Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Architectural Pantheon


I am a one word professional: architect, so the inevitable cocktail party question has a simple answer. Over the years, my list of professional interests has expanded. I've done work in graphic design, photography, furniture design, exhibit and event design, product design and textile design. Add writing to this mix and now you know what I've been doing for almost thirty years.

That for all this time I've used the one word expletive is primarily because it's accurate, mixed in with a healthy dose of snobbery. Architecture is one of the classical fine arts, an ancient and noble profession, which somehow confers the self-imparted right to turn one’s nose sharply up at other applied arts, the likes of those I also practice. I think the attitude starts with the educational process.


 Research shows the nose will appear to curl up higher when the mouth is pulled back. 
Photo courtesy of So You Want to Be A Snob?

I pursued a curriculum whereby I was immersed in the study of Architecture, first at the University of Puerto Rico and then at Cornell University. My education followed the model set by the Bauhaus School at the turn of the 20th century, the epicenter of which was the Design studio where we spent a dozen of so hours week with our Studio critics and innumerable evenings and weekends. Well before the term became popular, the Studio was 24/7.

Professors doubled as gatekeepers to the Pantheon of Architects, where openings were scarce and competition to enter fierce. I was in awe of most of them and loathed the rest, even if it's from the latter that I likely learned the most. Attrition was high and even the most gifted had to work hard. Time after time I was required to present my work and be subject to scathing remarks of the Professors and guest critics up to the day I finished my thesis project and was told: "you passed."

Diploma in hand I moved to Washington, DC and started working. What I soon found out is I got to start out all over again and pay a new set of dues. Three years later I took the Architectural Registration Exam and fortunately I got through all nine parts and thirty-six hours of examination the first time around.

That other areas of design are not held to the fire to the same extent as architects contributes to the conceit of being above the rest. In the end, my lot misses out on much and perpetrates the notion we are unapproachable and intimidating, much to the profession’s detriment. I wonder if we are in part to blame we are underpaid and underused.

Because of my areas of involvement, I’ve acquired another handful of professional descriptors: graphic designer, photographer, interior designer, event designer and occasionally, decorator. I’m fine with all of them if it means I get to do what I want, which is one of the reasons I founded Studio Santalla in 2001. That the office provides all of these services in tandem is what sets us apart from most other firms.

I’m not too worried about being excused from the Architectural Pantheon because I comply with the requirements to keep my membership and I’m called a snob often enough. 


Now a catholic church, the Pantheon, or temple to all Gods, built  in Rome in 126 AD

What I am concerned about is how to fill the breach between public perception that design professionals are a luxury and the reality that qualified design professionals are needed more than ever to shape the built environment.

Comments encouraged.

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Studio Santalla won a "Best Of Houzz 2013 award

1 comment:

  1. "how to fill the breach between public perception that design professionals are a luxury and the reality that qualified design professionals are needed more than ever to shape the built environment." Couldn't agree more!!!!

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