Loh Hui Sann, 2002, 5Sc5

Architecture – where science and art collide

Architecture is one of the most demanding professions in the world. An architect’s technical knowledge, construction management skills and understanding of business is as important as her design capability. You cannot be a good architect without any one of the above.

I have worked as an architect for almost 2 years now and my occasional hormone imbalance is proof of the stress endured in this field. This profession has made me grow beyond what I thought I was capable of. Whether you like it or not, you will develop excellent people management skills in this industry because you are the intermediary between construction site workers, clients, designers and of course, your boss. A snapshot of my worklist is below.

In this challenging field, everyday is a new learning curve.

Overtime is normal and weekend work may be required when projects are being rushed. Personally, what frustrates me most are fickle-minded clients who keep changing the design while requesting ridiculous deadlines. Honestly, I have considered quitting many times, not because of the work (I love architecture), but because of these clients who can be extremely difficult to deal with.

So… if the idea of being an architect, if the thought of breathing life into buildings still lures you, be ready to give up your beauty sleep and cheers for countless extra ‘9’ coffee and Redbull.

Click here to read about my journey.

I have loved art since I was young, I still do.

I was herded into the science stream just like many others. The whole time I was there, I struggled with chemistry and physics. Somehow, I managed to survive. After SPM, I struggled between interior design and architecture.

In the end, I chose architecture because I believe that
architects create the soul of a building – without architecture,
there would be no interior design.

I spent 3 years completing my Diploma in Building Science at Taylor’s College and then moved to University of Melbourne for another 3 years to complete my Bachelor of Architecture. Yes, architects need to go through 6 years of school. Those 6 years were horribly difficult and stressful.

I remember having insomnia my first year at Melbourne because of the complete change in environment and the teaching format. I fell behind in class and even had nightmares during short naps. I thought of giving up on this course, but I had great coursemates who backed me up. We encouraged each other to keep going. My most precious memories are of us spending sleepless nights in the studio cracking our heads trying to come up with new ideas and designs.

Many people think that architecture is a prestigious profession, one that pays well and gives you a bright future. I used to think that too, before I started work. This notion is too good to be true. Here are some hidden cons in the business that not many architects will talk about.

  1. Completion of degree takes 6 years, equivalent to the time required for a Doctor’s degree.
  2. Expensive course because of supplemental materials for model making, printing, drawing tools etc.
  3. Amount of time spent at work and monthly pay check will not tally. :(
  4. Sooner or later you will face hormone imbalance due to countless sleep and stress issues.
  5. :!: If you were to become a site architect, you will have to perform construction site visits! Construction sites can be dangerous; you will be walking in areas where sharp objects are laying all over the the floor; you will be walking under unfinished towers and cranes that are moving tons of bricks above your head. (Apparently I have been exaggerating; there are site safety measurements to ensure safety is practiced.)

I am not trying to scare you away from architecture. I’m telling you this because I wish someone told me this before I started this course/job. You should know the worst case scenarios that you will face as an architect.
And in order to get to the point where you can truly focus on design, you will have to put up with quite a lot of BS. Actually, I have considered quitting many times, not because of the work but because clients can be a real pain in the a**. These developers expect million dollar designs but are only willing to pay peanuts. On top of that… their indecision slows progress and makes the process unproductive.
OK, if you have kept reading through all these negative points… you must truly be interested in architecture.

Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert hall

So let’s reward you with some positivity… a sharing from the bottom of my heart.
I have never regretted studying architecture even though it is tough. I really enjoy this job (except the clients). Imagine spending an insane amount of time working hard on a project that will eventually be recognized by everyone (yes, architects have ego issues). The feeling that you get when you achieve this is priceless, even though your pay check might not tally. ;)

Beijing National Stadium

Another major thing that motivates me is the belief that architects are true creators.

(See, I told you we all have ego issues…)

I have always believed that architects will be the ones who will change the world for the better. When I was in university, I started to question those “Superstar” Pritzker Prize Winners like Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid etc. who spend millions of dollars on buildings that are featured on magazine covers.

Because… what happens next?

What else does that building do other than paint the face of a magazine for months?
What do they contribute to society?

Haiti – Habitat For Humanity

I am actually very interested in using architecture to serve humanity. Specifically, I am passionate about using my skills and knowledge to help communities in need. 1.6 billion people in the world live in substandard housing. They have no proper shelter to live in, no proper sanitary system, no hygienic water supply (causing health problems), no electricity, no classrooms to learn in etc. So what’s more important? Getting featured on a magazine, or using your talent to reach out to those who need you?

I already know my answer. And that’s what keeps me going when my clients frustrate me. I want to learn as much as I can now (all the technical details), as fast as possible, so that someday, I will be able to use my talent and my passion to help those in need. *Fingers crossed* ;)

To thrive as an architect, you must have real passion for architecture. I would like to finish off with a quote that I keep close to my heart…

The Greeks didn’t write obituaries.
When a man died, they asked only one question:
Did he have passion?

To all AMC girls, I wish you passion. For those of you who are interested in architecture, I will be more than happy to explain in detail, the requirements and which university offers the best architecture course.

Best wishes,

Hui Sann

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