Everyone eventually gets dumped. My sons tell me that dating sites now allow you to pre-dump: its rejection without drinks or dinner. “Swipe left” has become today’s zipless dump. But I’d argue that it’s more difficult for architects. We’ve always been addicted to validation. We cannot pursue our passion unless we sustain a love relationship with those who might spend huge amounts of money, time, and hope to create something together.
Like Match.Com, architectural dating is all about the internet, instantaneous and forever. My website is visited more than 5,000 times a year. Tiny by real standards, but I spend $0 on promotion and quickly respond when someone has heard of me (almost always via personal contact). Others “pay for play,” buying exposure on HOUZZ, or paying for advertorial publishing in regional magazines.
In the world of online human dating, profile pics are so absurdly manipulated that my sons tell me that the women they meet are often surprised that they resemble their photo’s. Architects manipulate our websites in similar ways. Firm sites are our one avatar in the toxically competitive internet arena, but even the best web presence can’t overcome the central challenge of getting hired: There is an infinite amount of risk involved in building, so architects are easily rejected, and with the silent stalk-ability of the web we often never even have the chance for a personal pitch.
Traditionally, architects have always been cast in the role of the begging supplicant. Many of my peers proffer blustering hipness as a defense against those who might reject them. I am not into affecting disinterest; I want to build. I am not “too good” for a job. I want virtually every job. It’s a disease, really, and I think all architects have it to some extent.
I was rejected by two clients today, both after hard pushes, risking many hours and heavy effort to put my best foot forward: sketches, meetings, correspondence. After declarations of how much they “loved” what I do, they said, “No thanks” and “It’s not you, it’s me.”
I get rejected scores of times a year. It’s usually ends with the “freeze out” of no further contact: the stony silence of the dumper. I wish I had the perspective to accept the reality that I lose more potential jobs than I get, but even after 40 years rejection still stings. I was rejected by two potential clients today, both after hard pushes, risking many hours and heavy effort to put my best foot forward: sketches, meetings, correspondence. After declarations of how much they “loved” what I do, they said, “No thanks”and “It’s not you, it’s me.”
Every rejection not only rejects me, but passes judgment on my body of work. Potential clients have seen what I do, and did not want it. My fees are competitive, but they’re not cut-throat cheap, so that may cause some rejection. Of course every rejected manuscript, each failed acting audition, all roadblocks to artistic opportunity, hurt. But the rejected architect has not done anything for the potential client to reject, except offering up as an example his or her entire life’s work.
Rejection is as irrationally personal for me as when I bought Clearasil and Old Spice in my teens. I guess for me it’s “Love my buildings, love me.” while those who dump me say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Both are subjective reactions. We’re all humans, so the potential for objectivity is pretty slim. Everyone’s an expert when it comes to judging to the arts. Architecture may be a professional practice, but it’s based on a cult of personality and individual expression, like the fine arts. It’s not just being dumped that warps my perspectives. Being hired also fuels the manic/depressive mood swings of having potential clients validate your life’s mission.
Each new job potential becomes a first date infatuation the minute you receive the call or emaiL. Each new contact conveys approbation and belief in your worth. You can write a play or novel, or build a 21st century yurt for yourself, but that thrill is unto itself: others have not validated your effort with their approval. Performing your play, publishing your novel, having a gallery put on an exhibit, all bring your art into the world. Building is the only way I can manifest what I have to offer the world, and I can only build for clients.
It’s the core purpose of building that causes architects to whistle past our frequent rejection, in classic denial, because we have no other choice. Unrequited love is a uniquely asymmetric condition. But love (as they say, and we all know too well), conquers all. The joys of creating buildings are as real as the happy-ending love stories on Match.Com ads. Like all those millennials, swiping through their love lives in ritualistic posturing, striving for romantic connection, the absurdities architects are forced to engage in to be competitive are, at least for me, ultimately worth it.
Featured image via ministryofpoeticaffairs.org.