Architecture in The Real World

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Archispeaks Architecture in the real world blogpost

This is my first time participating in the #ArchiTalks architecture blogger collaboration. The powerful Bob Borson has organized 28 architect bloggers, including myself. All of us will have a blog post published on the same topic, but each of us will have our own spin on it.

You can find links at the bottom of this blog post to all the other architect’s posts. Please visit them.

This month’s ArchiTalks topic is titled…

Architecture in the Real World.

I had a hard time figuring out what to write about. After several failed blogpost attempts, I decided I don’t want to report on the state of the profession. Especially since Frank Gehry flew off the handle a few months ago, I’m growing a little tired of the “future of architecture” discussion.

Since I naturally like to compare EVERYTHING, I’ve decided to compare architecture school with the real world. This includes some of the lessons that I have learned in both and how they apply to each other.

My spin on the topic is more of a reflection on some of the really beautiful lessons that architecture has taught me. Specifically, I explore how ideas I learned in architecture school have carried over into the real world.

In retrospect, maybe my blogpost should really be called Architecture and The Real World.


Blurring the Line between Competition and Inspiration

Like it or not, architecture in the real world is highly competitive. The competition starts on the first day of architecture school and never stops. This includes raising the standard in the design studio, competing over a limited supply of jobs after college, landing projects, and building a business. Trying to out-hustle, push things farther, and understand problems from a different point of view hasn’t ever stopped or even really slowed down.

This isn’t a bad thing.

For me personally, competition has been a good thing 100% of the time (whether I understood why or not while I was experiencing it).

It’s good because:

It pushes boundaries.

It fuels creativity.

It fosters growth.

One big lesson I wish I’d learned much earlier in my career is that you should always look at any competition as a source of inspiration.

Lazy people don’t compete. If you want to grow, competition should always be embraced, celebrated, and used for inspiration.

This is kind of a lame example, but I think it illustrates the point.

Rather than saying:

“Michael Riscica ran a 3:45 marathon, thats impossible. He is probably cheated. Who cares, what a jerk!”

View it as:

“Michael Riscica ran a 3:45 marathon. Didn’t he used to be fat? That’s awesome, good for him! If he could do that, then I bet I could too!!”

Seeing competition as a negative threat shuts off the opportunity for growth and learning.

I’ve learned that when I haven’t viewed competition positively, it’s more of a reflection on myself. It means there’s something I should be doing, that I’m not.

The most interesting thing to think about when contemplating competition, What I thought was competition usually wasn’t my competition at all, and I were just being petty and selfish.

The Process vs. the Destination

For years, I had a really hard time understanding how everything I learned in architecture school applied to the real world. (I still don’t think I have it figured out.) One thing I really struggled with was how the richness of process was emphasized in school because, in the real world, it seemed like it was so often the opposite.

In the real world I constantly felt like arriving at the destination as quickly and cheaply as possible was the goal.  It sometimes felt like I worked in an architecture sweatshop.

In the real world, process is now a lot different than it was in college.

In academia, my process was all design-focused—very insular and introverted. Sure, my process still involves drawings, sketches, models, and lots of trial and error.

In academia, the project was 80% design process and 20% execution.

In the real world, the project is 20% design process and 80% execution.

Eventually I stopped discounting and started to see how the human element is involved in the process.   It was all about the people you worked with, the things you learned, the new relationships you made, the people who shined (or didn’t), the mistakes you made, and the lessons you learned on the way to your destination.

In the real world, the “design process” is often a smaller piece of the process, or really just a moment in time. The execution of the design is a process that lasts much longer. With good collaboration, often more exciting design problems are solved in the field than in the office.

Creating architecture in an academic environment is drastically different than it is in the real world.

Both are very beautiful in their own way.



Thinking in Different Scales

In architecture school, we always designed in 3 different scales.  I usually worked on my floor plans at 1/8” or 1/4”. Then we would usually look at the site or street either at 1/16” or 1/32”. Next we zoomed out to see how the project impacted the city, or we zoomed in and looked at a much smaller scale like 1:50 or something.

The logic is that every single decision we make (as an architect or a human) has an effect that plays out in time and space at 3 different levels. Depending on the challenge you’re dealing with, these levels can be viewed in other ways, such as:

Right here, a few miles away, or really far away.

Now, later, or a lot later.

Sometimes the answer we are looking for doesn’t exist at the scale we are currently working in and needs to be solved on another level.

How does the shape of this building effect: …the room? …the street?  …the city?  ..the country? Who will it effect, and why will it affect them?

As nerdy as it is, thinking in multiple scales is a framework I use to make my logical decisions in the real world.

These decisions include the food I eat, how I invest my time, where I spend my money, the people I choose to work with, and what I prioritize. I pretty much run through the same exact problem-solving process in the real world that I learned in architecture school.

This is good, and it works. By definition, this is called logical thinking.

Emotional thinking is often completely opposite. These are decisions that are fueled from an emotional point of view and can often be contrary to logic, space, or time.

Emotional thinking comes from the gut and is often where beauty, passion or the architecture comes from.


Business Usually Trumps Everything

I used to get frustrated in architecture school. I felt like I was constantly being pushed very hard on my design projects, while some other guy just surfed by year after year, doing the minimum. He wasn’t getting A’s on his designs, but he also wasn’t getting the F’s that I felt he deserved.

It’s water under the bridge, but the point I’m trying to make is that architecture school is a business. If they kicked out everyone who I thought did the minimum, they could never keep the lights on.

