Top Ten Reasons NOT to be an Architect

Bob Borson —  February 23, 2010 — 123 Comments

Top Ten Reasons Not to be an Architect

1. The gene pool that is your social life will not have a lot of diversity

Architects are friends with other architects. This is either because they are the only other people you see because of item #3, or your interests align closely so you run into the same people (because architects don’t stop being architects at 5:00pm). I know of about 10 married couples where both are architects. I don’t know any lawyers married to lawyers, or doctors married to doctors – certainly not the extent that architect marry one another. Really, why is this?


2. The pay and benefits are not as good as they could be

I have not tracked this information but rather basing it on what I know from colleagues working at other architectural firms. A majority of architectural firms do not offercomprehensive benefit packages that would be considered standard in other professional industries. I am talking about 401K programs, dental and vision insurance, availability to get long term disability, flex spending accounts, etc. I have already written about the pay structure for architects (you can find it here). I am one of the lucky ones because I work at one of the rare (rare like finding a live platypus in your toilet kind of rare) firms that offers almost all of these things and we only have 6 full time employees. The fact that we do it here is evidence that other firms can do it as well if they made it a priority. There are occasions when my wife comes home and I imagine how things could be different if I worked in a “real” industry that cared about its employees over the long haul. Maybe that should be a post – do architectural firms really care about their employees? As an industry, we seem to value the experience that comes from someone who has moved around- we just don’t want to foot the bill while training someone else’s future employee.


3. The hours you work are long and under-valued

The time you spend working on a project, in many regards, is proportional to the quality of the end product. It is very difficult to separate out the desire to create something with the business of how much time you have to create it. As a result, architects tend to work late hours developing scheme after scheme to evaluating possible solutions. Most of the time, so much fee is burned up during schematic design and design development when the people with the highest billing rates contribute, that the production period of the project is compressed down into a calendar deadline, not a fee-based allotment of time. The difference is that the company doesn’t pay you more for working a 8 hour day versus a 16 hour day – but they do pay rent on the space you occupy, the computer you use, the software on that computer, etc. If there is 200 hours of time allocated to produce construction drawings (at your billing rate) and you work 8 hour days – that 25 work days of time. If you work 16 hour days, that’s slightly more than 2 weeks and all the overhead associated with a person working in your position has just essentially been cut in half. Great for them, sucks for you -it’s hazing for adults.


4. Your ideals don’t really matter

Your clients hire you to give them a product that they want, not necessarily what you want. We basically go to school to learn how to learn – architecture isn’t a trade. As a result, you should be equipped to design projects that aren’t in the style of architecture that you would like to do for yourself. Most projects are developed for profit and despite the fact that good design equals good solutions which translates into a form of measured success, everybody wants more for less. There will be times when you are told to do something that you know is terrible and the absolute wrong thing to do. Based on your need for the work, or the force of your personality, you will make concessions that will make you want to die.


5. If your ideals are important to you, you will lose work

Because architects are opinionated, they will argue for points that the client has clearly stated that they do not want. You are probably thinking that a clearly stated result, while demonstrating the error in the alternative, will win out. It doesn’t always work that way. I have been fired by a client, while trying to fire them, because I didn’t want my name associated with their project. They didn’t know that I was trying to get both the husband and wife into the office so we could give them the drawings, wish them luck, and then kick their sorry butts out the door. So while I was trying to schedule a meeting with both of them, the husband got mad that we “weren’t listening” when the wife said she could handle the meeting without her husband. We really needed them both in this particular meeting. Ironic really.


6. Not all architects have fun jobs

Maybe glamorous is a better word than fun. I am sure that 95% of the time you spent in your design studios at school was about design and not about construction detailing or project management, or communication, shop drawings, billing, etc. Very few architects 10 years down the road into their careers are “designers”, most are project architects. The role of project architect can be very rewarding but there will be aspects to that job that you never imagined could be so tedious and boring. The only analogy I can currently think of to describe it is building a car so you can drive down the street. A lot of work goes in to creating buildings and very little of that time is spent on design.


7. The house you live in will depress you

This is an easy one because what I know is far from what I can afford. I have lived in 5 houses during a 15 year stretch and have spent almost as much time fantasizing all the things I could do to make them better as I have fantasized about winning the lottery. The good news is that the light at the end of the really unimaginably long tunnel is your future ability to change that situation. It just takes patience.


8. You will live with terrible decisions

The nature of architecture includes, and sometimes require, experimentation. As a result, you will make decisions that are really bad and you will have to live with knowing that your terrible idea is ruining people’s lives all day, every day. The good news is that buildings seem to be disposable now and it will only be a matter of time before your mistake is corrected by someone else. Oh yeah – the projects you do that are good will also be disposable and shortly torn down to make way for yet another branch bank.


