Should I be an Architect?

Bob Borson —  February 10, 2014 — 81 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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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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  • Dee

    Thanks for this.
    I have been worrying for a while over whether I should actually study architecture (I am 21 years old – mandatory military service), and have loved architecture since I was a child but have never known if it truly suits me or if I should go into something industrial design related.
    I made my decision about a month ago and am set to start studying in October, yet was still left with reservations. Mainly if people have been too generous with their thoughts on my creativity and talents and if I really will be a good architect.
    But this helped a lot, so really thank you.

    • Bob Borson

      Dee – this is a field that is so broad and expansive there isn’t a person on the planet who knows what sort of architect they’ll become until they get in to the process. Even if you discover that your creativity and talents are less than you had hoped, you’ll discover that 90% of the architects out there working aren’t relying on creativity to make an impact and get their jobs done.

  • Matthew

    Hey Bob,

    Thank you for writing this insightful blog. I’m currently a high school mathematics teacher but feel that teaching is no longer the correct career path for me.
    I’ve been rattling my brain for quite some time now trying to decide what career might be for me. When I gave my Geometry students a project that required them to design and build a model of a house for a family, I realized I genuinely enjoy the designing process.
    I plan to do some more research, but after reading your blog, I feel that perhaps this is something I should give some real thought into.
    Any words of wisdom or suggestion are welcome, but I mainly wanted to thank you for writing this.


    • Bob Borson

      Thanks Matthew, I appreciate the kind words.

      I would recommend that you spend the next 5 days reading every article on this site and then re-evaluate your position. If you still think you would like to know more, audit an architecture class and see what you think. Still a yes? Check out your financial situation (being a teacher has already prepared you for a lifetime of disappointing salary) and see if you can afford to go back to school. Getting an architectural degree – even if it is a Master’s so you might be able to get in and back out in 3 years – isn’t particularly cheap.

      I suppose I am trying to say that if this is something that you really want to do, than do it. If your not sure … maybe not for you.

      Best of luck.

  • Faraja

    Am 18 I wanna be an Architect am almost graduating. Well I cant say am very good in math, but am trying as hard as I can to love it. People are saying theres so much Math in this career. Is it true that architecture is 50 percent Math??
    Im verry good in art, its actually my talent.

  • Tem

    I can’t start to tell you how much this article helps.
    I can relate to the ‘not feeling you deserve it’ but for me, it’s making me wonder if i’d be any good at it, since I’m not really ‘smart’. I’ve just started applying to arch colleges but I dunno, I’m still wondering if I know enough about the field to pick it as my career. Is interest and creativity enough?

  • matty

    what should be expected of me in the society as an architect

    • Bob Borson

      there are some professional practice guidelines associated with practicing architect but only if you are a member of the American Institute of Architects. On the whole, society doesn’t expect you to do anything differently because you are an architect. Do the right thing, think of others, and work honestly and I think you will exceed expectations.

  • Tanagl

    Do i need to be good at science to become an architect?

  • mcfee

    what a great post,thanks a lot for this,as it helped me to finally make my decision,i am all the characters that you’ve listed and i believe architecture is the best path for me to take,i have been going around and around in circle,trying to figure out,what should i do,but one thing i do know, is that i belong in a creative environment,even if it takes years and years of practice and struggle,but at the end i know thats where my heart should be,and thats where i belong.

  • saj

    Do I need a A in A level maths and physics to do Architecture.

    • jujul

      no you don’t. you just need to have your brain wired logically.

    • Bob Borson

      no – you don’t.

  • Donna Sink

    I LOL’d at not being able to name the street two over! I was just thinking this last night, walking home from a bar I’d never been inside before where I silently critiqued, and could explain in detail right now, how the table I was at was placed awkwardly and how the windows were exactly the wrong height and how the flow of the place was obstructed completely by the sound board placement…but I couldn’t remember if it was Park or Delaware I was crossing in the neighborhood I have lived in for ten years. #ilookup obviously doesn’t pertain to street signs! But I can tell you what the gate looks like on this corner and how the house on the opposite corner made a mistake when they changed their steps from brick to concrete and how lovely the eave detail is on the one next door…

    • Bob Borson

      obviously, you fit the profile of a seasoned architect!

  • Ferdie Bareng

    Hello guys, I am an architect. Just believe in your self no matter what the adversity will be and chill out, we should work with passion not with fear.

