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manuel saga

A decalogue for emigrating architects

Today I am putting forward a list of maxims to any architect that wishes to leave the country to work abroad. It’s a series of pieces of advice that are, to varying extents, shared with other counterparts who have also emigrated, We try to remember day by day so that we don’t steer too far off course.

  1. Don’t take a leap into thin air

It’s important to do your homework. Contact as many studios and firms as you can. Network with a lot of people so that if you don’t hit the scene with an employment contract, at least you will have a lot of interviews. Sometimes, the best place to emigrate to is not the most prestigious one, but rather where they know you the most.

  1. Charge with the artillery… the bureaucratic artillery, that is.

At any unexpected moment you may need to sign a piece of paper and be lacking the necessary certificate or degree papers. Stay a step ahead and take all accrediting documents you may need with you. Even if you already have an employment contract, who knows when an opportunity as a self-employed professional may arise?

  1. Learn your way through the labyrinth. Have some good walks around the city.

The place where you will be practicing your profession is a determining factor. Learning your way around on foot means knowing the codes of conduct in that corner of the world. And they are usually different from the ones we know from home. Take strolls around the city, eat out, talk to people. That’s our best weapon to adapt naturally to our new environment..

  1. Learn the building language, especially Spanish.

Architecture and building have their own specialised jargon in every language. Learning it is vital, Although this may be complicated when we’re talking about the “same” language. It may be simpler to speak of steel trusses or dry walls than to hear people speak of “walls” when they are not bearing walls, and to talk of “pillars” instead of “columns”, or discovering that they is no clear and specific term to describe what we call a “tabique palomero” in Spain.

  1. Contact academic circles

One of the pillars of architecture, academia will largely define the professional model in the country, i.e. the training an architect needs, best practice and so forth. Knowing this may help you to position yourself on the market. How are Spanish architects similar to and different from those in the country you are travelling to? How are you placed with regard to them? So then, how much should you charge?

  1. Know your media and critiques

Analogously to academia, the media may show the way forward. Taking a position vis-à-vis the media and complementing them is helpful in establishing long-lasting bonds. You could become an enticing tool for them to become more international in architectural publishing ventures and as a critic.

  1. Join the trade

The trade/association model may be different in your country of destination. Normally, it’s a good idea to be aware of this and know about their influence and limitations. For instance, there are places where joining the architects’ association is a requirement for teaching.

  1. Learn the practices of the industry

Just like learning the language, learning about professional practices is important because they may vary greatly. The design documents, building measurements and payment systems may be very different. Likewise, architects’ roles in building companies may also vary greatly. That is when we realise how important the Spanish figure of the Arquitecto Técnico is in the building industry. We miss them, we send them emails, and we finally end up finding a way to cajole them into coming with us.

  1. Seek partnership

Seek alliances beyond your closest professional circle. Get on the same wavelength and make friends with the people you can undertake projects with. The most unexpected local contact may save you from turning back home empty-handed.

  1. Have a clear objective. Emigrate optimistically.

This was a foretold number one for this Decalogue because it was the conclusion of the last post, Why does a young architect emigrate?. There we explained it was “because of a dream”. And today I’ll repeat the same thing: BECAUSE OF A DREAM. Aspirations to live and work abroad need ammunition. They require ample preparation, and if they is not based on a solid calling, they will suck up tremendous amounts of effort and we will never meet our expectations. This doesn’t mean that emigration is for life. Each individual and each project has its own timeframe.

In my view, what’s important is for us to consider and prepare for them intelligently and enjoy them as much as we can.

Text translated by Beth Gelb
(Granada, 1986). Research Fellow en Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University (Washington DC). Doctor en Historia de la Arquitectura (Politecnico di Torino) y Doctor en Historia del Arte (UGR). Arquitecto egresado de la ETSAG y Magíster en Arquitectura de la Universidad de los Andes, Colombia. Socio fundador de Amate+Saga, oficina de arquitectura y diseño estratégico. Asistente editorial del Journal académico Architectural Histories, perteneciente a la European Architectural History Network. Colaborador habitual de National Geographic Historia. Antiguo corresponsal de La Ciudad Viva .

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