Is it too late to get out of Architecture?

Bob Borson —  July 11, 2010 — 93 Comments

John Picacio's cover art for 'AGE OF MISRULE: WORLD'S END'

Within the last few months, the number of emails I have received from people asking whether or not they should get out of architecture has been staggering. Equally surprising are the emails I receive that ask for direction on whether or not they should go into the field of architecture. The answer to both questions is easy -


For some people, the first question I ask them – the ender question, is always the same:

“Why do you want to be an architect?”

If the answer is I have always wanted to be an architect, I move on to the next few questions. A person’s motivation for becoming an architect is singularly important. I went to college to become an architect while my friends simply went to college. My resolve and dedication towards becoming an architect was tempered by many all-nighters, 207 credit hours (187 required for my degree), no fraternity for me – nobody who graduated from the University of Texas School of Architecture the same time as I did was in a fraternity (or sorority) – you didn’t have the time.

It was hard to get to where I am at right now and the people who were doing it because they thought it would be cool, for the money, or some other reason other than ‘I have always wanted to be an architect” didn’t make it. If there is something else out there calling to you, architecture probably isn’t for you. I haven’t regretted my decision ever.


Sure, there have been loads of times when I wished I didn’t work as much as I do, made more money; I even get tired of the ladies who are “architect groupies ” following me around. It’s tough but I have always wanted to be an architect.

This is a portion from an email I recently received which actually got me thinking about this post. The person who sent this I know loves to design and thinks about it all the time. It’s how she spends her free time, she travels to locations and looks at the buildings, she tracks down designers in these locations and goes and meets them.

I really love this stuff, but know that I might have problems working for clients. I can see my temperament not quite matching up with that process. I’m a bit stubborn. And also impatient.

It’s hard, I always wanted to be an artist, and now I can’t figure out how to be a designer.

The traits that she describes won’t keep her from becoming an architect or designer – in fact, I would also suggest that these are important traits that any successful designer should have. Also, if her (your) stubbornness and impatience are so uncontrollable as to be a real problem, she’ll have issues in any profession other than ‘Hermit’. In my response email to her, I included a list of quality architecture programs near her and should she decide to pursue a Master’s degree in architecture, I think she’ll do really well.

As to the emails that are asking if they should get out out of architecture – that one is more difficult to address. Architects aren’t the only professionals that are suffering right now. In my mind, it’s similar to changing jobs because you don’t like someone where you are working – not a real good reason if it’s the only one because you probably won’t like someone at the next job either.

I still like to try and find out why a person who has gone through the process to become an architect is thinking about leaving. Have your motivations for being an architect changed? Is it circumstantial? Maybe it’s simply that you want to make more money or you simply hate the job that you do. I can appreciate why someone would like to make more money but are you worth more money doing what you currently do? For example, in my circumstance, I am well paid for a 10 person residential firm considering my name isn’t on the front door. If I wanted to be paid more, my first couple of possible moves would involve looking at larger firms or more commercially focused production firms, not becoming a personal injury lawyer. For me it would be about trying to find a balance and still continue practicing architecture, not changing professions.

I’ve always been pretty good at shooting the bull and have been told I would have been awesome at sales. The very idea of selling anything just to be selling anything would literally make me shrivel up and die. To my way of thinking, I would be better served by investing ALL of my time and resources into winning the lottery before selling paper or plastic o-rings. While both would probably ruin me and force me into living in a cardboard refrigerator box in some alley, going into sales would probably add “crazy” and “pavement licker” to my resume.

When trying to select an appropriate image for this post, my mind started wandering a bit and it landed on John Picacio. John and I went to UT Architecture School together and we both spent time in Europe traveling together in 1990. John and I were never all that close but even 20 years later I still remember John’s sketches; they were ridiculously good. I still see one sketch in particular in my mind’s eye. John and I were in Siena, Italy and John was drawing the Piazza del Campo and he was using the white of the paper as much as his sketch pen to bring the buildings to life. Unbelievable. We lost touch after awhile but I always thought he was so good at drawing, why would he be an architect? Apparently John came to the same conclusion and is a internationally recognized and award winning illustrator.

And I say good for him.

John could always draw better than the people teaching our drawing classes and he figured out that this was something he would rather do than pursue a career in architecture and it’s worked out pretty well for him I’d say. So if you’re interested in becoming an architect because it’s all you’ve ever wanted to do than I would heartily urge you to continue on towards your goal. If you want to become an architect for the groupies, money and fast cars, you might want to reevaluate your options. I’m not suggesting that it can only be one or the other but if you’re already unsure, you’ve got one of the more difficult roads in front of you. It isn’t great for me right now but I’m terrible and I’m pretty awesome *Air Punch*

What would you say to someone contemplating a change? Things will get better but will it be worth sticking around? Doctor’s are starting to run into problems but we’ll always need them. Lawyer’s have their issues too, but unlike architects who are working themselves towards irrelevancy, at least Lawyer’s make it so we can’t get rid of them. Architecture defines me and I wouldn’t like to have to envision myself doing something else – but what about the people who don’t know? What would you tell them?

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  • Peter Alex Dreier

    Don’t look down on sales, Bob. It supports our household quite nicely, I love doing it, and it leaves me with the time to still be an architect on the side.

    • Bob Borson

      I’m not down on sales, I’m down on doing something you hate.

  • Sam Gordon

    I am a 20 year old rising senior at a small college which offers a liberal arts degree in “Architectural Studies.” Ever since I have been a kid I have wanted to study architecture. However, over the past year or so I seem to have lost my drive and my passion for the field. I can’t really explain why.

    Anyways, I am soon wrapping up my undergraduate studies in a concentration that I no longer want to pursue. Quite frankly, i feel like I am screwed. The only plan I have in the future is to apply to the City Year program for the year after I graduate (2015-2016). I enjoy working with kids (I have been a camp counselor for several summers in the past), but I have no desire to become a full-time teacher. This is my current plan of action.

    I thought I’d just throw this all out there and join the comment wall. Any and all advice is welcome!

  • Dena

    hi Bob, i am 42 and i have my architecture degree. i have been successful in positions with my architecture degree, even my salary, but i have struggled for my licensure over the years. i am still unlicensed but am working and happy. i am also still pursuing my license…i think not getting my license would be like quitting School on the last day of your senior year…it just seems stupid to not do it. like i said, getting my license has been a challenge and i have found myself wondering a few times if this was just the universes way (or gods way) of telling me that architecture isn’t for me cause no matter what i did i was struggling to pass. then i finally passed all of my exams, then NCARB came back and told me that they would not license me due to the amount of time it took me to take them. i missed the 5 year rolling clock by a few months and i have some major life interruptions during that time, but to NCARB, that does not matter. So here i am, 42, still studying for my exams even though i have passed them all. and believe me, i ask my self often if it is meant to be for me. But i can tell you i have wanted to be an architect since i was 4 years old. i did not even know what it was called at that age, i just pointed to a building and said i wanted to do that. i was once asked in an interview why i chose to be an architect and the truth is i don’t feel like i chose to be one, i feel like it chose me cause i have known from such an early age this is what i wanted to do. So if i wanted to do this for so long and i know it is something that i want to do without a doubt, why oh why is it so hard for me to get licensed?? All I can do is use my stubbornness, my tenacity and my endurance to keep going and know that one day, I will reach my goal. but Believe me…i ask myself that question all the time due to my circumstances. and i always come back to the same answer…YES I want to be an architect. it is all i now and all i have ever wanted to do.

  • Gicu

    Hi…I’m 24 and I have a master’s degree in Architecture (I graduated last november). I love this profession and I have always wanted to be an architect, but sometimes I would like to be something else (maybe an engineer?!) because in this period it’s very hard to find a job. There are a lot of “not paid” internship but no job. I’m motivated, capable, an hard-worker and I finished my university with the best results, but this is the situation and also my friends have the same problems…
    So raghu really do you want to become an architect?!

  • raghu

    Hi Bob i’m 24 and i have a degree in electronics and communication,i m working for IT industry,i’m good at maths i never wanted become an engineer who sits in front computer all day,i always loved nature i always wanted to become an architect i want to study architecture,how long does it takes for me to become an architect ??

    • Bob Borson

      I’m not sure what part of the world you are in, but in the US, you need a 5 year professional degree or a 4+2 Masters degree. Then you have a 3 year intern period that you have to complete so at a minimum, you are looking at 8 or 9 years before you could become a licensed architect.

  • Worried Student

    Currently, I’m in my third year, second semester of architecture school. Within the past few years here, I’ve come to realize that I don’t want to become a licensed architect. After reading the comments below many, many times, working at an architecture firm is beginning to appear more off-putting to me (although, I have not had an internship yet, so I still do not know how an architecture firm works firsthand). Now, I’m more interested in the different paths people take with an architecture degree since I now know I don’t want to become an “architect”. Or “starchitect”.

    My concern is whether or not to stay with the 4-year program or 5-year program (I’m currently in the 5-year program). I didn’t want to switch majors entirely since I’m already getting close to my 4th year, which could be my senior year if I chose to switch to the 4-year program. Also, I agree with Archi’s End’s comment. The skills I’ve gained here in architecture school are irreplaceable and can be used in many different fields.

    But my worry is whether or not a Bachelor of Science in architecture is seen as a viable degree. Now my interests are seeming to lean towards marketing and advertising (becoming a creative director one day is a big goal for me), but would potential employers even understand why I have an architecture degree? Is that degree too left-field for the paths I want to take? Should I have changed my major entirely anyway and then stay in an expensive school for another 3 years??

    I don’t know, I guess I’m too worried trying to envision my future and worrying if I’ll ever be able to support myself. I just need to hear from people who have changed their career paths from architecture and have succeeded more from it. I know this post is from a years ago but it seems like people are slowly commenting on it still! Please keep the comments coming, they really help.

    • L

      Hi, I’m not sure if this will prove helpful, but I just wanted to offer you my 2 cents… I am in currently in a 4 year architecture program now, but I do feel that a 4 year arch program (which technically isn’t an arch degree) is not enough if you want to pursue architecture.

      However, you mentioned that you could graduate soon with just a 4 year program. Especially since you are unsure if you want to pursue architecture, I think it would be best for you to graduate with the 4 year degree, so you do not prolong your undergrad studies (if I’m calculating this correctly, you still have 3-4 years to go in the 5 year program since you’re in your second semester of arch school?) This will mostly be some sort of B.A degree… if you do decide you want to do architecture, you can continue with a master’s degree (M.Arch), which will be an additional 2-3 years.

      IMHO, and if I’m reading your post correctly, it would be more time conscientious to pursue a 4 year B.A + grad school (if you do later decide you want to do architecture) than to do the B.Arch program (which will also take you 3-4 more years).

      Of course, I’m sure others with more experience and expertise can weigh in on this, but I did find myself in a similar situation to yours just a while ago, and this was what I came up with :-)

  • N

    Arrogant, egotistic, wanker!

  • Jurgen jr

    love evrything bout Art & Architect. but to bad i dont now how to desing & others. but im still gonna take this course next year. need a advice for that. Thanks again

  • 10 year-old architect

    As a 10-year-old architect, I have great concern for the architecture industry. The way it is treating the interns, I can almost say for sure, that the profession will disappear in twenty years or will get emerged into another industry. Many people I’ve graduated with either have already quit or making plans to quit. It is sad. But in this “mo money” capitalism, design is not that important.

    • Bob Borson

      I can’t say your wrong, I just hope you are

  • Janie Till

    I am starting college tomorrow as a freshman and have always been fascinated with the design of buildings. Surely that isn’t awe inspiring to anyone in the field already and I’m considered to be just another wet behind the ears child who has stumbled her way blindly through highschool and right into the real world. I can be honest and say that I have no experience in this field whatsoever, many people before me have already taken graphing classes and perfected their skill. I however, am behind and incredibly worried that I am about to make a fool of myself but if anything else, I am determined. I am just really concerned that my dedication to this particular field will prove to be all for naught? Am I getting myself in “serious trouble” here or…(I’m aware you’re not an advice column but I think your words to be probably the most informative being that you are already IN the field.)

    • Bob Borson

      I don’t think you have anything to worry about. Thinking back to my freshman year in architecture school, it seems that half of the time the professors spent was trying to get us to “un-learn” all the things we had brought with us coming out of high school. Most programs want you to learn their style so going in as a blank slate might actually work out in your favor.

  • lardavis1951

    Where are these groupies you mentioned?! How did I miss out on this perk?

    • Bob Borson

      It’s really a hit-or-miss but being a good dancer doesn’t hurt.