’s not that I don’t care; I feel it’s more important that I understand how those niches fit into the bigger picture and accept their value within the profession. Unless I encounter those subjects on a project, I don’t force myself to become an expert in something that doesn’t personally excite me or feel bad because I feel this way.

I have never enjoyed geeking out about window/wall details, but yet I really enjoy crafting a really well done set of construction drawings. When the time comes to do those drawings I find the people who are experts in those topics to consult, assist or help me when I need that knowledge.

I dont want to be an expert in everything and I’m ok with that. 

Acknowledge The Bigger Picture and Move Towards What Excites You!

In architecture school, everyone spends their time differently. Some people naturally gravitated toward different niche subjects. If you looked at the work we were producing, it was very clear who was personally interested in: computers, CAD, rendering, art, hand drawing, model building, history, design, sustainability, theory or creating construction drawings with school work.

As a student its soo important to pay really close attention to what makes you excited, seems fun and always move towards that.

There is nothing wrong with Special interest Architects, but watch out for ones who tell you to drop the mic and jump on their special interest bandwagon. Instead figure out why its soo important to the bigger picture and decide for yourself if that topic is really important to you.

It’s OK to Not Be an Expert (…and Be an Architecture Intern)

I think the most important thing is not to feel incompetent because a special interest architect is appalled that you aren’t sipping the same Kool-aid that they are about whatever subject. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t care about something, even though someone else told you to care it.

It takes many many projects and years to understand what is going on in the architecture office.  In my early years I often beat myself up a lot because I expected myself to perform at a much higher level, then where I was currently at.  Don’t feel guilty if you’re not quite sure what you’re passionate about.

All of your interests, opinions, and feelings about EVERYTHING in the architecture world will grow, shift, change, and evolve over time.

The quickest way to becoming successful in the architecture firm is to always be open to learning and  being able to translate your mistakes into learning.  Just go with the flow, commit to doing good work, and be OK with where you are today.

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About the author

Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect who lives in beautiful Portland, Oregon, with his Labrador Retriever. He is passionate about helping Young Architects change the world. In his free time, Michael likes to take very long bicycle rides across America. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In.