9. Architecture requires a lot of work and dedication

Architects go to school for a long time, take a lot of demanding tests, and have to work for years to gain the experience to call themselves an “architect”. There are a lot of other jobs that if you were to put in the same level of time and singularly minded dedication, you would be much further along in your development. Please note that I didn’t say that you would be making more money because we have already rung that bell. This is about putting your time in and paying your dues to develop the skill to practice architecture. I’d like to think that most architects are pretty bright individuals and if they wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer they could have. If you want to be a lawyer, go get a 4 year degree, then 3 years of law school, graduate and take a test. 7 years and you are in! It took me 6 years and 207 degree hours to get my Bachelors degree in Architecture and I studied abroad during that time. I worked for 6 years before taking the Architectural Registration Exam (passed them all on the first try btw) and was rewarded with a healthy raise of $0. Point is, you had better really want to be an architect – I did and I knew it when I was 5 years old. Then again, 5 year olds don’t know much yet so re-evaluate from time to time.


10. You probably won’t be a designer

In my class, everyone thought they were the next super-designer. I mean every single person. The truth is, almost none-of them are now. I get to spend a lot of my time designing (in my office of eight) but I spend a lot more time doing other things. There is one person in our office that comes closest to meeting the definition of “designer” but even she does more than that. I spent time working at RTKL in the mid-90’s and there were about 120 people in that office. Out of those 120, probably 108 were being developed as project architects and they never talked to a client. If they were lucky, maybe they talked to a contractor but it took years to get to that level. the remaining 12 were the designers. Those 12 were made up of 5 who designed things that actually got built and the other 7 designed things that sold the work that the previously mentioned 5 designed. I was one of the 12 and I thought it was a terrible job. I never did see anything get built in person. I didn’t have to worry about how it was going to be detailed – that was someone else’s job. Eventually, they started putting me in front of clients because I am pretty good at talking in front of a lot of people and can think well enough on my feet to avoid saying something that will get us in trouble. At any rate, aspiring to be a designer isn’t as great as you might think it is.

If you are reading this list, you owe it to yourself to read the list of reason why you should be an architect. You can find it here

  • Twitter:1BlackArchitect

    Yes and No to each of these points. First off a long career will mean each of these is just temporary. The closer you are to a large population of opportunities the more this list becomes antiquated. One important point is you better be truly talented or yes this list becomes your life.

  • Wildlobo71

    Bob, Nail on the head with all of them, really – but #6, with the “glamorous” caveat – is sort of how I define the office I work in. We are more on the technical side of architecture, aside from doing some cool commercial and hotel work and my new favorites – microbreweries. Most of our work is not sexy – roof replacements, window replacements, support for mechanical upgrades, small tenant finishes that are utilitarian first. Certainly not too many magazine ops here. We have design opportunities – they are small and we take advantage of them when we can. Being technical architects, we are code experts, detailing experts, materials experts… at least we think so, and many of our repeat clients agree. That’s the best thing about non-sexy work – it’s ALWAYS needed – a steady supply of maintenance, replacement, and TLC-work to keep the doors open in any economy.

    It’s really difficult to sell to young designers who want to have a cool portfolio, on our type of office. “The architects doing stadiums are down the street,” I’ve said, and I’ve seen several candidates leave. We even had one woman, such an idealist, come to work for us – worked for a year… she became my roommate out of need, and one day she tells me she’s leaving our office for a firm that *promised* her design opportunity. I snickered a bit, knowing the game, and said “good luck.” She was still my roommate when she quit that office because she wasn’t designing anything and got hired at another firm that *promised* her design opportunities. She did this three more times in two years before it became clear to her it’s all a sales pitch. You will not work on the glamorous stuff first, you earn that right because everyone wants it.

    I could go on for paragraphs, I won’t. Good read.

  • http://mikedailystructuralengineer.wordpress.com/ Michael T. Daily

    And all the above apply to the structural engineer who works with architects. Is it a transmittable disease? And number #1. Try socializing with structural engineers. Even I struggle with them and I are one. But there must be some love in wanting to be in either field. I volunteer with the Architects in School program here (not to toot my horn) but to plant a seed…such a delight to see and hear their excitement every year.

  • JGracen

    Sadly Bob’s comments above reflect the realities of the industry these days! I was a general contractor in California for many years and was there when the market crashed in 2008. Those were depressing times, as were the two years afterwards! I saw MANY architectural firms go under and many qualified architects flee the industry for other jobs (if they could find them!). Our current President has only exacerbated the problem by putting up roadblock after roadblock in the path of new business and new construction.

