No photos in the post, just a bit of a rant. Recently my wife and I had another couple over to our house for dinner. Like us, they were both architects, but, like my wife, who now practices as a land use attorney, neither of them was currently working in an architecture/design office. This is frighteningly common. Maybe other professions have an equal or greater attrition rate, but certainly architecture suffers greatly from a brain drain of talent and ability.
In poll after poll, architects testify to being one of the most unhappy of all professions, with very high rates of divorce, alcoholism and suicide. And, compared to other professionals with equal years of post-secondary school education, they are most consistently underpaid. My carpenter friends may laugh at this, but none of them are willing to trade paychecks if that includes the monthly student loan payments.
Maybe the fact the vast majority of tasks that go in to making a building have precious little to do with design contributes to the disillusionment experienced by architects. We can say that all of the associated tasks contribute to the "design", but I doubt any of us went to architecture school and sweated through the countless hours of studios and humiliations of jury reviews because municipal code review or zoning analysis was just so exciting.
A tough economy makes this brain drain even worse. So many architects, young and old, are not working in the field, not of their choice. Architecture unemployment is around 20% nationwide. Underemployment, at least anecdotally, is 100%. There are no clear statistics that I know of for this attrition, but for 2006, there were 7500 students graduating from accredited architecture schools, but only about 3000 gaining licenses. More than half either never become registered or drop out. Many others, like my wife, become licensed but no longer work as architects.
Do architecture schools fail to spell out the truth of the profession to prospective and current students? Considering that less than 25% of architecture school faculty are licensed architects, you can hardly blame them for not knowing. (That this low rate of licensed architects teaching architecture exists is another problematic topic) Does popular media and myth over-hype the perceived romance of being an architect? Probably so.
I love what I do, even if so much of my time is spent on technical and bureaucratic tasks. That so many of my colleagues are leaving the profession, or never fully entered it, is profoundly depressing. The extremely poor quality, both technical and aesthetic, of the built environment, the ugliness of our cities, the wastefulness of our construction industries, is directly related to the deplorable depletion of the ranks of rigorously trained, hard-working architects. In the United States, the vast majority of buildings are put together by developers. It is no coincidence that in a landscape where aesthetics are considered so much window-dressing, and a public would rather save a few bucks than have buildings to be proud of, architects find few handholds.
If anyone knows of any reliable statistics on the number of people "trained as architects" that are no longer working in the profession, I would love to see them. That the AIA, NCARB and schools of architecture have no idea what this number is, well...