• Michael Manalansan

5 Reasons Architects Are Basically Monks

Updated: Dec 13, 2019

Architects, much like workers in many other professions, live their day to day lives in a strict, demanding routine. They wake up, take a shower, get in their cars, and then head to their studio where they spend countless hours designing, drawing, drafting, building models, collaborating, and (maybe) eating. After that, they go back home, sleep, and do the same thing for the next thirty, forty, fifty years of their lives.

One might indirectly compare this cycle of monotony to the way a Carthusian monk lives in a monastery. For those of you who haven’t spent any time studying monks or monasteries, what I am referring to are people who deliberately chose to isolate themselves from common civilization to live silently with the single purpose of worshipping God. The place where this all happens is called a monastery, which is a complex of buildings that consists of a church, cells where the monks spend most of their time, and various meeting spaces.

Architects are the people who designed the many monasteries that have been built. But ironically, the design and building process that architects go through mirrors the way that monks live their lives. Here are five similarities between monks and architects.

1) They are loners

Aside from meeting in the church daily for prayer and sharing a common meal together every Sunday, monks spend a majority of their daily routines in solitude, as their ultimate intention is to isolate themselves from the outside world and completely devote their lives to God. The monks obviously spend a great deal of time studying scripture. Additionally, they engage in many hours of labor in their personal workshops, which was a feature of each cell where the monk engages in many hours of strenuous labor, such as chopping wood or sewing clothes.

In a studio or office, an architect is alone, too, in a way. Yes, they are surrounded by many other architects that they often collaborate, exchange ideas, and socialize with, but architects are ultimately alone in the sense that they spend a majority of their time in their own heads, accompanied by nothing but their own work, thoughts, and ideas. An architect, just like a monk, is faced with many mundane tasks that allow for limited interpersonal engagement, which is something not everyone realizes about architects. Many people think of architecture and picture a handful of flamboyant characters gathered around a table in a brightly lit space, effortlessly building a flashy model of a flashy building, but the reality is that architecture consists of many people doing quiet, monotonous work, often on a computer.

2) They are religious

As stated, the main reason that a Carthusian monk chose to shun mankind and reside in a stone building in the middle of nowhere was to fully submit themselves to an entity that was larger than life. A monk prays several times a day, whether it be in the form of a silent prayer after waking up, reading the bible, or attending a mass with other monks from the monastery. 

Not all of us are religious. For example, I am guilty of growing up attending church with my mom for the single purpose of making sure she didn’t feel bad (or ensuring that she didn’t disown me), but most people have something that they do or enjoy religiously, like watching sports, listening to music, or eating (guilty again). Architects are religious because their work is their god, and the studio is their church. Just as someone who is religious acts only to please their gods, an architect acts to please their project managers, their clients, their colleagues, and themselves.

3) They go through a routine

In a monk’s cell, the spaces and objects are arranged in a very minimalistic way; no piece of furniture is unnecessary, there are no oversized, grand, marvelous spaces. The cell is laid out for the monk to follow a strict routine day in and day out, kind of like a robot. Each monk at a monastery has the same schedule; they wake up, pray several times a day, eat food that is provided to them through a small hatch, and work in their shops. 

I’m sure that architects aren’t the only people who experience such tedium day after day. Workers in almost any profession may find themselves sitting in their used cars in bumper to bumper traffic for several hours a day, getting the same coffee from the same shop and sitting at the same desk and office doing the same tasks for hours. Routines can be good, too, however. Some may find that doing the same thing consistently every day is beneficial, in that maintaining a good rhythm keeps them mentally sane.

4) They have helpful people around them

It may seem that I am contradicting myself, given that three points ago I said that monks and architects are loners. Yes, monks willingly isolate themselves from society, but they also spend at least a little time around other monks with a common goal to maximize their devotions to their spiritual lives. Not only do the monks pray together in the same church and share meals together once a week, but there are also residents in the monasteries called Brothers who have not yet fully committed to the demanding lifestyle of a Carthusian monk. The Brothers have specific duties such as farming and cooking. You could say they were like pledges in a fraternity.

In a studio or office, architects most likely do not have people who do any cooking or cleaning for them, but they do have smart, reliable colleagues around them who are there to help. So perhaps when you are feeling like the loner that I previously described, step away from your work station and take some time to seek help from those around you. As one of my first studio professors once said during my first year of undergrad, your studio mates are less your friends than they are resources. It sounded pretty messed up at the moment, but she was right. Though some of them ended up being my friends.

5) They are NOT prisoners

The word “cell,” which is the term given to the rooms that the monks resided in, seems to give off a negative connotation. It sounds as if the monks are being held up in these monasteries as prisoners against their will, and that they have been forced to spend the rest of their lives praying in order to go to heaven. However, this is not the case. These people are so dedicated to their faith that they have willingly given up their individuality to pursue a holy life. Some might say that they are insane for doing such a thing, but at the end of the day, they are simply passionate.

This is a lesson we can all learn from these monks. No, the lesson isn’t that you should throw your personal life away and devote ourselves to your career. I’m saying that if you feel like you are a prisoner to whatever it is that you do, then you must find something else to do. You should be doing something that you feel passionate about and care about deeply. You should be doing it because you could potentially be making the world a better place and making those around you better people. You chose this life by your own free will, and if you aren’t enjoying it, then what are you doing?