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What are the most compelling reasons for someone to become an architect now?

Since I’ve talked a lot before about the profession of architecture and the future of it, I thought I would share this recent interview with Mark Wigley from Surface Magazine (May 2014). Since 2004, Wigley was the Dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. But he’s now stepping down and this was his exit interview.

The first question he was asked was: 

What are the most compelling reasons for someone to become an architect now?

I actually think that there’s never a compelling reason to be an architect. The decision is irrational, and that irrationality is an enormous and precious asset. Architecture is full of romantics who think that even relatively small changes to the built environment create the aspiration for a better society. It sounds hokey, but there is in every architect the thought that things could be better. This is a kind of professional optimism. And that leads to an expertise in entering situations in which the dynamics are unclear. Architects are only ever called into a situation when it’s impossible. If it’s possible, you invite somebody with a toolbox who can give answers. You call the architect in when it’s not clear what the question even is. 

The line I really like is the one I highlighted in bold above: “…there is in every architect the thought that things could be better.”

Wigley is talking about it in a kind of romantic and idealistic way, but I don’t think it necessarily needs to be that way. The optimistic belief that things could be better, that things could be improved, is a powerful notion. In my view, it’s what drives entrepreneurship and that happens to be our most powerful economic engine.

I actually think there are a number of parallels between architecture and entrepreneurship. In school, architects are indeed taught to enter into situations where “the dynamics are unclear.” It’s about taking an idea, developing it, and trying to figure out what it could become.

Then, once you’ve poured your heart and soul into that idea, you get up in front of everyone and you pitch it. It’s your job to convince everyone that, yes, the way you’ve developed your idea is in fact the right way. Sometimes you get shot down. And other times you don’t. But you just have to take the risk.

Click here to download the full PDF of Mark Wigley’s interview.

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