By Karina Andreeva , Collaborator
why do architects forget about their bodies?
let's be present.
I see you over there. Yes you, sitting at your desk. Working at your office. It might be a Sunday, maybe a late night. You may even be working overtime sans compensation. What are you working on? Finding that perfect tile grid? Maybe fixing a door schedule in Revit? Sketching diagrams? Does this work make you happy? Did you get enough sleep this week? Spend time with your loved ones? Do you feel like the work you do is rewarding and brings value to your team? If you are reading between the lines you may think that I am being judgmental or maybe even being a bit condescending. I am asking questions I avoided asking myself for years and am trying paint for a clear picture for you and for me of where we are, what sacrifices we have made to get here and what sacrifices we continue to make every day.
Let's think about your path thus far: if this is your first few years, you are full of energy and arrive ready to hit the ground running every day. If it is a couple of years in you are starting to feel it, but it’s all worth it, right? If you are 5+ years in the consequences are starting to show in major ways. Especially if you are not white and not male. This is because you have to work 2x/ 4x as hard to defend your right to just be.
I want to take a moment here and state that this may not be your experience, but it has been mine and that of my colleagues, friends, and members of several professional organizations I am part of. If the above has not been your experience, congratulations you are somehow winning the system or are held up by various privileges.
back to where we left off:
You are starting to feel the burnout. If you look up from your desk. Your colleagues are probably in a similar position, though they may not be showing it. We all bought into the same system and smile through our teeth, forget the low compensation compared to the cost of education, the lack of good labor practices and the opportunity to show individual initiative. How did we get here? Some common descriptors of our industry are: the deconstruction of the self that happens in school, competition amongst peers, big egomania and a toxic environment. These elements strip us of our ability to self-care and be connected to our bodies and the bodies around us.
It is no surprise that we grow resentful towards the work that we do or the places that we work in. When you are busy, sleep-deprived, and stressed you will continue churning on, especially since that is how our entire industry operates.
where do we go
I am not asking you to start a revolution or to leave the industry. I want you to merely start thinking about your body, your needs, and your personal values in life. Start questioning the way you and your firm practices. Talk to your colleagues, open up about your struggles. Take care of your mental health and your physical well being. Not remembering the last time you ate and when you last had a good night of sleep is not cool. Show support to those who are struggling.
If you are a junior designer know that your value to the firm is immense: you are the production powerhouse and you need rest and a life as well.
If you are a manager keep your teams healthy and sane. It is ok to sometimes push back at the client and educate them on good practice and values. Take responsibility for the workflow and time management of the team you direct. Take care of yourself and them.
If you are a principal share with your team what you are driven by, celebrate the team’s accomplishments. Listen to the young team members, they are the ones carrying the firm forward. Don’t make them stay later than you, rather ask their managers why they have to. Don't underbid on projects and then force the team to work uncompensated over time, to actually deliver the project.
I believe that only designers who take care of their bodies and their soles can bring the necessary change to our industry and become accountable to the communities we serve and the oncoming climate catastrophe that we are directly responsible for. Hey, this is great and all Karina, but how do you survive/profit in the market economy? How do you stay competitive and client-oriented if you are spending so much time and energy internally? I don’t have the answer, but I want us to try. We don’t need to continue the toxic habits of previous generations. Technology helps us work faster, but our mental capacity still needs time to process and rest. We need to be present in our own lives, our families and our cities. We need to love ourselves and provide architectural services in a way that makes the world better.
At See Arch we are working on how to break the loop of toxicity and practice our services according to our values. Stay tuned for more detailed unpacking of the topics mentioned above and tips from us on how to get there. If this resonates with you feel free to drop me a line!
Image 1: Alex Norris
Image 2: Rachel Katz and Stephanie Davidson
Image 3: Jennifer Armbrust