Do You Have What it Takes to be an Architect?

October 2, 2013 — 35 Comments

Do I have what it takes to be an Architect? Will I be any good at architecture if I become an architect? Will I make any money as an architect? …

These are probably the three most asked questions I have been getting lately – which if you were me, you would find that somewhat interesting. As the economy has picked up, and the amount of bad press the profession receives has gone down, (or maybe it’s this awesome site – the world may never know), more architects are getting back to work. Whatever the reasons for this change, it would appear that more people are starting to think about becoming an architect

To the question at hand:

Do you have what it takes to be an architect road

This last weekend I received an email from someone who is in their mid-20’s and has realized that they are a medical student who would rather be an architect. They wanted to know if I had any suggestions as to how someone could find out whether they would be any good at the practice of architecture – that before they make this fairly large career course-correction, would they be able to predict if they would experience success? Surprisingly, I get asked this question in some form or fashion all the time and responding to these emails typically requires some finesse. There are some serious implications on the line, I don’t have a functioning crystal ball, and most people’s circumstances appear somewhat unique. As I sat there looking at the blinking cursor on my laptop, trying to figure out how to respond, I decided that the answer to this question isn’t really all that difficult. While I don’t think my situation is all that unique, I definitely have a skill set that lends itself to being an architect, and I seem to have done pretty well for myself. So I spent some time looking back at how I finally got to where I am … what was it that helped me get here?

In my mind, there are three major things that will help determine if you will experience success as an architect:

    1. You have to be smart
    2. You have to work hard and demonstrate dedication to the craft
    3. You have to be a social and likable person

None of these should come as a surprise, these are traits that are appropriate to achieve success in just about any white-collar profession. You don’t need to to be a social and likable person to be the world’s foremost neurosurgeon … but it probably doesn’t hurt. You might also notice that I didn’t say these traits would help predict if you’ll make you a good designer – how could anyone really know something like that ahead of time? For just about everyone, your design skills will not be your road to success in this field [read: The not-so-sexy side to Architecture] but design is the most alluring aspect about this profession.  I am significantly better as a designer now then when I was in college. I attribute this growth in skills to the simple fact that I became older. I understand myself much better, I know what’s important to me, I’m better at setting priorities, and I am less likely to baffle myself with a million options and the latest design craze. All of this adds up to consistency which – no surprises here – helps my final product.

The difference between someone doing well and someone doing great as an architect is not their design skills, it’s their ability to make a personal connection with the people who hire them, work through problems by extrapolating similar conditions and codifying that process, and understanding why some solutions work and others don’t. This last one is overlooked all the time by younger designers, maybe not out of negligence but due to their maturity level. Being able to understand why you did something allows you to duplicate your successes without having to replicate your solutions (pretty sure I’ve said that before on the site here … probably, but it’s good enough to warrant some repetition.)

The three characteristics I listed above would obviously work well in other professions … that’s sort of my point. The people who do well in the field of architecture would probably do well in any field that they chose to follow because they have these three traits. I will openly acknowledge that I know many people who had these traits who became victims of the recession – so I am not saying that the people who have not had success did not have these qualities. I am saying that without these traits your road to success is far more difficult.

So if you’re wondering if you will experience success should you choose to become an architect … you probably already know the answer.


Bob Borson signature


ps – if you are interested in seeing the other posts in the “Do you want to be an Architect” series, there are 30 articles in total and you can find them all here


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  • mikebrowndesign

    “Understanding why some solutions work and some don’t”—or even simply realizing that solutions exist in the first place—explains why architects don’t hit their stride until their 50s.

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  • hannah ozkadi

    Hi Mr Borson im Hannah and i am 14, im in the uk so i just started taking my gcse’s and i need to pick a college by the end of this year, for a couple of years now i have thought about becoming an architect. I dont know what i should do to prepare myself, i have been questioned many times if im sure that i want to make that career choice, i have been told that i should do something easier, my mum has told me that she likes the fact that i want to become an architect and that i have a dream although she keeps saying “its hard you know, are you sure you can do this hannah, there’s other things out there” it makes me kind of sad, i feel like no one believes in me. I am doing an art gcse and im doing good in my science and math exams, im just wondeing if im doing the right thing.

