Friday, March 6, 2015

104. The Ulitmate Female's career guide to getting in and navigating The Starchitect Staffers Club©

Before you read any further, I suggest that you first take a quick read of note #102 and #103 first. This article is basically a follow up to those articles with specific advice towards female students in starchitecture school.

Unlike the lopsided gender ratio that you might find in the proportion of actual female starchitects to male starchitects as exemplified in the pool of Pritzker recipients, architecture school and the Starchitect Staffers Club has a close to even male to female ratio. Peter Zumthor's office for example has a ratio that tips in the favor of females which makes him one of the worlds foremost starchitects in the way of gender equality for women. The good news is that within these two institutions, gender equality is real and it is here, however it needs to be navigated well if you are aiming to get through it and become a female starchitect.

Getting in the club;
In note #102 I mentioned that you should be outstanding and that as a student you are never evaluated by just your work. Every single aspect is taken into consideration when your starchitect professor selects a student for internship in his office.

I listed a number of random factors and possible selection criteria if you will. Among them was sex appeal. Since the great majority of starchitects are men by far, then for women, sex appeal becomes an important determinant.

If you are a long time reader of this blog, then you may have noticed that I am a fan of collecting data, analysing them to find patterns and making prediction models based on these patterns and findings. A good example would be my Pritzker Prize analysis: From that data one can conclude that any future Pritzker recipient will most likely be an Asian or Caucasian male Starchitect from Europe, the USA or Japan.

So in this context let me share a simple yet powerful observation.

I have done a similar study (albeit empheracally) on the types of students likely to be selected for internships in a starchitect office. Lets just say it is a casual observation from being around the starchitecture school environment for some time.  After seeing several types of students being selected for internships, I have noticed a number of patterns.  Among them is this: if you are a certain type of female student, then your chances of being selected for an internship increases dramatically.

What is the type?

I like to call it the Designer Chic Type: The type of woman that is fashion conscious and elegant as was with Jacqueline Kennedy. This type fits all the cliches of what you think of when you close your eyes and imagine the female designer or architect.

The picture of the lady above fits this category perfectly.  First and foremost is that she has an elegant sense of style that carries through in the way she dresses and carries herself.  Women of this type are generally the smart and intelligent type that communicates very well, but then again so are most of the women who make it to starchitecture school.

Men of power, especially starchitects, love women of this type and they tend to like to have many of them around them (did I mention Peter Zumthor earlier?). As a result, starchitects tend to select female students for internships who fit this type more often than other female students who don't. In other words, if you are a smart female student, you produce good work and communicate very well, but do not fit this profile, then chances are you have a lower possibility of being selected for an internship than another female student who does.

I have seen this happen so often I am confident that if you were to put me into a studio run by a starchitect at Harvard's GSD, the Architectural Association or Columbia or any other Starchitecture school and you say to me "Conrad which one of these female students will be asked to be an intern?"  After 2 to 3 days of observation I would be able to guess with reasonable accurately which ones will be selected, just like I can guess with reasonable accuracy that the next Pritzker Prize will be an Asian or Caucasian male Starchitect from Europe, the USA or Japan..

So what does this mean for you?

If you fit this profile or close to it, then great. All you have to do is be aware of it. If you notice that your starchitect professor spends significantly more time at your desk during studio visits, then you are doing well. If you catch him admiring you or flirting with you, then its almost a done deal. That is your cue to flirt back with him a little bit. The warning I give to these girls, and you should see it coming, is it is also likely that your starchitect professor will make sexual advances on you. If this happens, gently deflect them, but keep him interested.

Its a dangerous game and you will need a strong nerve. You will have the full and undivided attention of a world famous architect trained on you. You will be inundated with the charm of a guy with a charisma so enigmatic that he has got a huge following spanning a whole profession. Can you resist that?

You have got to! under no circumstances should you have sexual relations with your starchitect professor.

If I were to completely suspend all and any ethical predispositions that I may have about this and discuss it just in terms of a career path, I would give you the same advice. Here is why:

True! there are many a girls that get into a sexual relationships with their starchitect or even non-starchitect professor and it results in an internship and even a successful relationship and lifelong professional partnership. Elisabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio is a perfect example. Ricardo Scofido was the starchitect professor and Elisabeth Diller was his student. They had a sexual relationship and it lead to one of the most successful and influential starchitecture firm in the world today. However, for every Elisabeth Diller there hundreds, if not thousands of girls that slept with their professors and got discarded afterwards - never even setting a foot into the starchitect staffers club.

