Saturday, January 20, 2007

Why Architects Drink: A Primer

Before I begin, I dedicate my blog to my dad, God rest his soul, for believing I could even do this for a living and putting me through college to do it. I also dedicate this Blog to my sister, Miss Kitty at Educated and Poor, who helped me refine my writing and convinced me that maybe there was something to my pedestrian profession worth writing about. I mean, about which is worth writing.

Here's the deal: I've been a healthcare architect for about six and a half years now, and I recently was assigned to the project of a lifetime. The project is an inpatient mental health hospital in the northwest, which is not only related to my thesis project (an inpatient mental health facility for the homeless mentally ill), but it's also a hard project to find under any circumstances. Due to the rise of HMOs and their financial strength, inpatient stays for mental health care are becoming more and more rare, so it's hard to find the financing to build a new mental health hospital. (More on this in a later post--I'm not riled up enough right now to go off on the state of mental health care in the U.S. yet.)

So, I've started this blog just as the project is about to take off and my involvement in its design and construction begins. But I also wanted to give the public at large a better sense of just what it is that we architects do. Let's begin with some FAQ:

What does it take to become an architect?
There are several ways to become one, but the fastest way (not that the process is fast, per se) is to acquire a professional degree, which is either:
  • a five year Bachelor of Architecture (B. Arch) degree
  • or a four year Bachelor of Arts in Architecture or Bachelor of Science in Architecture Studies (B.A. or B.S.A.S) followed by a Master of Architecture (M.Arch)

I received my B.S.A.S in 1998 and my M.Arch in 2000, both from major colleges in the Southeast.

Architecture school is tough. Actually, saying architecture school is tough is like saying Hurricane Katrina was an air current. The history and technology classes require a lot of studying, and the studio class each semester keeps future architects awake and late-night coffee shops in business. On every college campus, the lights are on 24 hours a day in only two buildings: the student center and the College of Architecture building.

Wow, that's a lot of schooling. But then you're licensed, right?

Nope. After school, you then have to work under the direct supervision of a licensed architect for a minimum of three years in order to acquire the hours of experience required to sit for the ARE, the Architectural Registration Exam, or as I called it while taking it, the Asshole Reaming Exam. The exam has nine parts that can be taken all together or separately, each part costing over $100 each. If you flunk a section, you can't take it again for another six months, and you have to pay for it again.

Golly, that's a lot of work to become an architect. Bet y'all make mad cash, yo!


Um, no?

No. While our education and licensing procedures are comparable to that of many medical professionals, their financial compensation far outpaces ours. Fresh out of grad school in the summer of 2000, my yearly gross was $30,000. Licensure, along with an increase in responsibilities, has allowed me finally to make the kind of money that leaves me more than one paycheck away from homelessness.

Wow, yo, that ain't right.

Yeah, that shit's fucked up. Bitches ain't pay a sista a damn thang.

Yow! Do you kiss your momma with that mouth, missy?

Actually, yes. A former form carpenter who built concrete-frame bridges, she taught me to talk like that. I got worse in architecture school, and my profanity has become pathological since joining the profession. So piss off.

Maybe that's enough Q & A for now.


Miss Kitty said...'!!!!!!

The Wandering Author said...

MileHighPixie, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume you don't design the sort of dismal maze every hospital I've ever visited has "boasted". But I'd be interested in a post on why so many of them turn out so horribly, if they pay people with so much training to design them.

I've never, thank God, been a patient in one, but as a visitor, and in some cases a visitor who had to spend a lot of time in one hospital and another, I have only noticed three design constants. First, it seems to be a requirement that the building be dismal and depressing. Second, it seems to be a requirement that it confuse anyone without a GPS receiver and a computerised map of the place. Third, they all seem to be designed to make anyone who spends much time there suffer.

I assume there must be a reason for these things, and I assume people don't go through the process you described just to produce such a result. So, I'm genuinely curious; do you have any idea why all hospitals turn out that way?

ms. kitty said...

Welcome to the blogosphere, MHP. I lived in Golden/Lakewood for 34 years as a school counselor for Jeffco Schools during that time. It's a great place to live. I'm home again now in the Pacific Northwest. Is that where your big project is located? You just said "nw" in your post.

Anyhow, I discovered Miss Kitty at E & P somehow and have been enjoying her blog ever since. I hope you enjoy your blogging.
Ms. Kitty

Mile High Pixie said...

Miss Kitty: I hope you were pinching my cheek when you typed that.

WA: Your question is such a good one that I had to blog about it. Rock on! Keep coming back--doing what I do for a living has sure lifted the veil of secrecy on the healthcare profession to me, and I'm glad to answer questions.

ms. kitty: A counselor with JeffCo? Man, you've really earned your stripes! I'm being purposefully evasive about my new mental hospital in the Northwest so I don't give away any identifiying details, but I think it's within a 12-18 hour drive of case you need one.

faded said...

I repented quit being an architect 25 years ago. It was the best descision I ever made.

I got away from low pay, difficult clients, obstreperous associates and incredibly manipulative and dishonest partners.

I did develop a profound respect for construction workers and contractors. They work under difficult business conditions and sometimes miserable work conditions to create the built environment we take for granted.

Remember, the guy with the screw gun can screw your project together just the way you want or he can just screw it up. Treat him nice.

Alice said...

MileHighPixie, and associated paraphernalia. yours is the first blog i have read for more than 5seconds and actually am interested in.
I am an architect(not registered) with some amazing years in the field, working for some of the biggest and most interesting companies of the world.

What i love the most about my job, is the mix of people who are fantasticly multi disciplinary and just plain quirky

however, thanks to one old morbidly bitter architect: I had THE most terrible experience of my career...I took a job out of desperation-due to the current climate(i was like, wow i got a job in the field AND in a recession) and conversely went against my instinct on the person i would be working for....I endured 4mths of verbal abuse, bullying, along with a constant lack of communication, affirmatin and joy within an office. I walked out 3weeks ago with no intention of returning to that office or architecture. For the reasons you have outlined, shit pay, crushing work hours, continual stress, getting blamed for not being fast enough at getting things built or resolved....
I am taking legal action against this particular situation because i am lucky enough to have the comparison and experience of working in great offices surrounded by people with interpersonal skills, I however feel that so many architectural graduates don't and are under the real risk of being mishandled, uncared for, or unappreciated in the current joblessness. where are the support systems/groups for these underpaid, overworked, continually rushed, passionately drained people on a knife edge due to the fact they may loose their jobs tomorrow...?

My final comment...Architektur ist tödlich!