  • Norman Vincent Tamayo

    Hi i’m a 5th year architecture student currently working on my Thesis. This was a good read and really really close as to what I am feeling right now. I guess I grew on it. At first I was hesitant to continue this course but as time goes by and as I continue to learn more about this course, which is sometimes scary because I now know enough to know that I know so little, I guess you get that, I love it now. anyway. I just appreciate that these things listed above were relevant to me and what a morale booster I must say. Good day to everyone

    • Bob Borson

      HI Norman – I am glad this post was a morale booster to you. Good luck in school!

  • Jinal Shah

    Hi,I m a first yr architecture school student.
    I like to do creative things.I love art.also I m pretty good at my school projects.
    But I sumtimes wonder that I m not fit for this field.I cannot imagine too creatively.I fail to observe things.
    Can u guide me,if I should continue with this field or not ?
    I m still confused,if I end up miserably.

    • Bob Borson

      Read my response directly below this one (to shreya) My answer would be the same to you.

  • shreya srivastava

    I am a first year architecture student and I am very confused if I should Go for this profession or not ,I think im creative but not enough , I notice things but not enough , I believe . Also,I love math.I want to be something I really love to be but I am not too sure If being an architect would be like that , because its not like since childhood I wanted to be an architect , it is something I decided few months back . I love the projects I get at my college but I am not best at it , I feel my classmates are professional and I am an immature still figuring out things . I was never an artist but I always loved drawing . I am so CONFUSED! Is it a thing made for me or not? what if I end up being a failure in life? I am worrying too much or is it natural?

    • keerthana

      U ‘ve stepped into d profession so Don b confused.. to start s always difficult.. for now look for inspiration.. see analysis architects work.. thesis works.. writings… Attend many workshops nd lectures.. course of time u ‘ll find a better way out to express ur ideas in ur design… imp thing s Don compare urself wit it classmate.. develop a style fa urself.. Nd keep improving it…

      • shreya srivastava

        Thankyou so much , your advice meant a lot to me . ill surely work according to it! :)

    • Jul

      I am a second year student and feel exactly the same. I think passion and patience are what it takes to become an architect. Bob mentioned in the architect that you don’t become a good one before your fifties. There is an enormous lot to learn along the way, and we will learn how to canalize our creativity, how to shape better, how to create better spaces…in time it will come. Don’t let the weight of what you don’t know and can’t know paralyze you (same advise applies to me). And as Keerthana here said, there is a lot of research to do. I recommend you focus on why project is shaped as it is, listen to architects speak of their work (personal favorites are Steven Holl and Tadao Ando). it will help you comprehend the profession and get out of it if you feel like you don’t like it–but I think you do. Best of luck and keep up the good work! :)

      • shreya srivastava

        Thanks Jul, you motivated me a lot. I definitely do love the proffession , so ill just keep my spirits high! thanks again! :)

    • Bob Borson

      your decision to act or not on becoming an architect at this point in life will not be the thing that pushes you towards or away from being a failure in life. I can’t possibly begin to tell you what to do but I would recommend following your instincts – at least for a while. I struggled a lot my first few years of school – but I got past that and I’ve reached a point that allows me to take advantage of the skill set that I do have. There are many roles on can play as an architect, designer is but one of them.

      • shreya

        Thankyou so much , Bob!
        you helped a lot .thanks again :)

  • celine

    Thanks for that.
    Am not really sure am very creative, but at some very rare points i get awesome ideas for something. That is one of the main factors of architecture, right? How do i find out how i can get creative when am supposed to? I love the designs of modern buildings and their special effects. That gets me worried….. What if i run out of ideas or can’t get one when i really need it? In addition to that, i HATE physics…do i have to take it in University?

