To say that things have been hugely neglected around here would be an understatement. Once again I’ve found my ARE Life has taken a backseat to real life. It makes me wonder if perhaps I should have taken a few months off, isolated myself like great authors do, studied, and knocked out all seven exams in one swift blow. And yet while that might have been the best academic approach, perhaps this license journey isn’t meant to be that straightforward. Perhaps we’re meant to go though this examination process considering the lessons of life as thoughtfully as the books we dutifully spend our spare moments pouring over. Perhaps the true preparation for this career we seek comes from the life changing events that the pages of Kaplan, Ballast, and the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice could never possibly cover.
Events like helping close a business.
Or like taking the next step to move on.
Over the holidays my firm’s principal became ill and ultimately decided that he could no longer run the company. At the end of January my office officially closed its doors. As many of our clients and friends said, for a firm that was around since the early 1960’s it would be the end of an era. During February, and thanks to the tireless work of my principal’s wife, we worked through the process of wrapping up all of the projects, sending documents off to rightful owners, finishing the accounting (you may recall that a while back I took on the office bookkeeping duties too), and figuring out what to do with the 50+ years of records, equipment, furniture, and stuff that had accumulated. Most of it went to good homes and the rest was either salvaged or simply recycled. As we lugged boxes of old product binders and tattered drawings out to the dumpster on a crisp Saturday morning, one of my mentors jokingly asked which division of the IDP all of this shuffle would fall under. As I thought about it, I realized that this experience was bigger than intern development. This is the real raw deal that (fortunately) most interns would never be subject to. For the first time I truly understood what it meant to run a practice deeply rooted in honesty, ethics, and hard work, and just how critical public relations are in the livelihood of the operation. When the projects go away and the shell of a company remains, how will it rebound or, in our case, be remembered? As I witnessed the number of people willing to lend a helping hand as we closed the doors, everything from expediting paperwork to breaking down bookcases, I saw the compassion for the community my boss and the rest of the principals had extended over the decades returned tenfold. Perhaps that’s the sign of a truly successful practice. While the circumstances of the office closing are truly unfortunate and the final work bittersweet at best, I’m so grateful to have been a small part the firm’s years of success. I’ve found peace in the fact that even though the office is gone, it will continue to live on through the countless thriving spaces it shaped throughout its years.
As we closed I also began to wonder what was next for me. The architectural industry in the greater Portland area is still struggling to make a comeback, and many of my friends and classmates have taken alternative careers or moved away in order to find work. Would the same be true for me, and what would become of my roots? My family and Nate are here, and quite frankly I love Portland too much to leave. Moving would not be an option, so the only alternative would be to push myself into firms to get my name out there, and hopefully some interviews. I took to heart the the job seeking tips of Build LLC and Nate and I devised a pretty kick ass mini portfolio concept to send out. I updated my personal logo and brand identity and revised my resume to be more professional than academic. The list of firms I was interested in approaching ranged from small practices to the large companies and grew every day as I read about the local design happenings. I was constantly worried that I’d never get in the door, but excited for the opportunity to get my work out there. There are so many good things going on in this city and I was anxious to be a part of it.
And then the phone rang.
In a serious case of being at the right place in the right time, some local firms heard about our office closing and that a few of us were out looking for a job. I ended up receiving a couple of requests to come in for an introductory interview….and tried not to say “uh…yes!” too fast. Both firms were high atop my aforementioned list, so I tailored a portfolio suited to their project types and agonized over cover letters longer than I’d care to admit. When the time came to sit down with the principals at each office I instantly felt at ease… strangely enough it never felt like an interview but more like a conversation about our backgrounds and what I might be able to bring. I left feeling confident that either would be a fantastic opportunity and surprised to find myself in a situation where I might have to decide between two employers. Fun fact: there’s no chapter on that in the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, I looked. Twice. When I received nearly identical offers a few days later I spent the following evenings talking with my family and Nate and tossing through sleepless nights while I weighed my options. I ultimately decided to take the offer from the first firm I had met with. While I know that I would have been happy at either, I felt that I personally fit a little better at the first. Sometime you just have to go with your gut and I haven’t regretted my decision for a second.
I’ve settled in at the new office now. Names have been placed with faces and now the challenge of learning a new set of office standards begins. I work primarily in Revit these days, and have tried to get myself up to speed as best I can. The days fly by, and I’m truly enjoying the opportunities that I’ve been given to show what I can do. It’s challenging, yet as I learn this new design approach I realize that so much of the honest value of architecture remains the same regardless of where you work. We’re tasked with creating buildings and spaces that invigorate and ease. That protect and sustain. Yes we need to know the importance of sites, structures, materials, and systems…but it’s critical to understand how all of these meld together to create an overall methodology. I think it’s time and practice that helps us learn and define our own approach to architecture and I know I’m only at the beginning of this enduring process.
This new beginning at work makes me wonder what will be next for AREndurance. With only one exam left, and a retake at that, I realize that I need to start coming up with a plan for what happens here on this site. When the final pass letter arrives do I celebrate and call this the end of an era? Perhaps. Or do I keep writing and tie in my professional experiences with the divisions we study? If this process has taught me anything, it’s that the journey to becoming an architect is longer than the time it takes to prepare for seven exams. As I travel down the exit passageway of the ARE I’m excited to see where the exit takes me. I just hope it’s a place with a few less flashcards.