But as I said in my earlier note, if you want to gamble this is your decision to make. The odds are against you.

What if you are not the Designer Chic kind of girl?
This is an interesting question. Its a given that if you made it to Harvard or Princeton then chances are, you are intelligent and can communicate well. Not every last one of you, but a good lot out of the bunch are. What if you are all that, but not the Designer Chic Type?

My response is that not being the Designer Chic Type does not automatically exempt you from being a sexual object or prey for your starchitect professor. Starchitect professors come in many different types and have a wide array of preferences: some like the tom-boy type, some like the dominating type, some even like dumb girl type. Some are even gay, in which case it is the boys that are then the sexual objects. My observation is just that most of them seem to like the Designer Chic type.

So I would actually give you the same exact advice as I gave the Designer Chic Type:
Be aware that as a woman, you are a sexual object. If there is anything you can do to increase your sex appeal, go for it! Use it to your advantage, but above all do NOT sleep with your starchitect professor.

After you get in the Club

Freeze your eggs!: Whether you think you want children in the future or not, go to a clinic and harvest and freeze your eggs: as mentioned in the previous note, all the alumni of this club seem to agree that the lifestyle that you will endure in the Starchitect Staffers Club is a torturous, painful, demeaning and unhealthy one. It is characterised by sleepless nights, little or no time off and massive amounts of stress. You can not have a child and be in this environment at the same time. Getting pregnant is like a silver bullet to the gut of the vampire that is the starchitect staffer. Even if you have made up your mind that you will not have children ever, it is still a good idea because there is a slight possibility that you might change your mind when you hit 40.

Some of you may say, why this advice for women and not for the men? 

Although, parenting is a joint responsibility, your male counterparts will not have to make this choice should their wives or girlfriends becomes pregnant.  Our society and profession do not expect men to make a choice between career and children. Is it unfair? yes, but to that I will tell you "suck it up!! and get over it already!!!" life is unfair and its not constructive to spend spend your time dwelling on the unfairness of things. If you feel that strongly then you should quit architecture and become an activist and devote your life to doing something about it. Otherwise you accept that it is what it is and move on. You are not going to be the next female star-architect if you let things like this affect you. With every situation you have advantages and disadvantages and you will have to take a hard and honest look at it and figure out an effective way forward.

Think about it, Zaha Hadid is not or have never been a feminist.  She is an egoist! she discusses the unfairness of situations in relation to gender only (and absolutely ONLY) when it suites her. If she is criticized in the press, she will say it is because the critic is sexist and or say if I were a man then they would not have said this or that. For her the whole feminist movement centers around one female and her name is Zaha Hadid. If you want to be the next female starchitect, take a page from Zaha and drop the feminist agenda. The only woman that matters is you. Get comfortable with the phrase kicking the ladder behind you. If the woman in front of you falls, step over her, but make sure no one sees you.

Ready for some more advice?

Let talk about sex:
If you took my advice above and used your female radiance as part of your strategy to get into the Starchitect Staffers Club (...and in many cases even if you did not), there is a strong chance that the starchitect will make sexual advances on you.

Do not under any circumstances capitulate to any of these advances.  Politely redirect them.
If you did not recognize the elegant lady in the picture that I fist showed you above, that is Ann Tyng. She was partner at Louis Kahn Architect and has been referred to as the geometrical strategist and muse behind the famous architect. As smart and talented as she was, she made the mistake of having a sexual relationship with her starchitect boss and eventually got pregnant. When it became apparent, she was sent to Italy to have the child in order to mitigate the scandal. Soon after the relationship ended and with it the career she could have had.

Similarly, this also happened with Harrit Pattison, a landscape architect who worked at Kahn's office. She also made the mistake of sleeping with the starchitect and getting pregnant. Guess what happend? Discarded and career ended? Yep! you guessed it!

Let me retort, for every Elisabeth Diller there are hundreds or perhaps thousands of Harrit Pattisons and AnnTyngs. I am not your father or grandfather, so I have no interest in keeping you a virgin until you die, I don't know you and you do not know me either, and for all I know we will never meet each other. So why this insistence that you do not sleep with the starchitect. It is strategically stupid and the odds are against you.

