Time to Think Out of the Box?

by Jul 14, 2021Provoking Thoughts

Architects, more so OFW’s, are coming to terms with the work and economic effects of the pandemic. A substantial pay cut was the reflexive first measure of employers, but the deep layoffs and having to return to the Philippines was the worst bittersweet denouement; or is it…..

Everyone knows we are going through a global pandemic but after more than a year of project/work uncertainties and second-guessing, isn’t it probably time to start thinking out of the box? Do we now have to review other career alternatives, even the less conventional ones?

In the face of these challenges perhaps it is time we dig into skills we have earned from architecture school and from working in the industry. These are transferable skills adaptable to a world outside the discipline and may have us edge out over other careers that were initially perceived as beyond our reach. It may come as a surprise but applying our architectural background to alternative career paths or even to start our own business for that matter makes us better qualified than we think.

For inspirational example, the late Ildefonso Paez Santos Jr., popularly known as ‘IP Santos’, was an architecture graduate of UST ’54 and at the University of Southern California School of Architecture. Yet, he pioneered the profession of landscape architecture in the Philippines, completed several landmark landscape projects thereby becoming known as the “Father of Philippine Landscape Architecture,” and was still bestowed with the title of National Artist of the Philippines in the field of architecture in 2006.

So for head starters, let’s go back to our university days. Those long and oh so many sleepless nights during those times hardwired us to the ethics of diligence and perseverance. Our education and then work experience taught us the skills to continuously iterate design problem solving and finding right solutions. Turning constraints into opportunities became second nature because we design based on challenges. Our innovative and pragmatic approach leads us to work around the context in new and creative ways. These are personal quality traits much sought out for in the world.

Evan Sharp, co-founder and lead designer of Pinterest, started up Pinterest shortly after studying architecture at Columbia’s GSAPP. He believes that the value of iteration, and working very long hours on the same problem to find the right solution and having that diligence is something that architecture school has taught him.

It also forces you to look at everything spatially. Architecture school made me see the web in a similar way and to understand how people use different kinds of web space in different ways, and for different purposes, has helped me formulate decisions on how people will use Pinterest.

When asked if architects have a valuable skill-set for the type of work he does at Pinterest, his response:-

Definitely, but I think it’s more about the way that architects look at the world than a specific skill set. Great architects, perhaps more than most designers, tend to look at the larger problem that needs to be solved rather than the discreet design process.

Another aspect ingrained in us is the deftness for presentation, communication, and organization. From reticent college students, to bashful postgrad novices, and to becoming assertive professionals, we have been trained to deliver composed presentations, communicate our thoughts brief and concise, and possess that ability to organize complex layers of content into neat archives of ideas – this enables us to bring fresh perspectives to a new career and/or to the world of business and management.

We are likewise trained to speak to diverse clients, who steer us in ways of thinking about our schematics yet holding us responsible on deciding how to take our design forward. OFW’s are even at an advantage having to interact with peoples of a different culture. This balance between defending our ideas and accepting guidance becomes key in other industries that require collaborative work across multiple investors, clients, customers, or participants of other teams. After all, architects are used to being at the center of a myriad of consultants, suppliers, contractors, and so forth.

Then there is that developed intrinsic skill amongst architects for intense observation, maintaining discipline of line and form – being proficient in detail and possessing ardent attention towards details. This is an immense advantage when working in other industries where employees who can do so are hard-fought for.

Using traditional techniques and the cutting-edge digital technologies, Austrian architect and educator Julia Koerner incorporated 3D printing and design detailing to create the elaborate costume accessories worn by Queen Ramonda in the film Black Panther. Her preference and keenness for details gave the strength and accuracy of her parametric designs to come to life in the amazing visual tapestry of costumes.

Last but not least, we have our ethics – architecture being one of the most ethical of professions. And we owe our strong sense of ethics to our academic discourse where we are trained to truly value integrity – integrity of purpose, of form, of execution, truthfulness of conviction in problem-solving, reliability in the rigor of process. Architects believe in honesty of material, form and function. They believe in man’s need for basic wellbeing and they believe in the powers of creativity and of design that shape human behavior.

A good friend and UAP-KL Chapter colleague, architect Amado Villamor, established his own 1700sqm gymnasium and zumba studio business since 2018 at Precinct 8, Putrajaya, Malaysia. He may have started his gym routine as early as 1986, to maintain his physique while tediously working in several architectural firms in Kuala Lumpur, but by his decision he gradually moved away from architecture through a process of careful planning. As of today, he attributes his management of the gym, public relations with his clients, and his self-discipline of body, mind and spirit to his several years of architectural experience.

Architecture serves well as a backbone from which we may explore the many facets of career work while always reverting to the basic principles we learned in school and through years of architectural work experience.

So, if you are ever thinking about leaving architecture and changing profession, your degree and experience as your stimuli have definitely equipped you for pr1etty much anything you would want to do.

Regardless of that critical decision, word of advice is:– If you act quite impetuously, plans may not materialize; if you act too slow, opportunities might go under. It would be wise to meticulously plan accordingly just as all architects are trained and apt to do so.

An edited version of this article was published in The Manila Times, Business – Build Design Section, a popular Philippines tabloid, on 15 June 2021


1 Comment

  1. Richard Smith

    It’s great to be able to translate skills developed in your main field,into assets in other endeavours as well.


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