Camaraderie amongst architects

Now that we’ve settled into 2010, the US economy doesn’t seem to be making much headway in improving the job market especially as it relates to architecture and construction.

I caught up with a friend and former colleague at the beginning of the year over Sunday brunch. She’s a working mother of two adorable children and her husband is also an architect. We became fast friends ever since we had lunch after I had noticed she was getting frustrated with our project team and the architect who was leading it. She was relieved to hear that I also shared common issues about the office, project team, and the managing architect. It was of great relief to know that we were not alone in our displeasure with the then working environment.

In our recent get together, we confided in each other our dissatisfaction with our current employment situation but recognize it was in our best interest to remain silent about it from our respective employers. As I have mentioned earlier, my friend is a working mother of two young children, and shares the responsiblity of picking them up at the end of the day with her husband. She’s been finding this difficult to do as of late because it meant that she had to leave a little bit early (of course always making up her time). She works for a respected corporate firm, and though they have employees with families and domestic responsibilities, she is on a team of young “go-getters” (who work crazy long hours, a behavior left over from their architectural education), and is the only “mom” amongst her project team members. She has a cloud of guilt when she leaves to pick up her children because there is nobody else who is a parent to young children on the project team. The project that she’s working on is on a tight schedule to complete documents, and as a result all team members are required to pull in overtime. In addition to the hectic work schedule, she has taken on more tasks on top of her other responsibilities (along with the other team members).

In order for some of these large corporate architecture firms to stay afloat and ride thru this economic downturn, they had to lay-off non-essential staff. The employers kept those who had the abilities to take on tasks that were previously delegated to intermediate and/or senior staff. Those who were fortunate enough to keep their employment had to double or triple up their responsibilities.

My situation is similar in that I acquired a bigger work load as a result of my colleagues having been laid-off in the summer of 2009. I inherited the mismanaged projects but fortunately those projects did not require me to over exert myself. I was successful in completing the projects however, my responsibilities lacked challenge. I found myself in a less senior role as 2009 ended and entered 2010. I was professionally frustrated, and wanted to improve my situation.

Before 2009 came to an end, I had spoken to a friend who is in the construction industry. He told me at the time that he was putting an ad in the NY Times to hire someone and had noticed that there weren’t any ads seeking a position to be filled in construction. He further added that it would take another three years before we start to see signs of recovery…

Having that bleak outlook on my mind made my situation seem almost unbearable until I had brunch with my friend, and found out that I was not alone in going through the motions as we struggled to do our best to hold onto our jobs during this recession. And if things should become professionally moot for me, I have a sort of back-up plan to my career path, which is to return to school for real estate development and project management, and get my architectural license (yes, still working on it and a topic to expand on but not here). This alternative to an architectural career was echoed by another friend and architect who I considered a mentor.

He works for a prestigious architecture firm, and his position in the firm is not too far from the head of the company. I met him as a college intern at one of the large corporate firms. He was always helpful and enthusiastic about architecture education and as a profession. He dispensed great advice and wisdom that came from experience, and always with a positive outlook to better yourself professionally.

We met for lunch at the beginning of 2010 after losing touch for some years. We exchanged updates of our current working environment and discussed how our industry has been hit hard with the recession. He strongly urged that I get my architectural license after I admitted my reluctance to pursue it. He explained that he once shared the same thoughts I have of the architectural industry and practice. He further explained that when he finally became licensed, he felt free. He added that with the license I could dive into related fields; like construction management and real estate development; and be more appreciated for my architectural expertise as opposed to working in an environment of architects vying for recognition. There was so much truth to what he said; truth that I already knew but have been hesitating to do something about it. I appreciated his words and advice. In fact, I thanked him for being a mentor.

I walked away from my friends with the weight of professional despair being lifted from my shoulders. I wasn’t alone in finding myself in a situation where I was fortunate to be gainfully employed but that the working environment had become less stimulating. Furthermore, the options that I have been pondering are avenues my friend and mentor encouraged me to pursue.

At times, we may not be able to express ourselves freely to our supervisors, or confide with our teammates because we do not trust how they will digest what we reveal, and thus, it creates an awkward and perhaps even stressful working environment. And at other times, you may not have anyone you can share or vent your frustrations to, which also does not make for a productive attitude towards achieving your professional goal(s). Should you find yourself in a similar situation, know that you are not alone, there are always options, and feel free to share or vent freely here.

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2 thoughts on “Camaraderie amongst architects

  1. I find sometimes that employees forget that their bosses are human too. I always encourage them to talk to me about concerns no matter what they are and not let them fester as this can be more damaging in the long run. I have had unapproachable bosses in the past and never want to be seen like that. I would like some of my staff to understand and share the financial constraints, the stress in getting work and the politics involved in running the office. Generally they have self interest at heart and don’t see the bigger picture that maybe I need someone to step up to the responsibility.

    I am lucky I have friends in similar positions in architecture to discuss things with and their advice and help has been invaluable over the years. Sometimes you get told things you just don’t want to hear, but, sometimes you need to listen!

    I would definitely recommend getting your licence sooner rather than later, better to get it out of the way and not let it cloud any judgement on the future

    • Thanks for your comments. I agree that there are employers who also face difficulties in an office. At times they have to make some tough decisions and can be seen as the bad guy. I also do recognize that there are employees who do take advantage of their employers which may result in a negative reflection towards employees in general.

      I am an advocate in being able to have an open dialog between employee to employer, and vice versa. I agree with you that concerns should not fester as it is unproductive and could create an uncomfortable working environment.

      The relationship between employer and employee is an interesting subject for me as it is with these experiences that will either perpetuate the same negative cycle, or promote a more balanced and open partnership should the employee become a supervisor or employer.

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