The AIA is a business. NCARB is a business. Your employer is a business. Politics is a business. The clients are usually a business in one way or another.

However, an architecture student sitting alone at a drafting table brainstorming utopian ways to save the world is not a business.

In the real world, very good ideas often get passed right over because they differ from the business’ point of view.

Like it or not, architecture in the real world is always at the mercy of time and money.


The Value of Non-digital Communication and Human Connection

At the most basic level, all human beings need love, community, and connection.

I like to believe that the tactile world is much more fulfilling than the digital world we are creating for ourselves.

That’s not to say computers are bad. Computers are amazing. I love technology, but it’s only a tool.

I prefer verbal conversations over the barrage of emails I get every day.

I prefer to design with my hands over a computer.

I prefer in-person relationships over my 10 million social media relationships.

I prefer to work with and support real people over faceless corporations.

Even though those are my preferences, that’s not to say technology cannot be used to facilitate. I support technology as a tool that facilitates moving towards a stronger connection in the real world.

I recently put a picture of my face at the top of my blog. I did that because I am a real person, and I wanted to create a connection within the blog, as opposed to being a faceless person hiding behind a screen name. Anyone can write anything they want on the internet and avoid being held personally accountable for it.  I feel like my picture adds more value and makes the site more human.


There Is Room for Everyone in the Profession of Architecture

Someone recently said on a podcast I listen to (I paraphrase):

There are billions of people available with incredible skills and talent. They are all ready to change the world. However, many lack creativity and a vision, or they simply do not even want to lead. Right now is an incredible time to be a leader.

I agree.

I think it’s an incredible time to be an architect.

However, architecture school taught me that someone can be incredibly talented, but they may not necessarily be a leader in the real world. And vice versa.

That’s OK!

As a student I felt like the traditional architect path was always the assumed norm:

Graduate from architecture school, get your license, and work for the man. Then start your own practice and make millions.

The farther I get from graduation, the more I realize that path is only realized by about 10% of the people who thought that was what they would achieve.

Not following that traditional path might actually be the best thing for many people.

I truly believe that there is plenty of room within architecture for everyone to utilize whatever skills they have to become successful. I have several friends that are making a lot of money, doing types of work that didn’t even exist 5-10 years ago.

I think the internet and technology are blazing a new trail, and it’s really exciting for architecture and the real world.

Even though I said I wasn’t going to write this kind of blogpost, I like to believe the future of architecture in the real world is moving in a very positive direction.


Please Check Out The Other ArchiTalks Bloggers

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect
Architecture in the Real World … sorta


Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture
Welcome to the Architecture of the Real


Marica McKeel – Studio MM
Architecture in the Real World


Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet
What is the Real World: Architecture in the Real World


Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect
Architecture in the Real World


Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect
The HGTV Effect


Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC
Architecture: It’s a human thing


Nicholas Renard – Cote Renard Architecture
Keep on Architect’n in the Real World


Andrew Hawkins, AIA – Hawkins Architecture, Inc.
Here in the Real World


Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture
architecture in the real world: #architalks


Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect
Architecture in the Real World


Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC
Architecture in the Real World


Architecture in the Real World


Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect
Architecture in the Real World


Tara Imani – Tara Imani Designs, LLC
Architecture in the Real World


Jonathan Brown – Proto-Architecture
Architecture in the Real World

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.

What is the Real World: Architecture in the Real World - February 23, 2015

[…] Michael Riscica at Young Architect (@YoungArchitexPDX): “Architecture in the Real World” […]

Jonathan Brown - February 23, 2015

Good point about technology being just another tool. It’s all about communication, and how you connect with the client or community.


I look up, I look back, and I look around | Documenting my ARE/IDP Journey - February 23, 2015

[…] Michael Riscica at Young Architect (@YoungArchitexPDX): “Architecture in the Real World” […]

Meghana - February 23, 2015

“In the real world, the project is 20% design process and 80% execution.”- Exactly! Real world is all about designing a product that the client and architect agree on- and the city can stamp on.. and making it a reality.

Lora - February 23, 2015

Great post, Mike! The comparison is definitely worth keeping in mind. And never stop pursuing!

Andrew Hawkins, AIA - February 23, 2015

Very good post with lots of very true statements. Your first post in the series is a good one! You make some very good points and I like that you can explain how your ideas have evolved since you were in school. It is a process that I feel either makes or breaks you in the profession. Sad, but true state of our chosen profession.

Lee Calisti - February 25, 2015

Michael – Great insight and welcome to the group. I found this profound – “however, an architecture student sitting alone at a drafting table brainstorming utopian ways to save the world is not a business. In the real world, very good ideas often get passed right over because they differ from the business’ point of view.”

Good ideas may be good outside of their context – and they get passed over. Believe me I’ve had my share. However, we all know that buildings get built within a context and that includes business, money, clients’ taste and dozens of other things. So a building that is built isn’t thought of as a disappointment because in a Utopian mode it could have been “better.” If we look at making things the best they can be within their context, then that’s real achievement.

This is a nice view to add dimension to this round of #architalks.

    Michael Riscica - March 1, 2015

    Great point.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    I really enjoyed your post as well. I added your blog to the list in the sidebar of my site. You do a really great job with it and I really enjoy reading your style of writing!

matthew - March 6, 2015

I enjoyed all the different aspects you touched on. Architecture in the real world is truly multi-facetted.

Comments are closed