Ali following the Thrilla in Manila. Renoir after 1891. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s last year in the NBA. Chicago, post Terry Kath.
We see it so often in life and art: brilliance overstays its welcome. Someone hangs on just a little too long. What is left is either an over-regurgitation of past success or the Peter principle: managers rise to the level of their incompetence and stay there a really long time.
I consider myself a vigorous 58 years old. I’ve been practicing architecture for over 30 years, and I feel like I have 30 more left in me. But should I? Lately, that’s the question I’ve been pondering and discussing with other sages in my profession. More specifically, when does one’s tenure outweigh one’s actual contributions to this beloved craft? At what point does an architect become obsolete? When am I Chicago without Terry Kath?
Of course, for many of us, when or if we retire is less philosophical and more practical. We did knowingly choose architecture as a profession, and our 401(k) plans are still recovering from 2008. Even so, considering my personal trajectory of memory loss, snowballing idiosyncrasies, increased cluelessness about new technology, and desire for grandchildren, I do envision a future in which I finally have the time to read War and Peace (if I can stay awake).
As a result of deliberating all of this, I have come up with a PRELIMINARY list of the top 15 considerations that I’m using for self-reflection. Cost of living may trump (so sorry for the reference) my own altruistic honesty about the matter, but for now I’ve tried to stay as philosophical as possible.
Honorable Mention: “Have you tried turning your computer off and on again?”
15. Dockers are timeless!
14. You still ponder the question: What does the brick want to be?
13. Remember Michael Graves and Robert Stern? Nobody else does!
12. Over 90 percent of the people in your firm were born after what you refer to as “the good old days.”
11. Your dog weighs less than 10 pounds and wears a plaid vest to stay warm.
10. Come on, ditch the Corbu glasses!
9. “Your jokes sound just like my grandpa’s!”
8. At one point your salary as a principal was less than current intern wages.
7. You have a Mayline and drafting board at your desk and are convinced you’re going to use them.
6. You have a plugged-in electric eraser sitting on your drafting board next to your Mayline.
5. You actually ask pertinent questions during the annual employee benefits review.
4. You wear a bow tie.
3. You are seriously considering picking up one of the following hobbies:
a. Electric trains
d. Family Feud
2. You don’t realize it, but your staff took away your desk six months ago.
1. Brutalism was your favorite period of architecture.
As I grow older I often tell myself that I’m going out on top, full of ideas, vigor, and passion. My firm will beg me to come back (part-time) as its spiritual and design patriarch. And as I become less encumbered by deadlines, codes, budgets, and contracts, my creativity will only blossom! I will finally become the true unadulterated designer within me!
Then someone in the office says to me, “My god, Ron, your jokes are just like my grandpa’s,” and I stare out at my electric eraser wondering about the last time I actually used it ... I need a hobby ...