  • jose

    very interesting I have a creative mind, and I have art skills growing up in Chicago were the city’s downtown has an amazing skyline I always liked getting lost riding the train it goes all through the city buildings nice view through the day or night I always admired and was fascinated with buildings and I try seeing the art in everything in every angle possible.I always was the kid playing with Lego’s growing up, taking things apart and building them back together, obsess with Tetris and had fun building model cars piece by piece even remember making maze puzzles for my mice at a young age. I experience construction work at young age with family I enjoyed it, and I always picked up on things quick almost as if it was in my genetics. In high school I picked up on woodworking programs I really enjoyed, but as I grew older and distractions occurred, and the lifestyle we live in Chicago I fell into graffiti and 3d lettering and just art in general I had took a different direction in my life not so good but also not so bad then I dropped out of school and started working in a barbershop were I was able to use my artistic skills trying to make someone look good and using a razor to basically do detail art on clients head so after time growing older and never pursuing a career, after a couple years and maturing and wanting to better myself and pursue a dream career the only thing that could interest me now is majoring in architecture so reading this story is interesting because I have many similarities I stare at buildings and construction work and I really want to pursue this but I also want to be realistic with myself patience I believe plays a big role in pursuing this career I just started my first semester in college and all I had in mind was something like becoming a carpenter or an electrician, but once I took my success college class its to determined what you want to focus you’re study in I connected the dots, and made up my mind to get in a apprentice program in any construction trade and if architecture is my main goal climb the ladder step by step with work and school and go in to pursue something that I could definitely make my passion. I hope one day I could write a success letter like yours but i definitely enjoy reading this article because as a student we just wonder and have so many questions thanks I really enjoyed reading this article. Any advice would help.

  • Sara

    Being an architect is my childhood dream. I’ve always dreamed about leaving a fingerprint in this world and that I’ll be something great because I was the fastest, smartest and the most creative.
    I started studying in Syria (which I absolutely love before the war) and I had to risk my life to go to university while studying then I suffered changing countries, a year off to study the language and now I’m studying in Spain actually..
    The whole system is different the language the people, the subject, I don’t know how they learn in here !
    You see I’m not having problems with my identity, if not fitting in the community
    Design professors are crule *like all the professors in the world* groupmates are awful, they don’t like anything I do, and I don’t get an opinion about what they do I’m so tired, this country is terrible but I can’t change anything but my attitude, and allow me to say sir you’ve helped ..
    Although I’m still lost because classmates and professors keep saying that I’m not like them and I think in a useless way and I don’t understand the university’s system and how it works ..
    I want to be an architect, but will I ever be ?

  • Arely

    I’m 21, lost, and considering “dropping” out of college. I started out pre-med, I’m smart, like you, I never really had to work hard and got into a top liberal arts school. I can’t do this, or anything that I don’t want to do anymore, I’ve always been a go-getter and self-motivated, which is why I feel like my time, energy, and artistic creativity is being confined to chemistry recitations and hours of long biology term memorizations. Personality wise, I’m an INFP, a dreamer. They say what truly fulfills you is a reflection of what you used to do when you were young, and I loved to read, and find beauty in everything, and BUILD. Legos were my friends, but I used to take out books on architecture at 12, whenever I travel I look at the buildings and how ares and spaces make me feel, and how environments change ones mood just by stepping into another room. Maybe it’s just me. A lot of the traits you’ve listed remind me so much of me, I need start dreaming again and build, make things happen. That is who I was when I was little and still am. I never let anything stop me. I guess I’m probably going to see what internship or shadowing experience I can find now to make sure its what I want to do. Thanks.

  • Sameera Kommireddy

    That was one intruding article . I’m 19. Doing my Btech in India. I’ve always wanted to be an architect.i love drawing and creating new things. I’m not a very great artist. But , yes , I’d love to learn more new techniques. I can draw all day long without being tired of it. But no one ever has supported me. I’ve tried to tell my parents. But they only saw that profession as one hell hole and that it takes really long to get settled and have a good life . So they made me choose engineering.However, after all these days , when I see other people living the dream I’ve always wanted to, it doesn’t feel very good. I just want to give up everything and anything for it . Cuz I know , very well that once I choose a branch of study . Especially the one I am in right now( computer science) there’s no way out of it. It’s very frustrating to do something which isn’t a part of your dream. CUZ THERE IS LIKE NO WAY OUT OF THIS. But it’s really nice to read all these blogs about architecture and architects. People might feel like it’s no big thing to be one . But for me , it is , a big deal. How can someone not approve of ART? Something so beautiful. It’s a gift given to the mankind. Something a master machine can’t make. I don’t get people. Anyway , while I’m trying to get out of this hell somehow , I’m very thankful to people like you , who inspire the young.

    • shivali gupta

      sammera i can relate to you .!! .everyone here considers the beaten road the best road.most ppl here dont have the guts or i should say the will to do something that there heart desires …. the bondage of the society ,parents , reatives ,frnds always exists.!!! they think once u enter into engg or doctary the life and future of the child will be secured.!!! the carrer choice maybe right for few but when the generlisation starts then i think it looses it vigour…. because not everyone was born to be a doc or engg.. some ppl have their dreams ambitions desires when at times get nothing but suppressed summoned under burden of the social norms.!!!

