Leafing through a back catalogue one recent Sunday afternoon for the 40 Under 40 Awards, which celebrate promising young architects, it struck me that, with an age criterion of under 40 for the awards, architects seem to have a strange conception of the category 'young'. Not that I want anyone to take this the wrong way: we're all as young as we feel and once I approach that age limit I will be the first to say it again. But, considering that the majority of applicants are between 35 and 40, what bothers me is where that leaves all the others, like me, between the ages of 25 and 35. Where's our category? What's our title?
These are the formative years of our architectural careers, when we have the fewest responsibilities and therefore endless opportunities to experiment, but it is also the time when our careers are at their most static. Shot out of an education system drunk on design and quick-fire projects, we land straight into the realities of the architect's office. This, for many, means being trapped in front of a computer screen from nine till six every day, with little or no outlet for creativity, paralysed by student debt, isolated from the architectural peer network and distinctly underpaid for long working hours.
It is traditional during this time to gain experience within an established practice.
Alternative ways of working are still viewed with suspicion.
But the parameters of the architectural profession are expanding at an alarming rate and built work now makes up just one facet of what architects can offer. Architects no longer have a monopoly on building design and must continuously adapt to what is now an industry in flux. Cross-discipline design is booming and the market economy is full of ideas.
A new breed of talented and innovative practices run by people in their twenties, such as Design Heroine and AOC, has emerged in response.
Full of media and business savvy, these young practices offer a broad spectrum of services, from consultancy and research to built work.
They are seeking new ways to interact with their clients and forging new avenues for the profession as a result.
Attending a pan-industry network for young members' groups, Generation for Collaboration (part of Be), I was astonished by the size and support that other young professional groups enjoy within the industry. Matrics and MECHS (young quantity surveyors and mechanical engineers) receive substantial funding from their parent institutes and each operates 30 active regional groups, which organise, support and assist their membership community. It is also inspiring and encouraging to see government initiatives, such as NESTA's Creative Pioneer Programme, offering advice and start-up funding to assist young designers and architects.
Not all young architects want either the responsibility or the associated risk of running their own practice, but it is important that they perceive the breadth of possibilities out there for them.
For this to happen, young architects forging their way need to be showcased and encouraged. The architectural community and its associated institutes, such as the RIBA, should also rally to their support, as they creatively explore alternative futures for our profession.