    Maybe when the Communist party has left the White House we will return to a time of development but for now there isn’t much construction happening across the board; sure, you have places like Austin Texas that’s growing and some hit-or-miss spots around the country, but they are anomalies as these areas are growing because people are LEAVING other parts of the country for better weather, better economic conditions and cheaper cost of living.

    I have a lot of friends who are architects, most of them work but not always in architecture! Of the ones that are, they constantly complain that they are working three times harder for less than half the pay they used to get! As for me, I had to get out of the industry due to increasing costs, diminishing returns and a lack of good business. I miss it terribly but now sell Real Estate so I’ve managed to stay in the industry in some capacity… but it’s not like it once was!

  • Comp Sci regular

    I found this post to be enlightening. I am a web developer, and I was thinking how nice a job must be that has to conform to the rules of the physical world when all is said and done. A job where a client could ask for something and you could say “I’m sorry, but the laws of physics prevent me from doing that.” Then I read this list, and found that items 1, half of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 10 describe my job pretty well.

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  • MIDstuckintheDLE

    Sorry to resurrect this post, but I have a question that I can’t seem to get a straight answer for: Do you or do you not need a MArch to become licensed in the US? I was originally told that you need a Master’s in most states, and some will accept a 5 year BArch program as well. Can you help? I’ve looked at NCARB and AIA and every other place I can think of, and I can’t get an good answer. Thank you.

    • AERIO Cisneros

      In California you don’t need school to become an architect you only need to do 8 years on interships and then take the test and pass it and you become an architect.

      My college professor had a simple B.S that was not Architecture or any building degree, he had a masters in architecure and he used to work as an architect. I will say it depends from state to state in the U.S.A

      I have a AA in architecture and engineering and I think it would not be usefull in a couple of years maybe in 10 20 or close because technology will be doing the blue prints with out any human help. You know something like an APP, many people these days are becoming more artistic and are into more computer etc.. some day they will come out with an app or something that will make all the architecture stuff just perfect by each location you want to build so I’m going to change into Computer Science and maybe be the one working on an app something like this.

  • Samuel Montgomery

    To become a architecture is not easy, but best practice to become a successful architecture

  • Thisisme5745

    Hi, I am a current graduate of NJIT with a degree in Information Technology. I realized after I graduated that I am not interested in IT and my passion resides in Architecture. I started my undergrad experience as an architect major and I took a few studio courses and spent a lot of time and money on them. I transferred to NJIT and lost my studio credits and was told to start over from first year which really upset me and made me depressed because the NJIT studios were doing the same projects that I already did at my other school. So I switched out and went into the IT department because they had a video game and multimedia specialization in it that I chose as a “plan B” field. Its been two months after graduation and I can’t find a job and am planning on returning to graduate school. This time I am planning to pursue the major that I switched out of which was architecture. My problem is this, for grad school I will have to take out loans, possibly 80k+. I want to know if it is worth the investment? I feel like architecture is my passion and what I want to do but I don’t want to be in debt or live miserably the rest of my life. I want to work doing something I love and right now I feel like that is architecture but I’m afraid I will hate it if what this article is saying is true. I just need some advice because I like art and architecture but I don’t want to be miserable and make terrible money.

    • Rich

      I went to a cheap school, SUNY Buffalo, which has an accredited master of architecture program. So I only had about 20k in debt. But see I also worked while I went to grad school when I could. Grad school can be easier than you think. Just about everyone got As and Bs. It was a joke. Just hand in the work and your good. Don’t get me wrong. I studied very hard on things that I thought would benefit me down the road, like structures. I kinda blew off all the theory and art history. It was sort a cool, but not worth the time investment. And btw, spoiler alert!, studios are a HUGE time waster too. Just do the quick and dirty, but present your idea well, and you will do as good as the guy who did multiple all nighters……………so fast forward, I did my work internship three years, making peanuts (yes even with a graduate degree), but then got on with my licensing exams asap. There are test taking strategies you MUST know to get through the exams efficiently, without burnout. Burnout is extremely common, careful! ………..fast forward again, today I am a simple residential architect / light commercial and I enjoy it very much. Set my own hours. I don’t work long hours. I hire a part time draftsman now and again if I get busy. Autocadd is just an amazing tool. The business side is pretty simple too. I don’t get why some architects fail on the business side of things………my take is if you do what I did you can enjoy it, make descent money. Over a period of years, your clientele will build, you will get better and better in your niche, faster, smarter, and more valuable. On the flip side, I can’t say anything about the “firm” environment and working your way up a ladder. Sounds like crap to me anyway……but works for some people I guess.

