Okay, so you know the gist of architecture. You know that architects go to school and learn to design buildings, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Here are some facts you might not know about architects and the work they do.
The gender gap in architecture is closing. Up until a few decades ago, the world of architecture was an exclusive one. Unless you were a man from a wealthy, high-status family, you had no hope of ever becoming an architect. Today, most architecture schools report that their students are roughly evenly split between genders, and hail from a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.
They are one of the most self-employed professionals in existence. The American Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 21% of architects report being self-employed. In the general public, only 7% of working people report self-employment, making architects three times more likely to be their own boss.
Architects design buildings outside their own countries. When high-profile projects are announced, architects from all over the world compete for the contract. When the Sydney Opera House was seeking designs, they received entries from architects in thirty-two different countries; the contract was ultimately awarded to an architect from Denmark. In fact, Jorn Utzon, the Danish architect in question, died in 2008 without ever visiting the finished opera house.
There is a top prize in architecture. The Pritzger Architecture Prize is often referred to as the “Nobel Prize of architecture”. The award is given each year to a living architect who has best used his or her talents to benefit humanity through architecture, and it includes a $100,000 cash prize, along with a brass medallion. Architects from all over the world are considered; this past year, 2012, saw China’s Wang Shu being recognized for his design of the Ningbo Museum.
Architects have been using computers since 1965. You probably don’t think of the 1960’s as an advanced age of technological wizardry, but that’s when world-renowned Canadian architect Douglas Cardinal first introduced the use of computers to the architecture world. Cardinal, a Blackfoot native from Calgary, Alberta, wanted to mimic the shapes of the rolling prairie foothills in his design for the St. Mary’s Church in Red Deer, Alberta, and realized he would need to turn to computer processing power to make that happen. Initially regarded as a fad, by 1981, he was hailed the world pioneer of computer assisted architectural drafting.
World-class architects still make huge mistakes. The famous architects of history are imposing figures, drafting revolutionary designs that become flawless, much-adored buildings. As it turns out, even the greats are only human, and make the same staggering mistakes that any other architect makes. One notable example comes from Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. A Pritzger Prize winner, his greatest design flaw actually occurred on the building he was given the prize for – the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Although spectacular to look at, the building’s large reflective metal surfaces caused nearby condominiums to dramatically overheat, hot spots of over 140°F to form on surrounding sidewalks and a rise in traffic accidents as drivers were blinded by glare. The building eventually had to be sandblasted to reduce the problem.