Recap :: So You Want to Be an Architect...

Photo by Rand Lemley
By Rand Lemley, BArch Candidate

In the heart of the McKim, Mead + White’s historic wing of the Boston Public Library a group of local architects spoke about their own history and current lives as professionals in the design field. Hosted by the BAC, this discussion of architectural practice included Bill Hall, Jay Lee, Michael Wolfson, and Hansy Better Barraza, who each shared their unique experiences with an audience of young adults interested in design.

Dreaming is part of the design process, Michael explained, and the other half is problem solving. An architect must learn to always look at things from a new perspective and observe deeply, he said. As Director of Distance M.Arch Thesis at the BAC, Michael says that his students are always showing him new ideas and, in effect, are serving as his mentors. Orchestration of many  elements -- employees, process, clients, contractors -- is required of architects in this age, which is contrary to the image of the solitary practice that many associate with architecture.

However, Bill Hall is an example of an architect is solitary practice. He said that the evolution of CAD and BIM software has eliminated the need for a draftsman in the office. He has operated in many different modes over his career, which started as a student at the BAC. He calls architects “the adults of the art world.” Their work must stand in the rain. Bill’s encouragement to students is to learn to draw and sculpt and be prepared for a lifetime of learning.

Jay continued this idea by saying that it is not a race, so focus on what you love. Jay explained his passion for architecture through an anecdote from childhood. He found construction sites to be exciting places to explore, often taking castoff screws home in his pocket, and loves to see things built. While working in the Department of Neighborhood Development for the City of Boston, he now sees building the next generation of designers as part of his mission.

Studying and building communities is what drives Hansy’s work. “Form follows collective knowledge,” she said about the way in which communities influence design, a concept she tests in her new book, Where are the Utopian Visionaries? Architecture of Social Exchange.

Hansy encourages every student to explore and make connections outside their discipline. She believes that architecture has changed. Previously, the design field primarily involved manual process and material, while today it focuses on thinking and computation. Hansy says that to escape a narrow way of thinking, a good designer must boldly break boundaries between fields of knowledge and learn to synthesize them. In this way, architects can build objects which were previously thought impossible.

Each one of the panelists shared that they were initially shocked by the lack of appreciation for design in the United States. We are surrounded by examples of poor design as we live and work. An architect’s role is passionately explore the world and apply their discoveries to building environments that can be appreciated, even if only quietly.