  • Sameera Kommireddy

    Very intruding. I’m 19. Doing my Btech in India. I’ve always wanted to be an architect.i love drawing and creating new things. I’m not a very great artist. But , yes , I’d love to learn more new techniques. I can draw all day long without being tired of it. But no one ever has supported me. I’ve tried to tell my parents. But they only saw that profession as one hell hole and that it takes really long to get settled and have a good life . So they made me choose But after all these days , when I see other people living the dream , I’ve always wanted to. I just want to give up everything and anything for it . Cuz I know , very well that once I choose a branch of study . Especially the one I am in right now( computer science) there’s no way out of it. It’s very frustrating to do something which isn’t a part of your dream. CUZ THERE IS LIKE NO WAY OUT OF THIS. But it’s really nice to read all these blogs about architecture and architects. People might feel like it’s no big thing to be one . But for me , it is , a big deal. How can someone not approve of ART? Something very so beautiful. Something a master machine can’t make. I’m very thankful to people like you , who inspire the young.

  • Alan Manning


  • Meghana Hegde

    So insightful! I’m a 20 year old architecture student from India and I do believe I’m going through an identity crisis, right in the midst of my submissions too! Thanks a lot! This really helped buoy me up!

  • Guest

    You are amazing! From all the way in South Africa, I’d like to say thank you! I am truly inspired :)

  • jake byrne

    hi, i love the photo with your daughter and your daily timetable, very architectural loving your work

    • Bob Borson

      Thanks Jake!

  • Stefee Knudsen

    Thanks, Bob. I have been enjoying your blog, and it’s somehow reassuring to hear that your reasons for being an architect are so closely aligned with my own.

    • Bob Borson

      Thanks Stefee – I’m pretty sure that despite how unique we like to think of ourselves, we are all very similar. I think it’s why architects talk to other architects so often – we universally understand one another.

  • Vic Williamson

    Well said! A little scary that our experiences and perspectives are almost identical.

    • Bob Borson

      not scary at all – I think most people have similar stories, they just might not be willing to share them so publicly.

  • Greg Blain

    Thanks Bob. You speak of things I can relate to, such as knowing that you want to be an Architect for as long as you can remember, where is the math in architecture, paper architecture is not worth a cent until it is built, you can’t be a good architect until you have had 30 years post-graduate experience (shame shame on the Universities for not bringing that forward 25 years). Sorry, your awards mean absolutely zero to me (especially more so if you self nominated for them). In the end there should be no question about “Shall I be an Architect?” If you have to ask, I think you need to find another career!

  • Christo Muller

    This is very inspirational. I read it all when I only planned to only scan the writing. It seems like it was written for me. I am very thankful to come across such reading. Now, Honestly, I feel that more energize to focus on what I need to do.

  • omar bangun rumah

    I’m a contractor, I work with many architect…love the way architect think and creativity…best regards from Indonesia

  • Emily

    I am really happy I read this post. I am currently on my gap year between undergrad and masters and having a bit of an identity crisis. Reading this made me think about why I started studying architecture and how if i gave up I would regret it. Thank you!

  • G Scarfe

    I must say the “I notice the world around me” part is key to the profession. It is also what annoys my Non-Architect family. My kids roll there eyes as I walk into anyplace new. They know what I am doing and thinking as I look up and down and all around. Then they call me Ted, a reference to the TV show How I met Your Mother.

  • AlmostJane

    Great post! Thoroughly enjoyed your foray into career education, something woefully lacking in the US today [always has been too]. Speaking as someone who worked in college admissions for 25 years, as I read along I found myself thinking two things. First, I hope someday every junior high/high school will have counselors who’ll be able to sit down with an unfocused kid and using a probing, comprehensive list of questions and activities, be able to glean a lot of statements from that kid like the ones you’ve listed here. Using that information, they’ll go on to tell the student with a reasonable amount of confidence about the occupations, professions etc for which the student is well-suited, how to choose one [or two] and how to plan for getting there. Second thought? There’s probably a computer program, even an app, on the horizon right now that will do the same thing.

  • Rose

    One word…twin.

