Architectural Renderings: Bad for Architecture?

Up until four or five years ago, one of my biggest fears was saying something stupid in a professional meeting, collaboration, design charrette, etc. I’m not really sure why; I felt like I had good design tastes, I had years of experience, and many more years of schooling. On top of all that, I had done countless projects in group settings, participated in group critiques (not only as the one being critiqued, but as the critiquer), as well as one-on-one critiques. I think it came down to the old saying that “architects know something about everything,” which is the inverse of the engineer “knowing everything about something.”

That phrase always worried me. Not the fact that I didn’t know what I was talking about, but the idea of trying to sound like I knew too much; pretentious if you will. That is probably one of the biggest blows you can make to an architect’s ego, to call him or her pretentious. Personally, I believe one of the biggest mistakes architects can make is giving too much commentary on a subject they are not familiar with. It’s a tough line to walk when we are trained to react to so many variables and conditions in the architectural world. One week, you could be designing a single family house, the next, you could be writing a report on the renovation and rehabilitation standards for a historic building.

I do believe that architects should know something about everything. That is, after all, one of our biggest assets in the profession. I was always worried about becoming labeled with the dreaded “CAD monkey”… which is why I always strived to do something different in the office, or at least offer to do different tasks. I implore every aspiring architect to do the same. Yes, designing, making Sketchup models, showing off your sketching ability, knowing everything about BIM, or making sketch models might be the “fun” part of the job, but if you limit yourself to a few certain things, you might be forever labeled.

While it’s not a detriment to be very good at something specific, it is, however, to only be good at that one specific thing. You should feel comfortable speaking up in meetings about the mechanical system or the ADA guidelines. If a proposal needs to be put together in a pinch, it should be something you know how to do, and are willing to do. It’s not a bad thing to contribute good ideas and thoughtful insight in a meeting. It’s more of a shame when you limit yourself into a certain niche and cannot bring said insight to the table.

Now, obviously the “knowing something about everything” term is taken with a grain of salt. While architecture relates to many things, not everything relates to architecture. What I find to be the most important aspect to an emerging professional, and especially as a young professional (in, or right out of school), is to broaden your views on what it means to be an architect. Things outside the general knowledge of an emerging professional are things such as proposal writing, code review, public speaking, building systems knowledge, and general business practices, among many other things. Offer to participate in these objectives as often as possible. It is easy to sit at your desk and do just what you know; it takes some determination and willingness to go outside the box and learn something new.