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The first paragraph of this is going to be a bummer. I apologize, and promise this blog post will end happily.
In my 6-odd years as a design student, I have come to understand that we, as building shapers-of-the-world, are generally pretty optimistic. We hope in our heart of hearts that our buildings will be magnificent, and that they will rise from the earth like great marvels of creativity, wowing those fortunate enough to set foot across the threshold. Once we enter the workforce, and this sweetness and optimism is confronted by the gross realities of actually becoming and then being an architect… I have witnessed spirits be challenged, and bright eyes dim. Having to work on those unglamorous projects which ‘pay the bills’, the endless studying and exams, late nights and weekends spent drafting without the payoff of the unbridled creativity you find in school, it is a bit like being told you must now swim up the Mississippi after having just crossed the Gulf of Mexico. Disheartening.
This is simply a trend I have noticed; I apologize if it does not apply to you (and it may well be that these growing pains are attributable to any career).
My own experience, however, has been much different: I love every single thing I have been tasked with as an intern thus far, and I swear I am not exaggerating (plus/minus 1%). There are days when my happiness borders on cliché, and I find myself worrying that I have become that annoyingly positive person. This was my third summer at an architecture office, and all were spent working on healthcare projects. Now, don’t get me wrong; HKS has been amazing and staggeringly supportive of my interests, which certainly contributed to how optimistic I am about my job (plus, I tend to have a happy outlook on life), but this is not about me preaching my values nor pandering to the powers that be about how great our firm is (even though it is).
No, what truly lies at the core of my excitement to come in to work every day is quite simple: healthcare projects are awesome. Hospitals are by no means the only great project types out there, but from my vantage they are really, really good. Never mind the fact that clinical buildings are like kazillion-piece jigsaw puzzles that you put together in four dimensions (if you’re into that sort of thing), and that as a healthcare architect, you can pretty much assure yourself your job will never become rote or boring because technology and clinical practices constantly evolve.
The best part for me is that healthcare facilities impact our lives in ways no other buildings do. In our culture, most people are welcomed to the world in a hospital, and many leave the earth from there as well. Hospitals house the whole range of human emotion, from happiness to sadness to relief and far beyond. They are staffed by people who go to work each day understanding that their role will address one or more of these emotions. As clients and users, when someone digs their heels in about the location of a particular room or a floor finish or window height or some other nuisance that a team of architects must subsequently resolve, it is almost always with the very best of intentions. They want to be able to do their job well in the most effective possible setting, and I really love that pragmatism. I suppose I try to bring a similar earnest to work each day.
Earlier in the summer, I spent a week in Ohio doing an infrastructure analysis of an existing facility, a rabbit warren of very old structures desperately in need of replacement. The roofs leak, the departmental adjacencies are inefficient and chaotic, and the health system primarily serves a population with very low socioeconomic status. They have every reason to be miserable about the ramshackle state of their affairs. What I found there, instead of unhappy faces, was a collection of people always eager to offer a smile and pleasant greeting. Staff from different departments who ordinarily would not need to know or care about one another, were stopping in the hallway to hug (I witnessed it multiple times). All this in the face of a brutally run down facility! At my old office, working on a different hospital project, I saw the very same mentality. When we found ourselves replanning the mental health department for the 35th time, it was not because of nonsensical interests or flights of design fancy; it was because the department could be better, and that was reason enough to persevere for the best possible design solution.
As I am now just a few weeks away from returning to the final year of my degree, the reward of returning to this optimism will be my mantra through those late studio nights. I am without question, an idealist, and if you accused me of naiveté, you would not be the first. What I know for sure is this: the next time I find myself working on a task that might ordinarily be considered boring and lacking in the glamorous design promise which proliferates in school, I will do it with a smile on my face.
Plus or minus 1%, of course.