The Architecture Office: Stay or Go? 

click to enlarge Man with tie

What's your job title and what does the gig entail?
My job title is 'Architectural Designer' at a small firm in Albany called 3tarchitects. Technically I am an architectural intern, but the industry has recently adopted 'Architectural Designer.' I believe that this shift in terms is in part to acknowledge that the architectural internship can last years (until one takes their licensing exam) and the knowledge base really grows far beyond that of a summer intern. Also, it commands a little more respect when interacting with consultants, clients, and contractors. The architectural internship is pretty old school — similar to an apprenticeship. My daily tasks are designed to provide me with well-rounded on-the-job training; from client meetings and site visits, to designing and producing construction documents, to interior design and in-house marketing. As an intern the majority of this is done as part of a team, with the oversight of a studio leader or project manager who is typically a more experienced intern or a licensed architect.

Ten years ago, is this something you imagined you might be doing?

 At age 17 my primary concern was the next punk show I was going to drive into Pittsburgh to see. However, when hard-pressed to think about my impending college enrollment and a future career I knew it would be in a creative field. I have always had a love for powerful spaces-in nature and the built environment. It took some exploration for me to articulate that this interest could be channeled into a career as an architect. So 7.5 years after starting college (majoring in studio arts and earning my bachelor's in interior design) I finally got my Master's in Architecture in December of last year. 

Do you still harbor other aspirations?
My primary aspiration right now is to focus on this chapter. Although I am done with my formal education I still have a ton to learn about producing successful, interesting, and beautiful architecture. A big part of me feels that until I get that license I haven't really even earned my degree. Other than that I'd love to make furniture and maybe be an Olympic handballer.

How has working in an office environment changed you?

So far office life has not changed me that much. I do fight the urge to use smiley emoticons several times a day, I did high-five a co-worker last week, and I confess to saying I had a case of the Mondays yesterday... it's only a matter of time I suppose. The architecture office is a pretty lively and flexible work environment. It is a smooth transition from the academic 'studio.' At 3t we all have our own workspace in a brightly colored and lit open office housed right in downtown Albany. Sometimes music and laughter can be heard, other times we are all wearing headphones and frantically clicking our mice. The biggest change is that office hours are typically 9 hours a day instead of the 18 I had become accustomed to in school.

Do you think your job will still exist in ten years?
Absolutely, my brain won't even let me imagine an alternative. I mean, food, water, shelter, right...?

Is your office more The Office or Mad Men?
Neither. Our office is rich with talent, intelligence, passion, and fun. We also have a great group of smart, funny women; a demographic grossly absent from both The Office and Mad Men with a ratio of women to men as 4 to 1 compared to a traditional architecture firm. We do have a couple of Office-worthy characters (I'm too new to name names), and we have a wall where a framed Simpson-ized version of each of us hangs.

What's the best part of office life? And the worst?

The best part of office life is finding a group of people who share my philosophy on the power and potential of architecture. Also, after going through an academic program designed to break your spirit and dole out criticism at every opportunity it is great to be an integral and valued part of a team... and actually have work built (and I'm not talking an ant-sized center for kids who can't read good). The worst part of office life is copy machines.

click to enlarge Man with computer
The Former Architect: Shannon Beauchaine

What was your title and what did the job entail?
Designer (as in graphic designer for a leading global architecture firm), initial visioning session meetings with the client to find out their goals, concept design to design development to design drawings to production, presenting work internally and to clients, dealing with vendors and getting pricing for jobs, I worked mostly in print design and environmental design.

Has leaving an office setting given you a chance to pursue your dreams?
In a sense. I've always had my own local, smaller scale (less corporate) clients all along. Now I'm trying to figure out how to continue to work with clients like these but make it more lucrative. I'm also trying thinking about how I can turn my love of food and graphic design into a business.

Do you keep in touch with your former co-workers?
Yes, but only really the others that got the axe. We hang regularly and are working together on new projects and ventures.

What do you miss most about office culture? And the least?
I miss bitching about the company and our bosses at lunches out at places like Adrienne's Pizza Bar. I miss the daily social- and work-orientated interaction with my coworkers the most. I DON'T miss trying to say "good morning" everyday to someone who should have been my mentor and getting no response or a grunt if I was lucky. I DON'T miss the fake camaraderie of studio meetings.

Was there a moment when you realized "office life isn't for me"?
I kind of felt that after the first two months, but I tried so hard to drink the Koolaide and be what they asked for another four years. The moment I really thought I was doing it and actually progressing in my career (in a place that is not known for moving up the ladder), I got laid off. Now I realize how lucky I am to not be there and how much happier I am, living financially month-to-month, but happy. There is no such thing as corporate loyalty. Nothing beats working for yourself. You make it happen.

Was your office more The Office or Mad Men?
The Office, because of a select few very interesting, quirky characters among us.

Where do you steal office supplies from now?
Starbucks. My 87-year-old grandmother is horrified I'm stealing Splenda.

What are three things you think someone should know on their first few days outside of the office culture?
1. It's so not you're fault. Don't harp more than a week on why. There are so many among us. We are a growing tribe.
2. Take some time for you and to travel inexpensively if you can. Visit family or friends. With a clearer head, you can plan after what you are going to do about the future.
3. Relax. You will be OK.

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