If you prefer to think strategically and make intelligent decisions, I would like to point you to this video.

Exit Strategy
As I mentioned in the previous note, as you approach your late 30's or early 40's, this lifestyle might get a bit tiring and impractical for you especially if you are thinking about starting a family or just realizing that this life style is not sustainable.

Most of you will take option 1 and go and work at a regular architecture firm and spend the rest of your days telling your star-struck colleagues stories at the lunch table about the good old days when you used to work for Richard Mier or Aldo Rossi.

Some will take the option of being a full time mom or some combination of this with the above option. This is not an option for your male colleagues. It partly explains why despite the relatively even gender ratio in the Starchitect Staffers Club, that there is such a low ratio of women that actually go on to become starchitects. If you took my advice and froze your eggs, for those of you who are exiting in your early 40's, this is where your frozen eggs will come in handy. If you watched the video above and did your homework, you may have found a suitable partner and not the guy closest to you when the music stopped. You can now unfreeze your eggs have children with him or her and live happily ever after.

Unfortunately only the few will take option 3 (starting your own firm with the intention of being the next starchitect), which most likely means not having children. For you, I give you the  same advice as in previous note. Go to OMA and find a partner (preferably male) your chances of becoming a star will increase tremendously. If you came this far, I congratulate you. I might actually meet you or hear of you after all. I will be down here in the trenches writing and campaigning on your behalf when the Pritzker committee passes you over and hand your husband a Pritzker Prize for the work that you both accumulated over the life of your practice without as much as a mention of your name.

Conrad Newel,
Liberating Minds Since August 2007

Friday, February 27, 2015

103. An unpopular proposal: An argument for why interns should work for starchitects for free.

Calm down and just hear me out!

I know, I know everybody is against free intern labor. Its slavery. it's this, it is that.
I don't agree!...I am sorry... I don't
Until the industry radically changes the way it works, then working for free is always going to be a highly desirable option.

Working for free is not so bad depending on your career path.
If you want to be a famous architect then it is perhaps the best investment you will ever make in your life.

Let me ask you this: How much does tuition to architecture school cost? and what do you get in return economically?
  1. You get a nice student debt that is so high that you will likely be paying it off for the rest of your life.
  2. You get some basic software skills that is of some value to a potential employer. However, since everybody leaving architecture school can claim to have those skills, then  the law of supply and demand makes it virtually worthless.
  3. You get to say on your resume that you completed architecture school. That's got to be worth something! Then again, there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of students finishing architecture school each year, so in a capitalist market this make it's value ... well you understand.

Since an architecture degree gives you no practical experience, you are of little value to an architecture firm. You are basically considered a person tough enough to withstand the rigor of architecture school and can survive it and you having some software skills.  Perhaps you can sit under grumpy Joe as an assistant and learn something from him and perhaps in time you might be of some value.

So what I am saying is that in purely economic terms, to an employer, a graduate with a degree in architecture is a medium risk investment at best.

So by now I hope you realize how absolutely ridiculous an argument this is.  Measuring the value of an architectural education purely in economic terms is bonkers. But it is interesting to do it, because when we discuss free or underpaid intern labor we tend to do the same thing and conclude that it is modern day slave labor and leave it there. This is bonkers too. So lets revisit this question:

Let me ask you this, how much does working for a star-architect cost? Zero.(not unless you were working for Frank Lloyd Wright in which case you had to pay him). Most starchitect firms will pay you minimum wage or something way below that if you include the large amount of overtime hours that you are expected to put in.  An up-and-coming starchitect firm most likely can not afford to pay you anything. So in terms of how much you will have to shell out to pay your employer, the amount is Zero or in some cases you actually get some small change netting you a plus. You will however have to pay for your own room and board (and if you have student debt, that too)

What do you get in return?

-You get to put on your resume that you have worked at this Starchitecture Firm for a certain amount of years, working on this and that famous project. This in return gets you membership in The Starchitect Staffers Club© with a value far more than the zero dollars that you invested into it.

What does membership in the club mean?

1. As a kid in your 20's or early 30's you want to work on the most fantastic projects, right? By being in the Starchitecture Club you get to do that.

