Well, that’s done. The firm is closed, or will be by the end of the day. I left my desk at 11 a.m. after my computer slowly self-destructed, with program after program crashing, until I was booted off the server and prevented from doing any more work. (This is not related to the office closing; this is just what it’s like to work on Linux and open-source software.) I’d moved out all my photographs and concert posters and architecture books yesterday anyway, so I figured my computer going belly-up was a clear sign that it was over.
In the end, I’m surprised at the amount of sadness I feel. I’m leaving a job I almost quit at least once a week for the last two years, which is not much of a secret. When I graduated in 2009, it was December and the economy was free-falling. We had a welcome-to-the-profession happy hour with the dean of the architecture school, who raised a glass and said, “Here’s to 2011!”
The room fell into an awkward silence, and he looked at our deflated faces and said, “Oh, make no mistake, 2010 is a wash. You’ll be creative; you’ll find a path; you’ll take what you can find, and make it work. Your first job in architecture will not be your last.” And he went on to tell the story of how things were rough when he graduated, too, and he spent a year or two doing drawings for lightning bolts. He did, however, get to do lightening bolts for some pretty fabulous buildings, and he learned a lot, and as of the time he spoke to us, he was president of the American Institute for Architects. He turned out fine.
I really have learned a lot. I learned how to do construction documents, and review submittals, and write field reports, and do long-range space planning estimates. I measured every single inch of Raleigh’s first high-rise. And the caulk. Oh, the caulk, the fifteen months of the caulking project. The longest-running that’s-what-she-said joke in history took place during those fifteen months of everyone deliberately mishearing pronounce the world “caulk,” until my friend Greg offered to print me a t-shirt that says “Rock out with your caulk out.” I’ve learned a lot about things I don’t care about, such as how to properly wash a limestone building and how to reject sand and aggregate samples for mortar, and a lot about things I do care about, such as how to ensure that people who are going to occupy the spaces you design have what they need to be safe and happy. I’ve surveyed. I’ve file-converted. I’ve drafted. I’ve closed out projects.
Veronica and I used to joke about the pieces of office equipment we’d drag out into a field and rough up with a baseball bat, once we were well and truly clear of the place. I’d pretty much settled on this, due to a notorious incident in which we measured terrazzo divider strips with a decimal tape measure, WHO IN THE HELL BUYS A DECIMAL TAPE MEASURE, which looked just like every other tape measure and led to us owing our contractor some beer:
In the end, I didn’t want anything; didn’t take so much as a paperclip. Because, honestly, we’d already desecrated the two other most offensive items in the office during a bachelorette party when we planked the balky plotter,
and tried to revive the feeble office refrigerator which the boss got for like $40 at a yard sale in the eighties.
(It didn’t work, but if these ladies couldn’t rev its motor, nothing could.)
Digging through the files for some photos, I found some sweet memories, too. Our little office Christmas tree, decorated with draft dots and flair pens and id badges and the boss’s glasses,
and the cheery garlands on the giant red doors,
and the time when we turned the office into a photo gallery for First Friday,
and I sold my first piece of artwork,
and the view of downtown from the top of our project,
and how much I love the Mecca’s tri-colored sign lit up at dusk as I walked home on winter nights.
Looking back, I also realized how little of my life in the last three years has been taken up by my job, and how much else has happened. How much really good stuff has happened, and that’s not about to change. The boss is recovering, slowly, and we’re all moving on, and I’m raising a glass right now to the place where I started being an architect.