Note: This is a modified excerpt of the author's original article published in the PDI's Youngblood, November 1999. For other published articles, check here
Years ago, in the middle of Professional Practice, I remember one of our professors told us, "Not all of you will become architects." At that very second we thought it might be a warning that not all of us would pass his subject that semester. However, he shook his head and further clarified, "You may all pass this class, graduate from this university, and still not become an architect." I was really confused. Hadn't we all been slaving for the past few years, foregoing sleep, racking our brains out, becoming a slave to the drafting table---only because we wanted to be architects? What does an architect make? In my young, idealistic mind, I thought we'd all graduate, pass the boards, and become architects. However, I soon realized being an architect is more than just passing exams at school or pushing pencils at the drafting table.
The professors at the review center liked to call it The Decision. And I guess it was indeed a big decision; a rite of passage that all architects had to undergo. Taking the board exams is more than just showing up on the day itself with your pencil at the ready; it takes months of preparation. If you thought the thesis was a big hurdle, the boards are even more so.
For me, The Decision involved taking time off work and moving into a review camp with some of my batch mates. It was hard going at first because living together seemed like thesis camp all over again, and the first few days were filled with laughter, shared reminisces, and booze. There were a lot of temptations along the way. It was summer when we started reviewing, and we had to resist the call of the beach. It didn’t help that the owner of the place we lived in took a liking to us and was always trying to drag us off to his nearby pub. But we got serious soon enough.
We began by re-learning all that had been taught to us at university. Everyday, from 9-4 we’d be at the UST library, furiously reviewing. Then we’d take a few hours break to go to mass and eat before going to the review center at 6:30. We reviewed history and theory of architecture, and committed to memory immortal words such as, “A house is like a flower pot” (Neutra) or “Ornament is a crime” (Loos) and architects who built buildings like the Meralco Building (Zaragosa 1968) and the Magsaysay Center (Luz 1967). Our shelves were soon filled with codes---building codes, fire codes, plumbing codes, and structural codes. We reviewed structural problems, and tried to compute loads and moments at different points. Our walls were plastered with notes, and we listened to recordings of us studying when we slept. Gosh, I could even once quote the occupant loads for different building types without batting an eyelash, one guy could actually recite the refrigeration cycle in his sleep, and another sounded as if he had swallowed Bannister Fletcher’s book whole. In addition to all those subjects, there was design; something that seemed so simple was in reality very complicated.
Once a week we’d treat ourselves to a movie. But because our professors warned us not to watch anything “too deep,” we ended up watching some of the worst movies we had ever seen. We also became very devout; we went to mass everyday (I kid you not) and acquired devotions to St. Jude (hopeless cases) and the Virgin of Manaoag.
Then the day of reckoning arrived. Three days of hell. We even wondered if the examiners could have answered their own exams.
The waiting was much like being in limbo; somehow your brain replayed every single question that you may have answered wrong and you just wanted to curl into a ball and forget you had ever thought of taking the exams.
Then one day I opened the papers I saw my name. I will never forget the joy of seeing my name in print. I had passed. I was now an architect.
However, over the years I have come to realize that being an architect is more than knowing how to hold a pencil or passing an exam. Our professor was right; not all of us became architects. Although most are still in the building business as contractors, some pursued other careers. Passing the boards does not ensure our destiny.
When I took the boards, I swore it’d be the last exam I would take. But I was wrong; architects undergo tests every day. We are tested whenever we are required to make on-the-spot decisions at the job site. We are tested every time we pick up a pencil in response to a client’s request. We are tested every time we deal with a sticky situation, be it a delayed schedule, a finicky client, or a program that won’t run. Every day, in every way, as we struggle to shape our cities, we are constantly being tested. The tricky part is that the answers aren’t written down; judgment will be given by the generations to come. These are the people who will finally occupy our sculptures of glass, steel, and concrete. How did we do? That is for them to decide.
I, however, will stand by the oath I took when I was sworn in: “While the breath of the great architect is in me, may I always build.”
Congratulations to Arch. Kevin Leo Paredes! I am so proud of you baby!
Woot! Another architect in the family!
What hurdles do you face daily in your line of work?