Architecture is a very difficult career.
It is especially challenging in the beginning when everything is new and you are struggling to adjust. During this period you will encounter some serious growing pains which I have named the ‘Newbie Angst.” Newbie angst is a combination of anger, resentment, and depression triggered by the realities of life as an architectural intern and young architect.
To help you cope with the newbie angst I will share the common causes and the cure.
My Newbie Angst
My newbie angst started less than one year from graduation. I did not feel like I was making much of a contribution. I was working a lot of unpaid overtime. I realized that my intern salary did not leave much left after bills were paid. It sucked.
Even after a decade of practice, I still encounter small reoccurring bouts of ‘the Newbie Angst.’
When you are an intern, your architecture school triumph is still fresh in your mind and you are full of vim and vigor! Yet, you find that the real world of architecture is not nearly as exciting as you had hoped. It is not glamorous, not all of the work is inspiring and you start to get a little angsty.
Common Causes for the Newbie Angst
As a newbie you are likely to be given very simple and repetitive tasks. And there is reason for that: you don’t know much. Newbie tasks might include:
- Scanning Drawings
- Printing Drawings
- Organizing the Office
- Adobe Photoshop Work
- Editing Finish Schedules
- Working on Window Details
- Setting up sheets also called ‘the Cartoon Set’
- Bathroom Design
- Adding Notes to Drawings
These uninspiring tasks will cause you to question your worth and the value of your high-priced education.
Many of those uninspiring tasks are given in the form of ‘red lines.’ A red line is a printed drawing that has been marked up with a red pen. Typically, an intern receives a stack of red lines to correct. Their job is to edit the computer drawings per the red lines.
Red lines can feel like mindless work. This is when people start using the term ‘CAD Jockey,’ or ‘CAD Monkey.’
In Architecture School, you were designing net-zero artist lofts that cantilevered above a new contemporary performing arts center for underprivileged children in Brooklyn.
Now you are working on the design for a concrete parking garage in the suburbs and the client has insisted that it have some arches and columns because he says he wants it to, “look nice!” He also said that he likes the ‘whole green movement,’ and suggests adding bike racks. “On second thought,” we will add the bike racks after the building opens,” he says.
We cannot all work for Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. In fact, most of us will work on your standard work-a-day buildings. Some will work on the mundane as well as the occasional kitschy project. And someone has to design the fast food restaurants of the world?
You will feel like your design talents are being wasted. “I am better than this,” you will think.
Traditional Architecture Overload
In architecture school, 90% of the buildings you designed were modern architecture, whereas 90% of the buildings you will work on in the real world are traditional architecture.
You were trained to be the next Corbusier but your client’s want the next Palladio.
This dichotomy can be a tough pill to swallow but is the reality for most architects in America.
The overtime culture in architecture is an unfortunate right of passage for interns. Working long hours week after week will take its toll, especially if your firm does not compensate for overtime.
It will really sting when you find yourself in the office on a Sunday afternoon that happens to be the first 70 degree day of the spring. Your friends are having a barbecue and tossing the football while you are working on those relines of that parking garage.
At the bottom of the totem pole, you may not feel like you are making an impact. You will likely have little contact with the client, contractor or consultants. You may not even have direct contact with the project designer. Your only contact may be through that stack of redlines.
It is tough to be at the bottom. It is tough to feel like you are not making a difference.
Life is Hard Too
If you are a Newbie Architect then it is likely that you are also a Newbie Adult. Your 20’s and 30’s are a major transitional period of your life full of new challenges:
- Adjusting to a new town.
- Finding a new rental or home to purchase.
- New room-mates.
- Starting to pay your student loans.
- Getting close to marriage or maneuvering the dating world.
- Having children.
Your office angst can be exacerbated by all of the other stresses that come along with being a new adult.
It Sucks Being a Newbie, Right?
I shared this list not to bring you down but to highlight that these challenges and feelings are completely natural. This is a very challenging period of your life. We are all in this together.
And fortunately there are many ways to overcome the Newbie Angst.