Here in the Real World

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Architecture in the real world. What does this mean exactly? At first I had a strong notion that the question itself was loaded, but then I thought a bit more about this post.  I first wanted to go on a tangent about the difference between academia and the profession. Or I thought  maybe a soap box moment about “starchitecture” versus the other 98% of architecture.  Although could go on about that point for quite some time, I decided to pass on that idea also. I am not sure that “real world” is really all that different for any of us. Even the “starchitects” practice in the “real world”. So that is why I chose not to travel down that road of discourse.

Design Tools of Old

So then what? Well I just want to discuss architecture as I practice it in my daily scheme and what it really means to create architecture at my firm and for most architects I know. Much of this can be seen in my past post “A day in the life”. But what I want to review today is the actual architecture process that occurs in my office. I do mostly public educational work.  About 75% of our firm workload is educational. That project type brings with it certain issues. One thing that I would say about the “real world” is that real clients and issues are present in each project. They all have them. But for my project type, educational, the main issues are time and space. Time, is always of the essence and there are very specific timelines for the educational work. All schools start around the same time. This all lends itself to having designs completed and ready to start construction to meet the deadlines for school (client) calendars.  So this puts my projects into the real world; a world with definite deadlines. Most of my projects begin by working backwards. When do you want to move in? How long will it take to actually move in? How long will construction take? How much time is needed to mobilize and start construction after the contract is awarded? How long to bid out the project? And then (lastly and sadly) how long is left for design and documentation?  Well then I get my time table handed to me in that manner. This is how much time is allowed for the design team to create their magic; exactly not enough. This, in my humble opinion, is what drives the average working architect. The allowable time we have to actually design a project. And this is usually directly proportionate to the greatness of any design. All architects could design a single project for eternity if I had to guess. We could continually tweak and modify every last portion down to the tiniest of details. That is how we are. That is what we do. But often time schedules do not allow for such frivolities. And the architect must therefore design, decide and execute.  This is a large way that “real world” architecture is different. It has a schedule and usually a quick one. I look in magazines and often see many wonderful designs that are meant to represent the future of architecture or the limitlessness of our profession. While I think those are wonderful images, they are just that, images on a page. They are not projects with construction documents and construction schedules to meet. To me, that is the difference that time makes. Time forces decisions. Decisions force actions. And actions make progress. And time is often an architects worst enemy.

Space is always needed.

The other issue I mentioned was space.   And I say this only as it applies to my educational projects. One of the most important item on any of my educational projects is space. More space. Enough space.  Affordable space.  Sustainable space. Schools in the state of Texas are, for the most, part in poor shape. This is due mainly to the financial system of public education that is and has been in turmoil for quite some time.( I have no clue how to fix it, I just know that everyone disagrees about it; and have been for many many years)  Most of the current school stock is aging and is in need of significant repair or replacement.  So the main goal for most of my clients is to create as much usable space as possible. That is a challenge all its own. One that also puts limitations on your design powers for many reasons. The driving factors are often not quite what you hope them to be, so diligence is essential. But so is good design. Yet design is always a very subjective idea. For my part, design is not completely about the aesthetic aspect of a project. Function, durability, ease of maintenance, efficiency of space; all of these, (and more) are part of quality design as I seek to produce it. So at times, “real world” architecture is driven by less than glamorous factors. But I believe that this is where an architect can truly excel. The greater the limitation, the more creative one needs to become. The profession is not always about brown paper bag buildings. (Frank Gehry reference) Creativity is not always such a bold statement. Details are as elegant as bold gestures. After all . .  “The Deity is in the Details”  ( God or Devil, depending on your preference)

So this post is not to say that my projects are the only ones with limitations. Each and every project created by an architect has limitations. In some cases that may only be gravity. (insert “starchitect” reference here)  But in most cases, it is the clients, the environments, the schedules, the codes, the materials, and so many other issues that force all architects to create in the real world. If only we could all create architecture for the movies! Yet I would be the first to say that I enjoy my realities of practice. I enjoy the challenges of the real. I thrive on solving real world problems with real world solutions. And I would say that most in my profession feel the same. Most of the ones I know can call friends anyway.

 – Andrew Hawkins, AIA

Author Line


This is part of a Series created by Bob Borson (Life of an Architect) and consisting of a group of great Architectural Thinkers. We are using the hashtag #ArchiTalks to hopefully gain some momentum and help others understand what we do as Architects. It should be a great dialog and one that I hope will continue for some time into the future. As several of the other responses are being posted around the internet, the links below are those that have already posted. This list will be populated and updated as others continue to contribute today. *Also is should go without saying all opinions expressed by those in the links below are their own and are not reflective of Hawkins Architecture, Inc. (* legal stuff)

Today’s open topic: Architecture in the Real World


Enoch Sears – Business of Architecture ( @businessofarch )

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect ( @bobborson ) Architecture in the real world – sorta

Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture ( @FiELD9arch ) Welcome to the Architecture of the Real

Marica McKeel – Studio MM ( @ArchitectMM ) Architecture in the real world

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet ( @Jeff_Echols ) What is the real world

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect ( @LeeCalisti ) Architecture in the real world

Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect (@EntreArchitect ) The HGTV Effect

Evan Troxel – TRXL ( @etroxel )

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC ( @L2DesignLLC ) Architecture: It’s a human thing

Collier Ward – Thousand Story Studio ( @collier1960 )

Cormac Phalen – Cormac Phalen ( @archy_type )

Nicholas Renard – Dig Architecture ( @dig_arch ) Keep on Architect’n in the real world

Jeremiah Russell – ROGUE Architecture ( @rogue_architect )  Architecture in the real world

Jes Stafford – Modus Operandi Design ( @modarchitect ) 

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect ( @mghottel )  Architecture in the Real World

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA )  Architecture in the Real World

Amy Kalar –  ArchiMom  ( @AmyKalar ) 

Michael Riscica – Young Architect  ( @YoungArchitxPDX ) Architecture in the Real World

Stephen Ramos –  Buildings are Cool   ( @sramos_BAC ) Architecture in the Real World

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect ( @bpaletz ) Architecture in the Real World

Tara Imani – Tara Imani Designs, LLC ( @Parthenon1 ) Architecture in the Real World

Jonathan Brown – Proto-Architecture ( @mondo_tiki_man ) Architecture in the Real World