  • adela borjas

    Hello Bob Borson i am 14 and i am interested in the field of architecture i am taking CAD and will next year take drawing classes.I want to know if will really succeed in this field.I want to work and know the best architects to make my self be known around the world. This is my first time in this website so i don’t know if this is the proper place to ask you. i know spanish and english and can translate them pretty well, aim also learning french. Mr borson i know you cannot actually tell me exact details of my carreer life. But am i going in the right direction , i would love to see your answer if you are not to busy. thank you( my name is adela


    I think what u said is very true and has actually served as a source of encouragement for me thank u

  • Nemanja

    4. You must be good person and find time for everything you like to do.

  • Jim Prendergast

    just completed an online survey from my alma mater gauging the effectiveness of the education that we felt we received in various art fields – architecture among them.

    as with many questions, they tend to betray an objective. i think this was interesting question as it implies the qualities that make for an effective artists/architect:

    In your opinion, how much did your education help you acquire or develop each of
    the following skills and abilities?

    – Critical thinking and analysis of arguments and information
    – Broad knowledge and education
    – Improved work based on feedback from others
    – Creative thinking and problem solving

    – Research skills

    – Clear writing

    – Persuasive speaking

    – Project management skills

    – Technological skills

    – Artistic technique

    – Financial and business management skills
    – Entrepreneurial skills

    – Interpersonal relations and working collaboratively

    – Leadership skills

    – Networking and relationship building

    – Teaching skills

    • There is a short answer to your question:
      not much.

      Reading through your list I was wondering if the order was specific – the level or amount of attention spent on each item diminished as I went down the list.

  • Yep Bob, great points. Just interviewed a design-centered firm on my site which I’ll post soon and two of the three principles said they rarely design…rarely do architecture at all. I think a lot of people that want to be “architects” really want to be “designers” (of buildings).

  • Carly Cintron

    I think that the second point (in my opinion) would answer any if not all of the three questions brought out at the outset. Not only because the questions are ones that can only be answered by the individual asking the question, but also because you get an answer by applying the second point from the time you decide that you want to pursue the career, all the way through school, interning, and then surviving through all the ups and downs that the career will come with. I think thats why I’m so excited to FINALLY start my studies in January. Its a risk but its a risk I’m going to love taking. Yes, I may sound crazy to people when I say that im not doing it for the money but it’s what is going to make me happy and hopefully I will be able to make others happy on a much larger scale.

  • Mark Mc Swain

    Each one of those is particularly valuable _within_ an office as well.
    For those people with that wonderous gift of Design, they have to communicate as well with the staff that makes the design real as much as they do with the client who is paying for that reality.
    Which takes dedication to craft, and keeping a current knowledge base.
    For those with skills more suited to CD work, they have to have that combination set up so as to be able to team up with designers and clients–lest the process bog down in a quagmire of minutae.

  • If_the_Lamp_Shade_Fits

    Your photo makes the road look like a dead end. 😉

    • you hit on part of the reason I used that particular picture – the road looks like a dead end but we all know that it isn’t … you just have to have faith that things are going to work out once you commit to the road your own.

      I didn’t think anyone would figure it out but I used it anyways because I understood it.

      • Thank you for this particular comment. Found it when i needed it the most.

      • P.s. you are to architecture what Man Repeller (Leandre Medin) is to fashion.

        • I’ll take that as a compliment, suppose I should go check that site out!

  • Kerry Hogue

    a couple more attributes. The design process is basically problem solving.
    An architect needs to understand the statement of the problem and the process of developing a solution that is the most appropriate given a set of criteria.
    An architect also must be a good communicator. Expressing thoughts, ideas, and the art of persuasion is important.
    and do not forget passion. The most successful architects do and exhibit all the traits mentioned, but they also have passion for what they do. this is what drives us to come into work every day and work the hours we do. Passion can overcome some limitations more than talent.

