#ArchiTalks 6: "Architecture in the Real World"

Being that I live in Southern California and lived in the Los Angeles area for 14 years, my perspective is about “Architecture in Cinema” in comparison to “Architecture in the Real World” and though they do intermingle, the two worlds are very different.  

Working in architecture in Los Angeles gives you the opportunity to be in close proximity to the entertainment industry, as far as filming, having clients who work in it or just having the experience of being next to “stars” as you drink your coffee, pump your gas, or enjoy a nice dinner at a restaurant that might have been a lot nicer if people had not been looking at the latest Hollywood couple that was just seated next to you. I did two "facelifts" on the above house and it was used in the movie "Valentine's Day" with Ashton Kutcher, who doesn't play an architect in that movie but a florist. I didn't know that the house had been used for any films but my daughter saw the movie and said, "I think you will like it because of all the scenes of Venice". She had been to the house when she was young, but she didn't remember that I had worked on it.

It also gives you the opportunity to have people come into the office where you are working to scout out what an architecture office looks like.  Because everyone knows that architecture is cool and architects are rich and famous and have these great offices, great houses, great cars and a great lifestyle because that is what it looks like in the movies and that is the way it is, isn’t it???

We used to always laugh after people came in and looked around because we are pretty sure that they left saying “What a mess that place is!!!  I thought architects had way cooler spaces in tall buildings like Tom Hanks in “Sleepless in Seattle”, let’s just use the front of Gehry’s binoculars and do the rest on a stage set with models and drawings from the local architecture school”.  

And of course, besides the humorous conversations that might occupy about one-tenth of your workday, the rest of the goings on in the day of a life of an architect, is usually not that exciting. “Hey, are you done with that detail yet?  We need to submit those plans to the building department by the end of the day!!!”  (Much looking at the redlines and moving a mouse around while looking at a monitor) .  So we used to say that the most interesting things about architecture are usually the projects, if you are lucky, and not so much the excitement of the everyday office.  I have noticed that most architects today are portrayed as working on a drafting table by themselves because it is much more romantic than seeing a bunch of people in front of their computers with earbuds.

That is why in the onscreen portrayal of architects, they do a lot of site visits because that gets them out of the office and they can take many panoramic views of the project which will be on the side of a hill with an ocean view.  And the site visit is never during the foundation phase of the project and never when an inspector visits and there are never any “discussions” of “why did you not call me when you weren’t sure what that dimension was?” and you are just looking at holes in the ground because that is not very interesting to the general audience either.

And people will say to me when they find out that I am an architect, “do you live in a house that you designed?” or when I tell them that my husband is also an architect, they say, “oh, do you and your husband argue about what to do with your house?  No, actually that is one of the few things that we don’t argue about, because we have similar design tastes and we aren't really doing anything to the house we live in now because we keep hoping that someday we will be able to live in a house like the ones that our cinematic counterparts live in.  
No, I do not live in a house that I or we designed along with at least 80 percent of Real architects do not live in a house that they designed.  Unfortunately, most of us live in some type of “tract housing”, typically from the twenties to sixties is considered acceptable, though there are some that venture to something newer from the seventies, and even later.  The problem with the houses that are newer is that unlike Architects on the big screen, Architects in the Real World don’t like a brand new house because there is nothing for them to fix.  Real Architects can’t live in a house that has all the base molding or a brand new kitchen or bathrooms that have all the tile in place BECAUSE there is nothing left for us to design or dream about.  It would be like saying that the house is perfect the way it is and we can’t have that because Real Architects never think that anything is perfect.  It just doesn’t happen....

The things that most Architecture in the Real World and Cinema do have in common is that most Architecture offices and Architect’s houses have lots of drawings, lots of books, lots of coffee and lots of bar paraphernalia. Every Real Architect has so many drawings because they save every drawing they have ever done since their 8th grade drafting class and the Cinema Architect's office and house also reflects this.  And books, I am pretty sure that every Architect’s dream house includes a library, though in reality we could probably build one with the amount of books that we collect. We also love coffee and are enamored with the machine that makes it, the amount of cups that it takes to drink all that coffee and of course now it is all the containers to travel with that coffee.  I just counted in my kitchen, two coffeemakers, an espresso machine, an espresso maker, a french press, 3 dozen coffee cups, 8 travel mugs and a stainless steel milk frothing pitcher.  And Architects in real life and cinema enjoy a drink, even if it is non-alcoholic, in a good looking bar glass.

