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The octopus and the worm

Words:
Maria Smith

A sorry tale of mismatched values

Once there was a boy whose adoring parents called him ­Octopus, reflecting his multiple talents. He was a fine sportsman, a cunning chess player, a virtuoso musician, and academically successful in both the arts and sciences. It was apt then when he heeded the recommendation of a careers advice worksheet, that he packed up his broad skillset and headed off to architecture school.

Octopus thrived at university. He adventured through units, modules, exchanges and summer schools, stopping at work placements to wow with intricate models and extraordinary visuals of big buildings in bad weather that took a reassuringly long time to make and earned him a pittance.

His final thesis was an astonishment to all: the epitome of his poly-abilities; a postmodern grotesque; a satire on situationism; an engrossment of ego of the most excusable class. He wallowed in prizes, taught at all the summer schools, and won a travelling scholarship.

He finally arrived at the first autumn of his adulthood. He sent out 100 CVs to practices he hoped would offer him Stanislavski method exposure to practice, and a case study. The discovery that for the last six years, he had been ironically parodying a subject of which he had no knowledge, initially came as a shock. To overcome this surely temporary setback, his first strategy was to emulate his superiors. He started with the septuagen­arian founder whose primary role was to veto or not. Octo­pus appropriated his jovial condescension with ease. He embedded himself in the design review team and made a plethora of complicated comments, all of which might be filed under ‘Architects are duty-bound to insist that their clients are fundamentally wrong about their own requirements’. One day, Octopus picked up the phone to a private research ­establishment looking to build new laboratories. Octopus waxed lyrical on the ‘proven’ effects of design on the likelihood of new scientific discoveries. The client phoned the practice’s biggest competitor.

Frustrated with the speed of progress, Octopus implemented a new strategy that involved working all the hours the gods send. Critical to this strategy were two things: proactively finding work to fill these additional hours, ensuring the projects benefited in ways the office couldn’t conceive; and diligently filling in timesheets. So Octopus spent hours re-processing, rebuilding and making new visuals. No pay rises or promotions were forthcoming but, thankfully, much of his abortive work went unnoticed and he was not fired.

After significant nagging he was assigned to a project that would soon go to site, as was needed for his professional exam. Octopus saw the office’s resident detail guru as essentially putting consultants, manufacturers, and sales reps in their place. So he redrew everything to require bespoke fabrication, decreased structural sizes to align with the Fibonacci series and changed the steel grade to better reflect the soulless shimmer of the man-made lake on the site. Eventually the detail guru audited the package and Octopus was swiftly removed.

He eventually shadowed the project on site and took and failed his professional exam: the first he had ever failed. He was baffled. He’d enjoyed the course and re-sat it, but was again unsuccessful so chalked it up to poor teaching and mentorship and let his tuition lapse. 

He was placed in the office’s competition team who worked mostly at night. Octopus’s eyes became small, his face crushed, and he assumed a slouched, defeated posture. Peristalticly, he ingested a diet of rough input and through sequential contractions produced vast quantities of highly refined issue. Soon, his peers began to call him Worm.

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