“Loopy, quite, quite loopy! Grown professional men!” was Mother Goss’s email response to yet another all-nighter. Well, quite. I couldn’t agree more and I am the first to lambast those who perpetuate the culture within the profession, and yet there I was again, buying wholeheartedly into it — and possibly even leading the charge.
I wonder, does this kind of behaviour routinely occur in other professions?
During a recent 50-hour final session following a week of late nights, I hypothesised in my torpid state of semi-consciousness that, had I been in theatre performing a delicate retina replacement operation at 4am rather than colouring in some pictures, the consequences of ophthalmic surgery’s equivalent of “not staying inside the lines” may have been grave.
This is of course no revelation to any architects reading this, as the practice has become so commonplace within the profession as to be rendered unworthy of comment. I recall questioning the active endorsement of this way of working at university only to be met with an antipathetic snort from the head of year, indicating that I obviously didn’t have what it takes to make it in architecture. When pressed further, the old “architecture is not a profession, it’s a way of life” cliché was the stock answer to a struggling student.
At postgraduate level things didn’t appear to be improving when the course leader opened the first lecture of the year with the immortal words: “You’re not going to have time to wipe your arse!”
By the end of my postgraduate studies the number of broken fellow students in my cohort strewn around the fifth-year studio bore more resemblance to a team of special forces selection failures than an aspiring group of thrusting young professionals.
It was only following my six-month antipodean peregrination that an alternative view was presented to me. One particular individual, a principal protagonist of the 1970s Sydney School, explained that one needn’t be defined by one’s profession as, according to him, the commonly accepted British view would have you believe.
“I don’t think of my self as ‘an architect’,” he asserted. “I just happen to design buildings. I might decide to build boats tomorrow.”
Refreshing though this attitude was, old habits die hard and after a few weeks of surfing before work and generally living the dream I slowly got sucked back into the obsessive attention to unnecessary detail which I had fled halfway round the world to escape. Perhaps the artistic drive to continually refine in any creative discipline is less of a choice and more of an imperative, akin to the description by Michael Collins (the Apollo 11 astronaut) of humankind’s need to explore.
The quest for perfection coupled with commercial ambivalence will always, I fear, result in a push to the bitter end. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, architects abhor an early finish. I’m regularly lectured by friends and family about burnout and work-life balance and my all-nighters are definitely reducing. Perhaps I’ll learn one day.
Right, time for bed.