    • I love your last sentence – I received a comment the other day where the person said that passion doesn’t pay his bills. I wanted to add a good attitude coupled with passion is a strong combination and is infectious to those around you.

      I could have turned this into a much longer list but I limited myself to just three things. I am glad that there are others adding their thoughts to the comment section. Thanks Kerry, I always appreciate your insight and wisdom.

  • Bill Reeves

    This item gets all of us thinking. We have all talked to a young person thinking about architecture and we all handle it differently. I suggest to people to work in an office. If they are high school age, plenty of offices will hire a runner someone to help out around the office who eventually may side into a drafting type job. See from the inside how an office run to help make up your mind. We hired a young man who worked here after school. We showed him AutoCad and talked a lot about how we do things. He had to write reports and describe what he did. At the end of it all, he realized architecture was not a good fit for him.

    If you decide you want to be in this world and you already have degrees in other fields you don’t have to start from the very beginning. There are architecture programs which bring in students on a graduate level. They are tested on their knowledge and design ability. They take all the technical classes in undergraduate school and take a few studios to bring them up to graduate level. These folks are typically fanatical about architecture because they are leaving something tangible and making a life change.

    Also, look at the average salaries posted by the AIA every year. I told myself that I can live with lower salaries because I was doing something important. Try explaining that to your spouse when the mortgage is due.

    • brutal last sentence … but there this is a disconnect that could warrant it’s own post. There are lots of jobs that pay less than architecture, and many people and other professions were damaged during this last recession so what is it about architecture that makes it so much harder for us to pay our bills?

      • Bill Reeves

        I’m not sure most people understand the work that goes into a project and therefore the value of our work.

        We were fired from a project by a husband and wife because I didn’t already have the project done. After weeks of working on a house addition design, making changes upon changes to satisfy the wife, I was told I should already have the permit drawings done. I was paid for our design work. I haven’t heard from them again.

        I write proposal for tenant fit-out work in an existing office building and work directly with the tenants. The building owner tells me I have exclusive architectural services for the building then reminds me that the tenants are not made of money. All we try to do is cover our cost.

        All we need is a few good clients.

        • amen

          … and this last sentence is way better than in your first comment 🙂

          • Bill Reeves

            We need to be honest with the next wave of future professionals, they need to know the good and the bad.

          • in a way, that’s what this entire site is about.

          • Bill Reeves

            I can think of a few more reasons for this site.

            Thank You.

      • Mark Mc Swain

        As businesses, we in architecture have significnatly higher overhead/sunk/infrastructure costs than similar professions.

        It’s rather as if the putative neurosurgeon had to build and maintain and staff and keep up-to-date a one-room Surgery-room. Or lawyers having to each operate their own courtroom.

  • Ken Weinert

    You have said it before – it’s my email quote (attributed, of course) as it struck a chord with me.

    Thanks for all you share.

  • Randy Deutsch

    It is OK that the “three major things” are general enough to work well in other professions, but they sound uncomfortably similar to Stewart Smalley’s affirmations: I’m good enough I’m smart enough & gosh darn it people like me!

    • nothing wrong with daily affirmations – but they aren’t specific to the practice of architecture.

      There is an expression we have here in the office that you aren’t in business until you are IN business. This is when #3 comes into play, that work has to come from somewhere and their’s only so many viable relatives a person can have

  • Guest

    Ok, I’m sold, but what if you were red-green colorblind (not sure if that matters or not) and would be around 50 when you graduate Arch school and start this particular course correction?

  • Jake

    Architecture architecture architecture… lol (reads this in studio at 1am) lol love it ^_^

    • shouldn’t you be focused on your project instead of reading my site? Oh yeah … inspiration.

      Carry on.

      • Jake

        or impulsively looking for things to distract and procrastinate myself with ;P haha.