Last week, Korey asked for our view of the “Value of an Architect.” She garnered opinions from many disciplines for the Architects’ current campaign: urban planners, politicians, and business owners, to name a few. And parents. That’s me. Before I owned an architect, I just thought they drew lots of intricate pictures for cool buildings. Silly me, it’s so much deeper and wider than that. In 2015, architects are hoping to develop a broad mindset of national advocacy.  My dad had a saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”  Now, I know, once again, the children teach the parents. And by the way, we don’t own our children. Oh, we carry them to birth, but they basically just flow through us. Then we’ve got to let them go! Good luck if you try hanging on to them..

The Care and Feeding of Aspiring Architects

One reason our daughter, Korey, was drawn to University of Illinois’ Architecture Program was the year in Versailles, France. Had I known she’d visit 18 countries in 10 months, I’d sent my own application in. The dean of foreign studies gave compelling reasons why we should send our children abroad, with a lot of our money.  Hmmmm, are we financing the next Rick Steves (European travel expert) or an architect?  Of all the reasons, one resonated with me. “When these students return to campus,” he said, “they’re different. (Oh? Like HOW different…?) They’ve seen the world, felt history, tasted cultures and diversified their perspectives. I can pick them out on campus upon their return; they carry themselves with more confidence than other students.” This was huge for me, because curiosity and confidence are imperative values required of professionals-in-training; these cannot be taught in a classroom or conference. After much discussion, Korey’s dad relented. “But,” he said, “absolutely no trips to Greece or Spain, due to their fragile economies!”  She went anyway. We learned that parents cannot control our architecture students. You must let them fly. They need to feed the value of remaining perpetual students and global ambassadors. How else will our cities and living systems get refined, repurposed and improved? And heaven knows many of these ills clearly need fixing.

In the meantime, we parents paid thousands to universities each year, for room and board, while our student architects lived in the studio, for days and nights before deadlines.  I’d heard about these kids sleeping under their desks and assumed it was poor time management; or were they practicing to be homeless, should they not make it in architecture? Clearly, they were learning that in order to produce an excellent product, hours upon days upon weeks were required. Never mind one’s other responsibilities; real clients will have unrealistic demands and deadlines. Get used to it.

Architects must value this type of culture and possess discipline, persistence, the ability to accept harsh criticism, and the flexibility to correct, refine, present and defend projects in order to deliver them on time. All of this on sparse sleep and oceans of bad coffee.

Aspiring architects are different, all right. If our cities are to remain or become vibrant, we need perpetual students trained as critical thinkers, with an eye for efficiency and sustainability, not waste; for livability, not just structure; to look beyond our culture to learn how the world is solving similar problems and planning for trends.

It has become apparent that the value of an aspiring architect is so much more than just giving us drawings, specs and cute doll-sized models. They must possess the understanding of where we live and work and why; with whom as neighbors, in addition to how we move about, rest, work and play safely, efficiently, comfortably, affordably, tolerably and aesthetically. With a personal interest in Sociology, I love that young architects bring life to inanimate buildings, by incorporating light and design, until each structure has a unique personality.  I’m thankful that aspiring architects honor the environment and will fight to save our shrinking resources: trees, energy, green space, and etc. Personally, I like these values which have been engrained in our aspiring architects; those dissatisfied with the status quo; those who will have a hand and a voice in repairing our cities and homes. Due to the last couple of generations who’ve mismanaged the above resources, we are counting on you aspiring architects to design quality places for us to live and work for a long time, in spite of us. We value your spirit and logic. Keep learning. Keep talking. Keep traveling. Keep helping. We’ll keep the coffee hot.