    • Bob Borson

      awesome – birds of a feather :)

  • architectrunnerguy

    Great article Bob.
    And you’re right about most architects being late bloomers. I’m sure the younger one’s here will disagree but most of those architects will be far better in 20 years. I thought I was hot at 30 but now realize I had a lot to learn back then. Not only does one get better, one gets more confident in their work. It becomes easier to tell the client “No, that’s crap and I’m not designing it that way!”
    Didn’t know it back when I was a kid but stuff was going on that any might lead a kid behavior type person to conclude I might become an architect. One incident that stands out was in the third grade where kids are being taught about visualizing when drawing, special relationships, scale, measuring, etc.. We had an assignment to make a scaled drawing of our house. I did mine and everyone, including the teacher, thought my parents did it. And a week later I had my very first commission for my teachers new custom waterfront home…..Ok just kidding about the first commission thingy, just making sure you’re still reading but the 3rd grade scaled drawing part is true!!!!
    Also, I had a big bag of blocks and I played with them ALL THE TIME building stuff. All of my friends didn’t have half the interest in the blocks as I did. I designed and built these 3′ tall Mont Ste. Michel structures my mother would have to carefully vacuum around for weeks. Below’s a photo of the future architect at work….. Hmmm, now that I think about it, I spent 5 years at Va. Tech doing basically the same thing!

    • AlmostJane

      My two cents – but I don’t think any profession is particularly “late blooming.” Practice of anything generally makes us better. Nearly everyone who still likes what they’re doing in their 50s is better at it than they were in their 20/30s.

      • Bob Borson

        I could make an argument that not everyone gets better with and/or practice. There are people who develop a refined set of skills that are rooted in a period of time when that person first learns how to do that thing … like repairing an air conditioning unit. Part of the attraction of architecture is that each person brings something of themselves to the mix and the better you understand yourself, the less conflict your design projects might experience. I’m thinking that my AC guy can go to all the museums in the world, it might make him a more interesting person but it doesn’t make him a better AC guy.

        • AlmostJane

          Oh, absolutely. I think the key thing is whether or not the individual still enjoys/takes pride in what he’s doing 30 years later. Then, even if the how-to aspect of that job hasn’t changed one bit, the years spent doing it usually contribute something additional or positive. Example – a 50-year old AC guy has got to better than a 25-year old at anticipating possible problems and estimating how long a job would take to complete.

      • architectrunnerguy

        Let me put it this way (an bear with me as I can’t make the mathematical “squared” symbol here):
        If the average career learning curve is X=Ysquared then:
        The average architects learning curve is X=Ysquared+ZX where Z is the “late bloomer” factor.
        There. I’m sure you all now understand.

  • Marcia Kellogg

    Thanks Bob. I’m going to share this with my ACE Mentor Program Students!

  • Jeff Smith

    Great post, Bob. The notion that you can’t make a good living in architecture is one that is getting tired and frankly untrue. The problem as I see it is that most if not all of our clients are typically in fields where incomes are much higher and our paychecks seem paltry in comparison. We also deal in large numbers with building costs and tend to have some control over making decisions that can mean millions for our projects. Our point of reference is just a bit skewed.

    To those that are newer to the profession, do not let yourself get complacent. Always seek new opportunities that push your limits of comfort and challenge your skill set. This means you may have to learn something about business, finance, development, politics, etc. to make yourself invaluable to your employer. The compensation will come, and if it doesn’t, ask for it when it is deserved and when you have earned it.

  • Ollin Trujillo

    I’m so glad I found this blog. I am the same way. I carry a pen in my shirt pocket and whenever I have to explain something I draw a picture.
    I remember as a small child my dad gave me a little .99 marker set and I would sit there and draw for hours and hours. In church, to keep me quiet, my mom would give me a pen and I would sit on the knee rest and use the pew like a desk.
    I always thought I would be an artist until one of our family friends said “you should become an architect, it’s more stable than being an artist”
    So from then on, that was my plan.
    I was accepted to a really good University out of h.s. but i actually worked at an office and went to a j.c. for 4 year before transferring. I think that extra time gave me a little bit of maturity (not much) and life experience to inform my work. It interesting because out of school I actually worked on my own for 3 years until the economy tanked. these last few years I’ve tried to stay as a consultant so that I can pursue my interest in furniture design and fabrication and do my own projects. I’ve always kind of rolled to my own drum beat.
    I have a couple projects I’m doing in Austin. I am working on my licensing exams but have been really busy lately. I definitely still want to be an architect though no matter how long it takes. I can’t think of anything else really. I’m hoping the $ part kicks in soon though.
    The only other feeling that even comes close to walking a project that I have designed is to actually drive a hot rod that I built from the ground up.

