Friday, September 01, 2006


In my recent post 0-for-6, But Thanks For Playing, I listed six prospective projects from a year ago that all died in subsequent months and went to architecture heaven. And although scores of past projects have gone belly-up in the past 20 years, each becoming what might best be described in the words of writer/poet Andrei Codrescu as an "exquisite corpse", I've never had so many projects come and go so quickly as this list makes clear. I then blogged the question, "What could all this mean?" and reader Cara Lietuva provided one answer -- possibly the most thoughtful, wise, and articulate answer ever posted to Why Howard Laughed:

It means that architects who are self employed need to learn the art of bird-dogging. Isn't that what seeking out new projects is called? I don't think they teach this in architecture school--the art of getting work. They certainly didn't teach it in my MFA program in creative writing, but you know what? They should have. Because it's one thing to create and to know all the things involved in bringing something from idea to physical reality, but to even get the opportunity to create, whether it's a building or a published story, is often quite difficult. My professors NEVER talked about that. This is where our colleges are failing us as students and alumni--they gave us theory, they gave us how-to's, but they didn't teach us about the reality of our chosen art forms: how to get work, how to maintain your creativity even in projects that don't challenge it, how to make a living, how to deal with clients/editors, how to market, how to keep records, how not to lose heart.
It's true that my own exposure in architecture school to the realities of architectural practice were woefully meager. As a matter of fact, the professor who taught a course titled "Professional Ethics and Practice" was the biggest cop-out artist on campus. He didn't try to "teach" his students so much as he "facilitated learning" -- his own words -- meaning that he believed his job description consisted of pointing the direction to the College of Architecture library, expecting us to figure out on our own the answers to the questions we barely knew enough to ask.

How do architects bird-dog projects, sign them to contracts, and then direct a team of designers, engineers, clients, builders, and governmental agencies through a multi-year design-and-build process?

"Forget it. The question's too big. I'm not even going to try to explain," the professor would have whined and evaded. "That comes with experience -- post-degree. Assuming one can even make it THAT far."

"You're on your own, kid."

I still despise that worm.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Bird-dogging" "Gone fishing" And a variant on that I call "rain-dancing" where you've already made committments based on proposals that haven't come through yet! It's the same in academe for those of us on the research throw out lots of lines, hope the fish (funding agencies) bite on one. Just to give you an idea of the odds, the national Science Foundation awards about one of every 10 proposals. So you literally write about 10X as many proposals just to get the 1X funding you really need. Needless to say, I don't get much of my funding from NSF, since it's too bloody difficult and the amoutns aren't great. But other funding agencies, while the process might be easier or the amoutns greater, also go through political tides in regards to research. NASA was flush with cash about 8-10 years ago....EPA was pretty hot then too. Now it seems that everything environmental in the way of federal funding has dried up, and we're looking more toward the state, who has no choice but to deal with environmental problems and can't just dismiss them offhand like the feds can.
And no, no one ever taught me any of this in grad school, either - how to write a solid, fund-able propsal, or how to prepare and submit a research paper for publication, how to manage a grant, write a budget, manage people, manage time, find funding opportunities, etc, etc. It all came from the School of Cold Hard Reality, a harsh place that demanded of a new professor 100-hour weeks and a complete abdication of social life, self-improvement, and sanity.

8:30 AM, September 05, 2006  

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