Architects in the movies always have nice cars; usually foreign, mostly convertible, all very expensive.  Architects in the real world have cars, usually foreign, usually large enough to carry presentation boards, all affordable. Architects in the movies have Porsche 930’s, Maseratis, or Mercedes gull-wings.  Architects in real life have Volvo wagons/suv, BMWs (older models), or Toyota priuses and they sit out in the driveway because most architects have garages full of drawings, books and architecture magazines from thirty years ago.

Architects in Cinema have these wonderful jet-set lifestyles.  They are running out the glass door of their slick office, jumping into their nice car and driving home to a beautiful house of their own design or they are at an opening of their latest cutting-edge project with tray passed apps and martinis with people in Armani tuxedos and gowns.  In reality, the architect is running out the door of the studio, late again, forgetting to lock the security gate, throws the roll of drawings in to the back of the ‘97 Volvo sportwagon, on their way to a meeting with a client who tells them that they aren’t that crazy about the design because “they just want it to look like everything else” and as you leave and get a cup of coffee at the local coffeehouse, you realize that you sat on the chocolate chip cookie your kids left in your seat that morning and are grateful for those black pants you always wear!!!   

As much as we would like to have the exciting lifestyle that is portrayed in the movies with the moral dilemmas of architects like Woody Harrelson’s character in “Indecent Proposal” (I can think of relatively few architects who would even blink at that one, “my spouse or my life’s work?”). I don't know what other Real Architects would say but I don't think that the best mode of transport for an architectural model is in a taxi cab Michelle Pfeiffer, even if you do run into George Clooney in the process. And of course there are Wesley Snipe's drafting table romances (it looks a lot better than it feels) and what about the drawing???. Our exciting times usually involve sitting in an art and architecture bookstore and running into colleagues where a discussion of how to get paid by clients, who is building what, and when you are going to get a chance to see Europe again.  Again, as we post the day after the Academy’s decisions, “Architecture in the Real World”, not exactly Oscar material, but I will take it!!!!!   

from hotflick.net

Thanks to Bob Borson, "Life of An Architect"
If you enjoyed reading my blog, read the other ones below.

Enoch Sears - Business of Architecture
Bob Borson - Life of An Architect
Architecture in the Real Wolrd ... sorta
Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture
Welcome to the Architecture of the Real
Marica McKeel - Studio MM
Architecture in the Real World
Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet
What is the Real World: Architecture in the Real World
Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect
Architecture in the Real World
Mark R. LePage - Entrepreneur Architect
The HGTV Affect
Evan Troxel - Archispeak Podcast / TRXL
Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC
Architecture: It's a human thing
Collier Ward - Thousand Story Studio
Cormac Phalen - Cormac Phalen
Nicholas Renard - Cote Renard Architecture
Andrew Hawkins, AIA - Hawkins Architecture, Inc.
Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture
architecture in the real world: #architalks
Jes Stafford - Modus Operandi Design
* - *
Jes Stafford - Modus Operandi Design
Rosa Sheng - Equity by Design / The Missing 32% Project
Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect
Architecture in the Real World
Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC
Architecture in the Real World
Amy Kalar - ArchiMom
Michael Riscica - Young Architect
Architecture in the Real World
Architecture in the Real World

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect
Architecture in the Real World
Tara Imani - Tara Imani Designs, LLC
Architecture in the Real World

Please contact me via my website below for more information on the firm and sponsorship of the blog and podcast.


  1. A very different take and a lovely one at that! Enjoyed reading your blog.

  2. This is brilliant. It's sarcastic, yet smooth, accurate yet optimistic. I love the part about architects not wanting to live in a perfect or finished house - so true. We built a house in 2007 yet to me it's still not finished. We're still thinking about finish details, built ins, etc. If I'm not careful I second guess decisions and not satisfied with the quality of finish. We are such an odd, rare bunch.

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  4. Great post and love the supporting images!

    Thanks for sharing,

  5. Very interesting take on the topic. I really enjoyed reading it. You described our house to a T. I am constantly starting a what should be a quick and easy project, only to realized part way into it how much better it would be if only i did this or that. Then it sits unfinished while i iron out the details and figure out how to afford it. By that time i am on to the next project and so the cycle continues.

  6. So true, and funny at the same time! I just "discovered" your blog, as a link from Bob Borson's "My first project", thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you for reading my blog, Elena! I probably get most of my visits from "Life of an Architect" #ArchiTalks Keep reading and feel free to share it!


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