  • Jessica

    Thank you so much!! This makes me want to keep working!!

  • Ann

    Spot on Bob. In my darkest days of struggling with calculus, I only need remember the boys in high school that told me “girls can’t be architects”…along with the passion I began perceiving as a kid when I stopped being bored by my Mother’s department store shopping trips and OBSERVED the space I was in.

  • Mark Wilson

    Interesting parallels for a landscape architect. You’ve heard “I can’t do math” thousands of times. For me, it’s “I’m not that creative”. Personally, I suppose I’m creative. But also have to give a lot of credit to some great professors at the University of Georgia School of Environment and Design [unashamed and blatant plug]. In fact, as I’ve matured in the profession, my view about creativity has evolved. Some lay people believe that this intuitive creativity launches a moment of dawning in which “the” design makes itself known. As if my education, experience, licensure, and ability mean nothing. As in architecture, the design process is what directs the design, along with my unique history, education and experiences, likes / dislikes, knowledge of construction technology, all contributing. Rather insulting to think all that is meaningless, but that’s me. Wondering about your thoughts regarding creativity. Great blog…appreciate your time and effort with the blog :)

    • Bob Borson

      I would tend to agree with you on the evolutionary nature of design and design ability. I wrote a post on creativity and the conclusions I came to surprised me when I was through.

  • Katia Castanheira

    I really loved this post. I fell the same way, with the same points of view and most important i´m an architect for the same reasons.
    I see myself in all the reasons that you wrote.
    I´m here in southern Brazil with the same questions, struggling to be an architect every day and loving what i do.

    • Bob Borson

      Hi Katia,

      I think architects go through the same up’s and down’s the world over! I think finding your place as an architect is the hardest thing to accomplish, but if you do find it, you’ll have a very rewarding life and career.

      Cheers to Brazil!

  • Tim Barber

    There is hope for everyone to become an architect. My story is pretty much the opposite of yours. I took Technical Drafting in my junior year of high school (boring), the took architectural drafting my senior year. I applied to college to go in to math, I think, and called over the phone and asked to change it to architecture. Let me say that would NEVER happen today and with my grades and SAT scores I would have never gotten in anyway. At college we got As, Bs, Cs, and Incompletes. If you got an incomplete, it just meant you continued working on your project the next semester until you did enough that the Professor would at least give you a C. To my knowledge, I am the only studemt I know of that got a D in architecture. It was given to me first year in my first quarter. I had my mind set that I was going to get my architectural degree no matter how long it took me. Third year was weaning out year. We started with over 400 in my freshman class and graduated about 125. My third year interview was “Tim we have been having some thoughts about you and architecture”, to which I replied “So have I and I am staying!”. It was a very short interview. At some point I was ranked 187 out of 189, but I did graduate! I have been self employed for over 25 years. As they jokingly say “What do you call the guy who graduated last in his medical class? …..Doctor”
    All I am saying is you don’t have to be the brightest or most creative to become an architect. I tell people that we are spatial organizers. I think you just have to have a passion for it. When I was young I wanted to be an astronaut! I love the mental side of architecture, having to use your brain. I never questioned choosing architecture as a profession, it just never occurred to me that is was different than any other job. I may not be the smartest or most creative, but I always thought “Well if there is only going to be one architect left, it might as well be me!”

    • Bob Borson

      Attitude and perseverance are definitely attributes in this profession! There are so many roles for people who have received an architectural education to play. I know many people who are terrific architects who think what I do all day is their definition of hell – but it works for me and I love it.

      I am glad it worked out for you, and I love that “Doctor” line – too true! If you started with over 400 and ended up with 125, there were a lot of people that didn’t see things through.

  • Van Bennett

    Thanks Bob, for writing this blog. I would like to be an architect for a number of the reasons that you mentioned. I too like creating things, and I remember my first studio at the Boston Architecture College. I really loved using chipboard, a hot glue gun, and wooden dowels to make models. It was a fun and very creative time for me. That was back in 1997. I went on to get my associates degree from the New Hampshire Technical Institute, but never finished at the BAC. Hoping to go back and finish someday soon. Thanks again for the blog!

    • Bob Borson

      Good luck!

