Youth Looks Forward, Age Looks Back: A Love-letter to Internship (part two)

Note: the following post was originally written in 2004, as my entry for the ArchVoices Essay Competition. This was at the completion of my IDP requirements, a time in my life where I found myself feeling somewhat disenfranchised with the profession, as I’m sure many interns do. Some of my thoughts hold up pretty well, while I can’t help but shake my head at the naivete of some of the others… but seeing as this blog is devoted to internship, I figured it was worth sharing. Part one was published last month; part three will be published in a later post.

Previous — Part One: Tabula Rasa

PrisonerI read once that Michelangelo considered his greatest works to be acts of liberation more than of creation; that his most notable sculptures — David, Moses, the Pieta — already existed, trapped in the marble, and all the master had to do was remove the unnecessary pieces in order to bring them to light. His metaphor takes on even more depth of meaning when one considers some of Michelangelo’s lesser-known works, The Prisoners. This series of sculptures looks largely unfinished, the human figures remaining mostly trapped in rough blocks of stone. Their posture is labored, tortured. By comparison, David’s pose is serene, content. At the Galleria della Accademia in Florence, these works stand in juxtaposition to one another, and the contrast between them becomes stark reality. How many patrons of the museum, interested in seeing a master work up close, flock to the David, and in doing so breeze right past the Prisoners without even noticing? That which Michelangelo chose to liberate becomes a masterpiece; those that he left imprisoned, and seemingly unfinished, remain in relative obscurity.

The idea that the role of the artist is not to create so much as it is to reveal is, to me, very beautiful in its simplicity and nobility, and is certainly one that is at odds with the infamous egos of our much-celebrated star architects. It implies that there is so much more to a given thing that what can be seen on the surface. That under the care of a master, the potential work of art within virtually anything can be released.

When I have the chance to get together with my close friends from the studio, we inevitably talk at length about work. Those conversations make us seem like the proverbial blind men, trying to describe the elephant of the profession to each other. To the friend who has spent the last two years doing PlanCon reviews for elementary school clients, the elephant is like a snake. The young architect who writes one marketing proposal after another sees the elephant as a tree. The intern who draws countless iterations of the same elevation? To him, the elephant resembles a wall. Our perception of the true scale of the world encompassed by the enigmatic term “architecture” becomes limited by our daily tasks, and what we can see in our 15″ diagonal flatscreen monitors. In a profession that is populated by those who consider themselves to be artists, sculptors, and creators, perception should be everything. And yet, it is perception that seems to be lacking from the internship experiences of most young architects: perception of our true potential by the very people who we should be looking to for guidance and advice. Have they lost the ability to see the potential for creation in such a blank slate? Even more dangerously, will those young architects begin to lose that perception in themselves?

In architecture school, we are taught a passion for design, and made to believe that the sky is the limit. That we should make no small plans, for they have no magic to stir men’s blood. That God is in the details. That less can sometimes be more. Or something like that.

In architectural practice, we are forced to learn that the budget is the limit. That a good design solution is often considered an additional service. That our creative vision is more often that not subject to value engineering, and will then be made reality by the lowest bidder. That architecture has to fit into little boxes on a timesheet, always balancing to 40.

Next — Part Three: Inspiration.