2. You will be the envy of all your architect friends. When you meet a regular architect at a party and they ask "So where do you work?" You say quite non-schalauntly "um OMA", you can then watch as the other guy literally shrink beside you. Its an amazing magic trick!

3. You can travel and live all over the world - if you have worked for DS+R, your chances of getting a job at Fosters, OMA, Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry or any othter Starchitecture firm in the world is a near certainty.

Lets say you are working at Fuksas in Rome and you get tired of the hot summers and you wanted a change of scenery, you can apply to B.I.G. in Copenhagen and move to Denmark. The Scandinavian climate is too cold for you? Apply to Frank Gehry in Los Angeles. So you work for Gehry for a year or 2 and you want to go somewhere more exotic. Why not try for Tado Ando in Japan? there is good chance that within a few weeks you will be showing off your Tokyo flat at a party there with your new found friends and co-workers.
As strange at it may seem to you (if you have never been in the starchitect staffers club) these are not unlikely scenarios. This is just mundane reality for members of this club.

Mind now, I am not saying it is a bed of roses. Compared to their less famous counterparts, the members of this club are working at the same intensity or even higher than you remembered in architecture school. Long shifts and many sleepless nights in a row are routine in Starchitect Staffers-Club. If you went to a starchitecture school, surely you remember the days of Starchitecture professors talking down to you like little children? This is a normal part of being in the starchitecture club too. All the alumni's of this club seem to agree that it is a torturous, painful, demeaning and unhealthy lifestyle, but apparently none would change it for the world. It goes without saying that you will grow to love these exploitive conditions. You will come to brag about them like you bragged about how little sleep you got in architecture school and tout saying like "architecture is not for the weak". For a more in depth description of life inside the Starchitect Staffer's Club, you can read Philipp Oswalt and Matthias Hollwich's description of what it is like to work at OMA here or Ivan Sergejev's more controversial version here.

These are the major downsides and if you will come to love them anyway, why call them downsides?

4.The positives are pretty much the same positives you enjoyed in architecture school. You make greater bonds and closer friendships since you and your co-workers will inevitably create the kind of bond that comes from working deep into the night and saying stupid stuff to each other at 3 am in the mornings and going out to the pub together and drinking yourselves silly during the little free time you have off.  Its basically an extension of your youth and collage years. You get to play and be creative and make crazy stuff and laugh and cry a lot. If you love studio life, then this will be the place for you.

What do you have to look forward to?

When you get a little older, say your late 30's or early 40's, this lifestyle might get a bit tiring and impractical for you especially if you are thinking about starting a family or just realizing that this life style is not sustainable. The great thing with being in the Starchitect Staffers Club is that you have a wide range of exit strategies. Here is just a small sample of things you could do:

1. You can go and work for a less famous non-star firm that offers more grown up policies. This means closer to normal working hours and more competitive salaries. The operative words here being "closer" and "more". A non-starcitect firm will gladly take you if your CV is glistening with starchitect names all over it. However as I have shown in note #100, it does not work the other way around.

2. You could get a job teaching at a starchitecture school. As with most institutions in this industry ( journals, museums, architecture associations, etc), universities connected with Starchitecture schools love resumes with starchitects names on them.

3. You can start your own firm and get into the running to be a starchitect yourself. See the top of note #100 for a simple outline for your business plan. You and I both know that this is the only honorable option at this point. In this case, you my want to prepare by reading notes #24 marry an architect or #73 work for Rem. My direct advice here would be to contact one of your colleagues in your network who works at OMA and let them know that you are looking to move there. Once you are in, try your best to hook-up with someone and make your exit from there.

If you don't work for free your options are limited.
Lets say you took the high road and refuse to work for free (or very little). You said free work is for slaves, I am above that or you simply said "you know what? I have just finished architecture school, I have a ton of student loan debt, and mommy and daddy can not afford to pay for me to work at Zaha Hadid" then what? What options do you have?

Well you get a job at Joe Smith & associates architects down the road from your local collage or you can go back to your home town  and take a job at Main Street Architects doing residential work, supermarkets, convenience stors etc.

