Obstacle or Opportunity?

You did it!  This is week nine, the final installment in the Breaking Points and Turning Points Novena.  Thank you for taking this journey and exploring the issues that affect your very identity as an architect and creative person.  This week, we focus on recognizing what are often considered necessary evils as the true roadblocks they are and eliminating them from our path.

Way up there on my list of thoroughly annoying turns of phrase is the application of the word “challenging” as a euphemism for everything from the truly problematic to the downright irritating.  It is my belief that people who use this term are tying to force themselves to be relentlessly positive in the face of a negative situation.  In other words, they don’t know the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity. 

Yes, there are times (daily) when we have to suck it up and deal with life’s messy surprises, but we shouldn’t have to deal with permanent or recurring frustrations as any kind of rite of passage.  In your quest to find and enriching and fulfilling career as an architect, there are only a few true rites of passage.  I have separated them into three groups:
The Quantitative Rites - the attainments - are the prescriptive things you have to do to be considered an architect from a literal perspective. All architects complete these rites.
1.  Graduate from an architecture program with a professional degree
2.  Qualify, through proper work experience, to take your licensing exams
3.  Successfully complete exams
4.  Maintain license in good standing, including continuing education

The Qualitative Rites
- the judgements- are the milestone achievements that gain you recognition in the eyes of your peers, clients and consultants.  Most successful architects complete these rites.
1.  Specialize in an area of design
2.  Publish or have articles published featuring you or your work
3.  Receive an award for design or professional merit
4.  Be sought out for your expertise and asked to participate on a board, committee or panel

The Influential Rites - the impacts -are the transformative moments you have where you bring your knowledge and experience to bear to positively influence the world around you.  Only truly great architects complete these rites-but all of us could-if we stopped viewing obstacles as challenges and wasting our creative energy.
1.  Inspire someone to see the world differently
2.  Contribute, through design, to the welfare of others
3.  Mentor others to help them achieve their fullest potential
4.  Be a voice, through supportive environments, to those who cannot or do not know how to request what they need
5.  Advocate, through the person that you are and the way you live your life, all the ways that design does matter

Notice how none of the rites of passage involve any of the following “challenges” I like to call the Seven Deadly Sins of Architecture:
1.  Endure abuse by clients, co-workers or superiors
2.  Manipulate clients, co-workers or superiors
3.  Overstrategize every action in an attempt to stay one step ahead
4.  Seek credit and recognition for accomplishments
5.  Blame others (even when deserved) for unfavorable situations or outcomes
6.  Overpromise or overcommit to projects, organizations or events
7.  Undercut perceived competition both in and out of the office

That’s because none of these things make us stronger or better in any way.  They frustrate and aggravate us and suck up all our creative energy. Far from being challenges, they are obstacles (many of them self-created) and the sooner you recognize them as such, the sooner you can overcome them and focus on your true architectural Rites of Passage.

I recently saw a photo of the destroyed Berlin Wall spray painted with the statement “We are the wall.”  Nothing could be more true.


  1. Very good! Sometimes, we are our own worst enemies.

  2. John, Thank you for your kind words. If we could just get out of our own way as architects, just imagine what we could accomplish!

  3. Clive van der RietAugust 20, 2011 at 7:44 PM

    Angela, I believe there's a very important aspect that you have left out, and that is self-fulfilment, although I think that by attaining the QQI rites and avoiding the 7 sins, for many this would be more than enough.
    An architect, by nature, surely has a creative goal in life, which may be a social achievement, as most of your points above are, but most importantly is our creative contribution to the built environment which could influence the way humans live and perceive life through inspiration and psychological enrichment. Of course some of us want to build a monument to last 10000 years!! And then others of us just want to make a lot of money with little social conscience, but for the most part we are an idealistic group with positive contributions to the human condition..

  4. Clive, Thank you for your insights. I feel that the Influential rites are the architect's gateway to changing the world as well as self-fulfillment. It's not just a job but a vocation.

  5. I really enjoyed reading this. These are essential aspects for reflection. Thanks Angela!

  6. Marcia, thanks for you comments. Keep us posted with you insights and experiences.


Moved to mention: