Should I be an Architect?

Bob Borson —  February 10, 2014 — 97 Comments

The last several years have been hard on the architectural profession. The tone of the questions I’ve received have shifted from:

Should I become an Architect?

to

Why should I become an Architect?

To be fair, the last several years have been hard on a lot of people, not just architects, but I’ve decided that it’s time to focus my thoughts on why I became an architect – maybe you can relate, find inspiration, or confirm that this either is – or isn’t – the profession for you after reading this article.

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be an architect. I suppose that this seems fortuitous to some people but there were times when this presented serious complications. When I first started architecture school as a freshman in college, I didn’t have the focus or maturity I needed to tackle the curriculum and I ended up having a serious identity crisis when I was 19 years old. The only reason anyone should be having an identity crisis when they’re that young is if you still into goth – not if you are capable of being an architect, the only profession you ever thought you wanted to pursue.

Luckily for me, I managed to pull myself together in time and figure out how to go about my business. It sounds a little silly to say that it took me 15 years of schooling to figure out how to “learn” but that’s the truth of the matter. I was always able to get pretty good grades without really having to work at it and I was smart enough to know how to work the system (I graduated 7th out of approximately 365 people without ever having made perfect grades – but that’s a different story). I think I knew that I had gamed the system a bit and part of this identity crisis came from the knowledge that I hadn’t ever really had to work before and now that I was in one of the most premier architecture programs in the country, that somehow I hadn’t really earned it. That somehow, maybe, I didn’t belong here …

It was misery.

Fast forward 20+ years and here I am today; a partner in a terrific firm, a previous AIA “Young Architect of the Year” recipient, projects in my portfolio that I am proud of creating, leadership positions in my professional organization (Dallas Chapter American Institute of Architects and the Texas Society of Architects). If I can get here from where I started, surely others can as well. The trick is understanding your motivation and your skill set – What do you like to do? and What are you actually good at doing?

It should come as no surprise but I like to talk … a lot. I also think I’m a pretty amusing guy – at least, I have my moments. Deciding to write this blog has in many ways become a watershed moment for me in my career. Other than the fact I never really thought anyone would read it, I have discovered that there are far more people like me out there than not. This doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with one another but we share the same sorts of passion for what we do. This could be almost anything within the field of architecture – it doesn’t necessarily stick to one thing. Since I have typically championed the small architectural firm, I wear a lot of hats and can relate to most people who have some role to play. I am not just a designer, or project manager, or salesman, or studio leader … I am an architectural jack of all trades – good at all things, master of none – and I wouldn’t change that for anything short of a few million dollars.

Should YOU be an architect? I don’t know and you can’t write enough of your life story in an email to where I can effectively counsel you on what direction your life should take. I can tell you why I am an architect and if you see some similarities, maybe this is a profession you should consider.

I am an Architect because:

I am a creative person and I need to create things.

Pretty obvious trait really – plus the fact that I truly believe that if you are a creative person, you need to create things. ANY sort of things will do.

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I shape the lives of others through my work

This is something that is an attraction to most people who become architects. Most architects think that the work they create can make a difference in people’s lives. I know I believe it.

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Architectural Sketches 03

I like to draw

I’m not restricting this to pen or pencil on paper. This is more of a “blank piece of paper” mentality. I think through drawing and sketching, for others they might turn towards computer software … I don’t really care. Not once in my life have I ever thought “I need to work this through in a nice spreadsheet!” I think through drawing.

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I like to build

Partly this is about me pulling out my tool bag and thinking I can actually build something … but it’s also partly that I like to get things built. I stand somewhat in the minority in my belief that getting the work built is frequently more important than the work itself. I don’t feel any satisfaction in paper architecture, theory has a place in architecture, just not in my office.

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I am just “okay” at math

All architects have heard “I wanted to be an architect but I’m not very good at math” … at least a million times. Get yourself an architectural blog and that number will grow to 10 Million times. I’m not very good at math either but I’m good enough. I struggled taking 2 semesters of physics in college, 3 years of math and structures courses but you know what? I did it and I got through it. All I need to do is look at the thesis paper my wife wrote when she received her Master’s degree in MATH to know that architect’s aren’t really doing math.  Once you get out of college, the only math you need is addition, subtraction, division and multiplication (which is what my 9-year-old daughter is currently mastering.)

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I notice the world around me

I walk into a store, a restaurant, a movie theater, an opera house – whatever – and I start cataloging lights fixtures, wall switches, duct work, handrails, etc etc, and on and on. I look at the ceiling before looking at the menu. I’ll comment that the way the store is configured could be better because you can see into the stock room, that the beverage station is in the wrong place because it disrupts the people waiting in line to order. I notice patterns and behavior, I look for those things and I don’t think I could switch it off … even if I wasn’t an architect – it’s how my brain is wired.

Do you have what it takes to be an architect road

I pay attention to the details

I can’t say for sure if this is just me and how my brain is wired … I have a hard time telling you the name of the street two over from where I’ve lived for the last 5 years but I can sketch up a floor plan of your house after having walked through it once. This is similar to noticing the world around me but this is a bit more purposeful. If I see a design I like, I start figuring out WHY I like it.

I like variety and change

I happen to design modern style projects but that was not always the case. Since the projects I work on aren’t for me, I need to be able to separate out what I personally like and what the client wants. This attitude allows me to embrace the ever-evolving landscape of all things esoteric and technical. In a very real way, I started this blog as part of that evolution – I wanted to learn a new skill and see how it would impact my ability to communicate differently. The field of architecture is constantly changing and having a flexible mindset is an important and valuable asset.

I can work as long as I want and remain relevant while doing so

I can practice the profession of architecture for as long as I want – I’ll always be an architect even when it isn’t technically my job anymore. Most architects don’t really start to become good until later in life – I’m talking in their 50′s. I imagine that you have to come to some sort of understanding as to who you are as an individual before you can start to be consistent with imparting your imprint onto a building.

Money

I can make a decent living

Of all the things I’ve put on this list, this is the one item that I would expect to receive some flak over. I’m not going to say to people that I don’t care about their circumstances, I’m just tired of the arguments. Going to school for a long time, taking a bunch of hard tests and then entering into a profession where the mean wage (per the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics) for where I live is over $77,000 … really isn’t so bad. I’m not going to tell you what I make (so don’t ask) but I don’t have any complaints. I enjoy what I do for a living and while I would love to make more money, I’m not willing to trade jobs with someone else just to get a bigger paycheck.

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It is my hope that if you are considering becoming an architect, or you are an architect and you’re wondering when is it going to get better, I hope my story and the list of reasons why I am an architect will have some value to you. For some, knowing that there are others in the same position as you is enough to give you a reason to evaluate why you are where you are … hopefully you come out the other side happy with that decision.

Cheers, and happy architect’ing!

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  • Spae

    Hi, I am 13 years old. I like games like Minecraft and Team Fortress 2. I am a builder in both games actually. In minecraft I have a friend and we build together. not flat building. buildings with depth, different material diversity. Im very strict and I usually get annoyed by my friend for building things in a way that i dont like. Today I went to the city and i was judging building and saying how things could be corrected. when i build in minecraft i spend alot of time on the things i do, i make sure it looks just how i want it and if it doesnt i change it. Ive always imagined life as an array of paths. sometimes there are alot of paths, and some paths look risky. Ive always been asked what I want to be when i grow up but i always respond with “im still finding out”. I think its important to get a grip on things and an idea of what you want to do and what you are good at. I enjoy building and my friends and I are impressed with my creations. Ive decided that i should be an architect. im going to work as hard as i can to become an architect. i got the top score out of my honors math class on our final exam. so i think ill be covered in the math part. idk why i even typed this. also im a very existential thinker. i think deeply about alot of topics. life being one of the most pondered. I also think that miracles dont exist, nor any god.

  • Mary

    Ever since I can remember I’ve liked architecture in general, as a kid I loved building with Legos and what I liked about video games like Sims was the designing of houses. I am now on my first year in college studying structural engineering but I realized its not what I really want. I’ve recently been considering changing to architecture, I’ve done a lot of research about architecture as a career, I’m even taking an architectural drawing class. My biggest conserns are about my skills, I have never been pretty good at drawing but I don’t suck at it either, I’m not bad at math and numbers, however I don’t consider myself a very creative and talkative person, could that be a deal breaker? Should I stick with structural engineering?

  • http://theswanstation.tk/ Nathan Johnson

    Wow, I think in the exact same way you described under “I notice the world around me.”

  • Debbie Madden

    I just wanted to say thank you for your insight. I have a bachelors in Social Work, but am regretting that choice. I started off in the art program but was directed to social work bc the things I wanted to do were charitable and everyone said Art doesn’t make money. I am 30 years old and hate that I am not true to my creative self. I have been intrigued by architecture the last few years and am considering a career shift.

    It’s scary to leave a “secure” job and try something completely new. So I’ve been searching for ways to relieve my anxiety. This post is refreshing. Seems like I have a bit in common with your “I am an architect because” list. Thanks for sharing!

  • Aryan Arenas

    Hello bob. It’s strange but im 14 years old im in the 9 th grade in the philippines. I struggling. I really dont know if i can be an architect but im sure that i want to be an architect. i love to draw but i cant draw a nice one. Im not good in math but i understand math. Help me :(

    • Steven Cortez

      Hello Aryan, I’m Steven and what I can tell you about that is you CAN become an architect, you just need a heavy dose of determination and diligence and passion in order to get the milestone that is an architectural degree.

      trust me because I am 18 years old, 2nd year archi. student at NU Manila. Goodluck!

  • Boi Bandido

    Hello Bob,
    I’m currently a junior in high school and just like any other teenager, I am Indecisive. At first I had no idea what I could do with what I enjoyed… I’m naturally a gifted linguist and have no trouble acquiring new languages, however there aren’t many individuals that end up being successful in their careers with a linguistics degree. Then I found an interesting career that caught my eye and got me to do a little bit more research on the matter. Architecture. It got me to consider my strengths and weaknesses, and also the pros and cons of the job of course. Ever since I was a kid I was able to look at buildings and draw them without much trouble, I don’t believe I’m gifted, but I do believe I am able to pick up a few details here and there because of my desire to have things looking good. I’ve come to ask for your help because every architect I’ve met in the past has complained quite a bit about the job. I’m not a very good math student, but I am quite proficient in physics. I’m not quite sure if architecture is for me. I’d love to get some insight from a real professional that loves their job such as yourself. Thank you!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      this whole sight is full of my insight on being an architect – the part you are missing starts and ends with you. What do you think you want to do? Like most things in life, there are no guarantees and you probably won’t know you want to do something in particular (and know that you like this thing) until you have actually committed to the process at least a little bit and discovered out for yourself.

      If there was a sure-fire architectural aptitude test available, it would be the very first link you would find on this site.

      Take some time and read through as much of this site as you can handle – then feel free to ask me any questions you want.

      Cheers,
      Bob

      • Boi Bandido

        Thanks Bob!