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Designer: What Working in Atlanta Architecture is Really Like

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[Apparently, this isn't quite how architecture works. Image via Plotr.]

Everyone knows architects design buildings, but just what they do all day remains a mystery to many, beyond the perception of the profession shaped by Ted Mosby. There are 5,356 architects licensed to practice in the state of Georgia, but there are tens of thousands of other people who work in the field designing the spaces we inhabit every day. In this week's installment of Field Note Fridays, local designer Teresa Badke — who's been working in architecture and interior design in Atlanta for a decade, after completing a master of architecture program at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) — talks about what architects do every day. Turns out, it's not quite how they portray it on How I Met Your Mother...

Curbed Atlanta: Many aspiring architects are given the same advice by architects: "Don't go into architecture." Despite being told this, clearly people still choose that route… What prompted you to go into the architectural field?

Teresa Badke: It is something that I had always been interested in since childhood. Architecture slowly turned into a fascination, then a passion. I used to look at house plans in my mother's Southern Living magazines, doll playing turned into "home design consultations," fort building became an art, etc. It's all consuming. Art school only solidified my desire for the 3D space and how it is related to its environment, and I haven't looked back since. While people approach the field from many different directions, if you like it you love it… And if you have any doubt, you tend to get out of it pretty quickly.

CA: People envision architects as great at math and incredibly artistic. Is that really an accurate portrayal? And how do you actually spend your time?

TB: I would not say I am great at math — I can get by, but it is not as intense day-to-day as many people assume. I would say that I am quite artistic. This has always been the case though, helping me choose to go to SCAD. I got a chance to learn architecture from a very creative approach amongst other artists. Every school is different, as is each practice, but ultimately across the board architecture is knowing a little bit about a lot of different things.

In practice, starting out I definitely drew my share of bathroom details, warehouse plans and a lot of parking lot layouts! Through my work experience, I have tried to adapt and learn a lot of different aspects related to the field including interior design, project management and even sales. As you work with more people and gain experience you achieve a confidence level that allows you to push the envelope a bit. Currently, I feel I can be much more creative than when first starting out.

CA: Obviously there is a wide range of tasks related to the design of a building lumped under the guise of "architecture." What is the relationship of the different elements in practice and what don't people realize about the process of designing a building?

TB: I find from my experience relaying "what I do daily" to anyone that does not do this for a living is usually the same. There tends to be a gap in seeing how all of these tiny tedious decisions helped in them seeing a cool building or great interior space. Is it important? Maybe not... just that it is admired? For example, to this day I don't think my mom fully understands that I am responsible for every decision down to the gauge (thickness) of a metal stud or the color of the caulk used on the interior glazing, or the finish of the lambs tongue downspout out back! Lighting is also highly under-appreciated. I guess it comes down to maybe we are all just designing for other designers to enjoy!

CA: Like yourself, most people who work in the architectural field aren't actually licensed. What's the process and why do you think many shy away from it?

TB: At the moment aspiring architects have to pass seven exams on topics ranging from sustainability and acoustics to how to draw up plans and write contracts. In addition to the exams, architects have to have at least three years of experience working under a licensed architect in certain specific areas of practice. The average age of someone becoming an architect is 33. It boils down to the fact that most practitioners aren't necessarily going to need a license. For everyone who isn't actually signing documents, it's not actually all that important.

For me, it just has not come up as a priority ... I have progressed in the field and found that it has never been a need for what I am doing daily.

CA: How do you feel the architectural profession has evolved in your time working in the city?

TB: A lot of smaller boutique firms have come out of the woodwork, and we are starting to hear a lot more from those firms as far as their intown accomplishments. The titles or roles inside firms seem to be adjusting as well. More than one role may be asked for within a particular job, urging employees to widen their knowledge base and keep on trend. The younger generations are infusing a sense of fluidity and collaboration which is usurping the former rigidity of many firms.

CA: What are your favorite buildings or architectural spaces in Atlanta?

TB: I lust over the old Atlanta Constitution building — someone save this building! The Sears-Roebuck transformation to Ponce City Market has been fantastic to watch and is hopefully indicative of a trend of adaptive-reuse gaining traction. There's a lot of untapped potential in the Pratt Pullman Yards as well. As far as outdoor spaces, the Old Fourth Ward Park green space redevelopment is great.

CA: As Atlanta grows and changes, what sorts of trends do you see in design shaping the city in the future?

TB: I think that it's clear that we are still in the thick of people wanting to move intown and create that city culture. I am optimistic that this can be accomplished without clearing out all traces of the old Southern visual style with tree lined streets and pockets of single family homes with character, whether new or old. It would be a shame to eliminate all charm and replace with only bento box style infill — the trend of adaptive-resuse of the older buildings in the city is one I hope will continue. We are also becoming much more conscious of the importance of green space within the urban landscape.

· Field Note Fridays Archive [Curbed Atlanta]
· NCARB by the Numbers [National Council of Architecture Registration Boards]