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