  • Randy Deutsch

    Excellent post, Bob. I especially like your point about determining What do you like to do? and What are you actually good at doing? I would suggest a third question, to complete the Venn diagram: What does the world need? To be successful today in practice & maintain a steady flow of work, and not just be a paper architect, the sweet spot for becoming and remaining an architect occurs in the overlap of these three circles.

    • Bob Borson

      No question – your third question adds a linear requirement on it that I wasn’t able to consider until I became quite a bit older than when I graduated. When I was floating around – job to job – I realized that my unrest was the conflict between what I wanted versus what I was good at. Once I put those two things together, things became considerably easier and I was a lot more focused.

      I think many young people fall into my circumstances and once they establish themselves a bit, that’s when I think that 3rd question becomes far more relevant.

  • kerry hogue

    when I was young, single digit years actually, I really like to draw things. I sat in the living room window of our house and drew the elevation on the house across the street. As I got into high school, I took all the drafting courses I could. and shop too. Being an architect was an ambition. When I got to college I realize how difficult it was for me to be a good designer, but I could draft it up better than anyone else. Drafting was my passion. So the technical side is what I excelled at. Make things work. Take the designs of others and figure how to make it work without compromising the design intent.
    oh yea, and that calculus and physics requirement? two semesters of each? I asked the dean why we had to take that stuff when it was not relevant to architecture? and the response I received was “maybe not. But it will teach you to think in a non-linear fashion, so help you solve problems better.” So I passed the most difficult part of architecture school to be an architect.
    nice post.

    • Bob Borson

      Thanks Kerry.

      I never really applied the idea that physics and the math requirements would help train my brain to work in a non-linear manner, I just chalked them up as a weed-out courses. Of course now that you mention it, that makes perfect sense. I used to think architects had the best and most well-rounded education you could get … until I met my future wife who was getting her degree in math. You know, if you study math, once you get to a certain level there aren’t numbers anymore and it is ALL creative thinking, amazing really.

      • TX Architect in LA

        Yes, Bob, I agree that the most creative are mathematicians. Take away the numbers and you get pure creativeness. John Nash is one of many. Kerry, I never thought of the non-linear thought process either about the mathematics. Interesting.
        Bob, this is a wonderful article in why I have spent 30+ years with my career. It really is the only way to explain it.
        For me, I claim it was in my blood. My mother was an artist and did tons of home arts and crafts, too. She showed me later, after college, that my kindergarten teacher also noticed that I always played with the blocks and couldn’t be pulled away from them. She wrote that she felt that I would become an architect or an engineer.
        While I went to work for a large architecture firm and became a good technical architect (Kerry should remember me), I was actually one of the top designers in my classes. All “A”s in design classes. It was that when I actually started working that I spent my learning years as a technical architect (BTW, I hate that term.) learning how things are built and how to convey that in the construction documents.

  • Jonathan Brown

    It can’ be put into words, the good and the bad, although walking out on the construction site of a project you designed is really incredible.

    • Bob Borson

      I always thought it was incredibly cool that people paid us to explore our ideas. I’ve never written about that moment when you walk on to a job site where you project is getting built and tried to explain how it felt … I’m not that good of a writer.

  • Michelle H

    Wow thank you for writing this article. I’m at a bit of a crossroads at the moment (so great timing with the article haha), having nearly finished my undergrad archi degree and not sure if I want to continue doing architecture at masters level/career. I find myself agreeing with some of your statements explaning why you’re an architect. It’s definitely helpful to see why people choose to become architects. I’m glad you enjoy what you do! :)

    • Bob Borson

      I hope you are able to find a direction that you are happy with – this is an incredibly rewarding profession but there is a certain price you pay to participate. If everyone had my experiences, there would probably be more architects out there.

      Good luck.

      • Brian Bishop

        I really enjoy reading your blogs. They’re very entertaining and well written.

        When I was in 9th grade my parents forced me to pick a profession. Since I loved to draw; build with lego’s, tinker toys, sugar cubes, and snow; and felt I was more on the creative than math side, I chose architecture. At the time it seemed more of a snap decision, and I’ve questioned that decision once or twice over the last 20 years, but now I can’t imagine what else I’d do. Surely that means it’s a good fit. I imagine everyone has doubts over the course of their life, and it’s comforting to read about someone else’s. Thanks for writing. We all enjoy it.

    • Mark Wilson

      Michelle – You might consider landscape architecture. Some of the best practitioners I’ve known decided their architecture degree wasn’t a good fit, and returned for an MLA. Mark