Lets suppose you get bored of this kind of work later on and want to do something more "interesting", what are your options? You look in Mark Magazine, ArchDaly, Architizer or any of the other Archiblogs or magazines and you think to yourself "Gee...I want to do interesting exciting stuff like that, it looks like a lot of fun", so you send your CV to one of these starchitecture firms. Chances are they will take a quick scan and notice that you have 4 years expereince at Joe Smith & Associates Architects. They have never heard of Joe Smith's so they don't bother to look any further and your resume will go straight to the trash can. If you look at DS+R's website you know not to even bother sending your resume, because you never did any museums or cultural projects at Joe Smith's did you? You do not have the credentials, you missed that boat years ago when you turnded down that "free" intern job.

Conrad Newel
Liberating Minds Since August 2007

Ofcourse you are interested!!! in two years time you can apply to DS+R, Peter Zumthor, Zaha Hadid, you name-it! This is a free ticket to the Starchitect Staffer's Club!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

102. How to get in the Star-Architect Staffers Club©

Even though it is not defined by brick and morter walls The Starchitect Staffers Club is guarded by bouncers at the gate and is every bit as real as the club that Bruno infiltrated in the clip above. In fact, it is similar to it in more ways than you can imagine.

In my previous series, I revealed the existence of the Starchitect Staffers Club©: An inter-star-office-employee-exchange-system where staffers of starchitect firms move easily and exclusively from one starchitect firm to another. A system that rejects employees of non-starchitect firms from entering and selects only people who have worked at other starchitect firms.

As I have mentioned several times in this blog before, the best and easiest path to becoming a famous architect is to work for another famous architect; preferably Rem Koolhaas. This is the forerunner of the old apprentice system. You work for a master and learn the ropes before branching out on your own.
The business model of a starchitect firm is extremely different from that of a regular architecture firm.  Don’t be fooled!; the fact that a firm’s name ends with the word “architects” and that they produce drawings for things called buildings, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the same things. The way a starchitect firm and a regular architect firm works and operates are as dissimilar as the difference between how the company Nike produces a product called a shoe and the way your local shoemaker produces a similar product by the same name.
So if you are aiming to become a famous architect, working or interning for a regular architecture firm won't do you any good; you will have to assimilate a very specific system better known as the star-architect system. This effectively means that you have to get into the Starchitect Staffers Club© and work at a starchitect firm before moving up its ranks to become a star yourself.
But if your resume will not get past the trash can without another starchitects name on it, then how do you enter this club you ask?

Certainly nobody was born into it and you can’t just spontaneously sprout 3 years of experience at Frank Gehry or OMA on our resume!  So how then?

Well there are many ways, but the most common way by far is to start as an intern. However, this is not so simple. Is it ever? Interns are often hand picked by a starchitect professor or close associates. The selection criteria are far and wide, both random and calculated; sometimes they pick a person who was just there at the moment when they needed someone, sometimes it is because the student did outstanding work or is duly talented with a specifically needed skill set, sometimes because they choose by carefully evaluating candidates from a pile of CV’s, sometimes they just like they way you look, or speak, or that you come from somewhere exotic or interesting, or sometimes they ask a colleague if they know of anybody, sometimes its because you were bold enough to ask when no one else would.

If this sounds daunting and totally random - you are kind of right - it is, but don’t worry. Conrad has some tips on how to increase your probability of getting an internship.


Here is one clue:

The chart below shows a survey of 16 employees who came directly from collage selected randomly from the Diller Scofidio + Renfero. The primary question of the survey was: Where did you go to school before being hired as an intern at DS+R?
As stated, a starchitecture school is a school where starchitects are professors:
If you are a non-architect civilian and knew absolutely nothing about the culture of architecture and I showed you this chart, you should be able to tell me with reasonable accuracy which schools have starchitects as professors.
In this case Renfero has taught at Rice, Parsons the New School for Design, School of Visual Arts, and Columbia University. Scofidio has taught at Cooper Union since 1965. Diller has also taught at Cooper Union in addition to Columbia University, Princeton University and Harvard University. It is no coincidence that Columbia University is at the top of the list.
As you can also see for yourself, basically all Ivy League schools are represented in this tiny sampling of interns. So your chances of getting into the club is significantly increased by going to one of these starchitecture schools. This is regardless if you want to work for DS+R or any other starchitect firm. I am unfairly focusing on DS+R because I have data collected on them from my prevoious notes. However, this is the norm throughout the starchitect industry.
This information would be great to know if you were in high school so you can choose the school beforehand. The interesting thing though is that most kids in high school who dream of becoming an architect do not dream of becoming a stararchitect. However, once you are in a starchitecture school you are indoctrinated with the idea that the only honorable recourse after leaving school is to become a starchitect.
So this note by default is for students who are already in starchitecture school. The good news is that you are halfway there. The bad news is that you only have a 2% chance of entering the Starchitect Staffers Club and a 0.001% chance of becoming an actual starchitect.
You like to gamble?
Lets roll the dice then, this is not a game for the cautious and sensible.
You are not like the hundreds and thousands who have failed before you. No!
You are special, these stupid statistics and laws of probability do not apply to you.
In the voice of the great General Douglas McAuthor - cigar in mouth and all: “I like your spirit lad!”
Here are 5 tips to increase your odds:
Give up this cock-a-manian obsession most architecture students have about finding and developing your own architectural signature, and style.  
bla, bla, bla. it is stupid! get over it. By the time you wake up from that coma, the train will already be gone. Read my post on starchitecture school. Your sole purpose in starchitecture school is to illuminate your starchitect professor’s ideas and theories and make him look good and proud when he has final reviews and discuss your project with his colleagues. Thoroughly research his every project and theories beforehand and on the first day of class get ready to reinterpret them magnificently.
Read note # 63. What is important in STARchitecture school

Give up this cock-a-manian obsession most architecture students have about designing a functional building that could work in the real world.
This is not what starchitecture school is about. It only has to be functional in proportion of the idea that it discusses or as functional as your starchitect professor wants it to be. You will learn to do all this stuff when you get to work in an office. So just calm your anxiety about this, its not so special. See note #84.You Don't Have to be Good - Part 3: It's about the Idea Stupid! 
and note #86.You don’t have to be good part 4: Form follows Taste.

Be outstanding.
This is the first prerequisite to becoming a star. There is never a star-architect that is just ordinary. If you have a special skill, or talent, or aptitude or whatever that can separate you from the rest of your classmates in a positive way, then use it.
  • Are you from somewhere exotic,?
  • do you have mad skills in a particular program?
  • are you a model making wizard?
  • can you speak eloquently about your work?
  • have a certain sex appeal?
  • an air of sophistication about you maybe?
These are all things that can actually help increase your odds. Use that as your foundation and build from that. As the saying goes: if you got it use it.

Now I know some people are going to write me and say "hey Conrad you mean to tell me that I have to use my sex appeal instead of just making good work?".
Hear me and hear me good. This is not what I am saying; being aware of these things is not a substitute for making the best work you can.

The correctness of the architecture culture would have you believe that a person is evaluated solely on the merits of the work that they produce. This is nonsense!
The work you produce is just the tip of the iceberg. You are evaluated on every aspect of your being that the senses can grasp. Your eye, skin and hair color, your smell, voice, accent, attitude, smile, punctuality, ability to listen and respond to criticism, your learning curve, social skills, economic background, any rumors about you, everything and i mean every gad-damn-thing you can think of.

You have to be aware of these things and project the most positive aspects of them all the time. To ignore this and pretend that it is only what you produce as architecture that is taken in to account when you go forward with your career is grossly naive.  As I am telling you now, your architecture career starts the first moment you walk into the architecture studio and create that first impression on your classmates and professors.
never mind all your timid stuttering overly childish and critical classmates that might giggle and talk behind your back. Go up to your star-architect professor and ask him for an internship. Don’t wait to be asked, you just might get him on a day when he is in a good mood. If you don’t ask at some point your chances of getting in the club is nil. Remember, if you do it while you are in school, you can apply again and again, if you don't get a yes the first time. However, you only get one chance of applying for internships after graduating.  If you wait until then, your odds become close to nil as well. Do the math!
see note #69. Be Shameless about Asking for things

Work for Free
Give up the idea that working for free at a starchitecture firm or an up and coming firm is a form of exploitation. I will discuss this in more detail in a later note. Take my word on it for now and just consider it an obligatory entry fee into the Starchitect Staffers Club©. See the starchitect business plan at the top of note #100 for some typical contract terms you might expect.

Conrad Newel
Liberating Minds Since August 2007