This past spring, around the time when architecture students nationwide were donning caps and gowns, I was researching possible futures for this fresh faced group. The outlook was grim. Here's a motivated, highly-skilled group who just went through the ringer and who'll very likely not find a job in their profession.
The feature, Have You Seen Me? runs, which in the July issue of Architect magazine, is as much about previous recessions as with this one. After undergrad back in the 90s I also faced an impossible job market. What seemed like simply personal stories of leaving architecture, turned out to have repercussions throughout the profession. During this past boom it was named "the lost generation" to explain the lack of qualified mid-career project managers. I was itching to answer the question of a repeat lost generation. Where are these graduates and young professionals headed? Are they dropping out? Tuning in? Or just getting lost?
AFTER I GRADUATED from college in 1994 and moved back home to the Bay Area, my dad handed me a copy of What Color Is Your Parachute? A practical electrical engineer with his own business, he was well aware that the construction industry was stymied by recession. With a new B.Arch. degree and a portfolio of conceptual drawings, I was hungry to enter the design profession and dismissive of any job-hunting manual. My summer was spent sending out dozens of résumés to firms.
When I got no reply, I knew my color: It was black.
I wasn't alone. Friends were struggling to find work. Then, as now, firms had scaled back, leaving less room for budding architects to make their way into the profession. Many left the field. In turn, they chose jobs in the tech industry that was just beginning to boom, especially in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
At first glance, their defections are unremarkable. Architecture school training—a design degree—has long been marketed as a way to see the world, not necessarily a passport to practice. From Gordon Matta- Clark to Herbert Muschamp, there's a comfortable legacy of graduates pursuing film, art, graphic design, or criticism. Others have ventured toward hands-on roles as contractors, construction managers, remodelers, and furniture designers. But the contraction of the architecture job market in the early 1990s left a gap in the profession that didn't reveal itself until the boom economy of a decade later.