Architecture and Community

Architecture and All-Nighter Culture

At the AIA Kansas annual conference last week, one audience member raised a question that has always disturbed me about the profession: Why do we continue to promote the idea that seventy hour workweeks are normal and expected? And what impact does that belief have on driving talented young people – especially young women — away from the profession, and on discouraging young architects from participating in their communities?

I was lucky to be a “non-traditional” student, with two college degrees behind me and soon-to-be married before I started architecture school. When I was advised that all architecture students lived lives of sleep deprivation and pulled all-nighters to complete their design projects, I thought “I’m not doing that!” And I didn’t. When I later started interviewing for jobs, I let the interviewers know that I had a new baby at home and a life outside of the office. But I have always recognized that my attitude is a minority view, even heretical to some basic (if perversely misplaced) value of the profession.

If the culture of architecture is going to change to a healthier promotion of balancing career, family, and community service, it’s going to start at the schools of architecture. Here’s a typical attitude from stuckinstudio.com:

Everyone knows that architecture students are always in studio. As an architecture student you are expected to pull all nighters and go days without sleep right before your final presentation.

Well, sorry, but “everyone knows” that nobody does their best work when they haven’t slept. Your project will be a lot more impressive if you have done a little time management and not saved half the work until there’s one percent of the schedule remaining.

And there’s this from the same site:

You Know You’re an Architecture Student When…

….you know the janitors by name.

….your roommates say “good morning,” and you reply “good night.”

….you carry a toothbrush in your backpack.

….you only leave studio to buy supplies.

Cute. Not smart, but cute.

At its most extreme, there is nothing even remotely cute about this attitude, just self-destructive and destructive to the quality of services we are providing our clients. This is from an archinect.com forum:

how many hours do you work as an architect

betamax

Dec 14, 09 2:31 pm

that all depends on the individual…a passionate individual will work as many hours as it takes for his/her fingers to bleed both in school and in practice…then the will sleep for 2.5 hours then start over. everyone else probably averages between 60-70 hours per week.

Note the grammatically challenged response, perhaps resulting from brain fatigue due to extreme sleep deprivation. I’m glad I don’t have to redline betamax’s drawings.

Thankfully, I’m not the only architect who feels this way. Here’s some good – if harsh — advice from lifeofanarchitect.com:

Studio: Top 10 things you should know…

1. All-nighters are not a requirement

Architecture students are terrible at managing their time. While part of the design process is the vetting that goes on between students, rarely do architecture students show up, put their heads down, and get to work in a methodical, productive manner. There is a lot of competition and gamesmanship that goes on but if you manage your time like the studio was your job, all-nighters simply wouldn’t happen. It’s the guy sleeping in the lounge during structures class whose desk is littered  with Starbucks cups that pulls all-nighters. This person will also brag about pulling an all-nighter – as a “grown-up”, this makes me chuckle.”

Of course, one argument is that the stereotypical design studio experience is a necessary preparation for professional practice. This brings us back to the original question of the “seventy hour workweek.” I’ll try to tackle that issue in my next post.

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4 Responses to Architecture and All-Nighter Culture

  1. I agree – the idea that ‘architects never sleep’ is disturbing. Though I do believe that those who refuse to work long hours are a minority, the group may not be quite as small as you think. I think the pressure on students to ‘work until it gets done’ is tremendous, and originates with a misconception about what ‘getting it done’ actually means. I actually wrote a post addressing part of this issue, and the idea is that students focus too much on quantity instead of quality. The other side of the problem lies with the professors who demand high quantities of work without reason (the reason may be that their ego demands others suffer as they had to). Add in the societal and cultural pressures to perform – or lose your job – and you get the workplace culture of fear that is so rampant in the profession of architecture. Call it keeping up with the Joneses, but if your peers are all working 80 hour weeks, there is a ton of pressure to do likewise or lose your job. It takes a very confident (and highly qualified) individual to produce the same level of results and say ‘I did this in a normal 40 hour week’. Quite the challenge, but one worth working towards. Feel free to take a look at the post I referenced here: http://bit.ly/n0rMCD

  2. Tim Slater says:

    In fact, though architecture school is frequently glorified as a string of all nights, it could be good training for the real-world mix of normal days with occasional bursts of energy for when things REALLY need to get done on an opportune deadline. Fine. Yet coming out of school, we are easily deluded, by ourselves and others, into thinking that every night needs extra effort. It also doesn’t help that there’s so many bad managers in the profession that don’t know how to pace a project or manage client expectations, so much of the overtime is “required” to cover someone else’s ass.

  3. C.N. says:

    I don’t know where you guys go (or went) to school, but from my personal experience in the school of architecture no one has ever told me that I HAVE TO pull all-nighters to finish up projects. In contrast, I have had studio professors that emphasize the fact that a good night sleep is the key before every big presentation/review. I have pulled some all-nighters on numerous occasions but not always. And yet again that was MY choice and the reasoning behind it was to push the envelope a bit further in regards to my work. Stereotypes exist everywhere, but that doesn’t mean that this is the truth. I strongly believe that architecture students decide to pull all-nighters because they are not alone (studio culture) and because it is always better to take advantage of a few extra hours in the work day.

  4. the ‘all nighter culture’ is simply wrong. I did not do it either, only twice and due to peer pressure. after completing a four year degre at KU I worked in the field diligently for four years and passed the licensing exam on the first attempt, receiving an A in arch. history i think partly due to enjoying Professor Michaels. What I learned in offices helped me pass the exam just as much as any coursework at KU. the all night thing is ridiculous, inefficient, and wrong.