Architect as His Own Architect

Architecture is funny.  People make a lot of assumptions about architects; the number one assumption is that we’re filthy rich.  Most people are shocked when I tell them that I have consistently made about $20,000 less each year than my colleagues who went into teaching.

Another funny thing about the profession is there are generally two reactions when I meet someone for the first time and tell them I’m an architect.  The first is “Ooo!  Frank Lloyd Wright!”  Congrats to them.  They know the name of a famous one.  I’m never sure of the appropriate response to this.

The other common reaction is, “Oh!  I always wanted to be an architect!”  I met a neighbor the other day while walking the dogs and that’s what he said.  I asked what he did instead and he said ophthalmology.   I teased and said, “Aha.  So you did your pocketbook a favor!” (Pocket book?  How old am I?  Who calls it that anymore?)  He said, “Oh, you’re not kidding!”  He knew what he was talking about.  An amiable guy, he went on to tell me how he took up restoring historic homes as a hobby, 1 each year for 15 years, on his income.  Ha!

(I could spin off on a huge tangent regarding the differences between architects and doctors.  Or architects and engineers.  Or architects and other fields that use our title.  Like The Shit List article in archilepsy webzine – issue 3, pages 6-7.)

Another reaction that I get when I tell people we’re designing our own home is that I must know exactly what I want, and must have been planning it for years.  While some ideas had been brewing, I haven’t known what kind of property we’d end up on.  As I’ve demonstrated in previous posts, a good design responds to the particular conditions of its site.  So this has really been a ground up design process like any other project.

Other people have responded with, “Hmm.  You know, an architect is his own worst client.”  This one bugged me until I actually sat down to get this project up and running…    My aunt is a talented decorator and captured the situation best.  She said that we usually filter the options down to two or three to show a client, but when we’re doing this for ourselves, we’re aware of so many other directions to take and we have a harder time eliminating some of these options.  I have a pile of discarded sketch paper.   A HUGE PILE.  It shows where we’ve started and where we’re going.  And yet I still find myself sketching more on ideas that I’ve already discarded.

In any case I’ve accepted the challenge and despite the requisite bumps along the way, it’s been fun so far!  Here are a few tips for keeping your own design project on track:

  • Don’t get hung up on details early on
  • Decide when construction should begin and then schedule backwards
  • Schedule each step of the design process and stick to the deadlines
  • When you get stuck, look at inspiring examples. I have a huge list of links from various design blogs not to mention post-it marked pages in my various books and magazines.
  • When you get stuck, talk through the quandary with someone else
  • Make yourself accountable by sharing your goals with someone else

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