02 June 2008

What makes an architect, an Architect

As a follow up to my frustration of a few days ago, and in response to the news that Brad Pitt will be "designing" a hotel in Dubai, I've been thinking a lot lately about what separates architects from just anyone who has a good idea for a design. I recently had a brief and vibrant email discussion with some of my college classmates about the subject of licensure after we learned that one of us passed all of the exams and got his stamp. Many of my classmates chose not to pursue a career in architecture after college, and of the ones that did, a smaller number will chose to take the exams. But I'm beginning to think that the ones who chose not to are selling themselves short. What's the point of years and years of learning in a university, and then several more years of internships, if not to ascend to the highest accomplishment of your profession? What if passing those exams is the only thing that truly makes us an Architect?

Some of my friends expressed concern over the notion that gaining a license, and therefore a stamp, opens you up to a whole world of liability, i.e., lawsuits from unhappy clients. And that may be true if you are a sole practitioner but the majority of young Architects won't start stamping their own drawings right away, since many work in larger firms. In fact, the decision to stamp drawings - and therefore assume responsibility - is your right as an Architect. Just because we get a stamp that doesn't automatically mean that we have to start stamping everything we touch. If you work in a larger firm you could go your whole career and not use your stamp, because you'd be using the partners' licenses. But, this choice - to stamp or not to stamp - is what makes US the Architect.

And it's not just passing the exams either....it's the opportunity to pass them. Brad Pitt may be a gifted designer but if he wants to be an Architect, he'll have to go through years of schooling, just like the rest of us. He can pay for it, for sure, but would he put forth the time? Probably not. So in a way I feel bad for him....he can design that hotel but he can't own the design. (And then I think about his gorgeous family and his piles of money and I don't feel as bad for him anymore....)

In conclusion, I guess I'm just thinking that taking those exams - and passing them - is the whole goal of architecture school. If you want to design buildings but you're not interested in an architect's stamp, then why go to architecture school? Be an illustrator, a graphic designer, or just go to law school so you can actually afford to build the buildings you want....and then when you're done, call me. I will definitely have passed the exams by then and you're going to need an Architect to sign and stamp those drawings ;o)

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