      Good luck

  • Utahopia

    I think I can answer #1. If you are a fan of Meyers-Briggs type analysis, then architects would be “Rationals” . Rationals tend to want to marry “Idealists” or other “Rationals”. Where best to find these types than in an architecture/design firm.

    In fact, I think I may have to get a job in an architecture firm, now that I am thinking about it.

    Question for you. Are these marriages long lived?

  • Name

    Hi I am in 9th grade in high school and really interested in architecture. I have all A’s am thinking about what I want to be. I am making my choices about which college to apply to later and my major. I think I would like to design houses, not big projects, but my mom is very upset that I am considering architectue. She wants me to pick something else.. She works for an architecture company for a long time now and they are treating her very badly. She works late at the office, comes home late for dinner, and then works late at home almost every night, sometimes all night to get her work done for them. She works almost every weekend. She is so tired she sometimes cries. Almost evey night when I go to sleep I hear her typing away on her computer doing work for them. She is not taking care of herself and has some health problems now from all the stress and not sleeping enough or resting. I miss her. But she does not know what else to do because of the economy she says. She has a masters degree and is smart. She is a very good writer and helps me with my english papers all the time because that subject is harder for me. It seems like architecture companies are not very nice people and not a very good job or career. I think the company she works for treats her horribley. When I go to the office with her on weekends she is usually the only one there. Where are all the architects? Why is she having to work so many hours when the owners don’t? They are never there. Not one time. . It makes me mad. I think they treat her bad and with no respect becuase she is not an architect. She does marketing for them. I have heard them talk down to her when I am with her in the office during the week a couple times like she is stupid or less than them. If this is how architects feel and act and how they treat people who work so hard for them who are not architects, just because they are not the special elite architects, I don’t want to work with them or for them. She is not dumb and writes proposals for them, always workign on those proposals ALL THE TIME. And she wins a lot of work for them. . Are they all like this. They treat her like a slave. I am afraid the job will really hurt her or take her away from our family. She says all the marketers work as hard as her and at the other companies. I am taking school finals this week and home studying and just confused about what career to do. Hoping one with good ethics and that treats people better then this. is this just the way it is with all companies or is this one just really bad. From reading the other letters it seems like they are all like this.

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

      That’s a terrible story and I would be ashamed if I treated someone like that in my office. If the teams is working late, so do I. I make sure that I work as much if not more than the people who work for me. I don’t think this has anything to do with being an architect, it has to do with being a decent person.

    • Kit

      I’ve worked for an architecture firm that sounds very much like this. The marketing, graphic design and even accounting departments were treated with disdain by many of the architects, despite the integral role they all played in winning clients, jobs and competitions. The architectural students, graduates and technical staff were often treated quite terribly too, even though they were the ones primarily lumped with the responsibility of creating the documentation to actually get everything built and to code!

      That said, I’ve also worked for a number of other firms that are brilliant to all their employees, regardless of title, rank, degree or otherwise. It’s like any other industry, really. Some companies will be run by fantastic people with great people skills and HR policies – others less so.

      Best of luck to you and your mother.

  • Architortured

    Got laid off from Arch firm in Nov 2011, took me 15 months to find job working as project designer for office furniture company. Probably work harder for longer hours for less money than architecture, but have better chance of being in same job in two years. Problem w/arch is it is a high overhead, low profit business, trying to sell something abstract to people with a lots of money, but little vision. Arch business has 14th century, trade guild mentality that encourages letting go of experienced, high salary employees and hiring inexperienced newbies while firm owners whistle past grave yard during CA phase. Somebody asked one time if I loved architecture, I replied that yes I loved architecture, problem was it didn’t love me back!

  • Young Idealist

    Did you seriously just write this? “The good news is that
    buildings seem to be disposable now and it will only be a matter of time
    before your mistake is corrected by someone else. Oh yeah – the
    projects you do that are good will also be disposable and shortly torn
    down to make way for yet another branch bank.” ARCHITECTS are the ones who allow this to happen. We are not victims, we are the ones condemning our children to a future of inadequate buildings.

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

      “Young Idealist” explains a lot. I didn’t “just” write it and be aware that there is a substantial amount of my tongue firmly planted in cheek but unfortunately, it’s a reality.

      Your comment exposes your experience level and while your ideals are okay for someone who might be at the beginning of their career, let me know how your opinion course-corrects over the next few years if you are the one who is actually paying to building the building, rather than the one is a service provider among many working on the project.

  • rohang

    I was manager of an architectural and engineering department at 25 for a large corporation. I over saw design and drafting, structural engineering, and all mechanical design, site and storm water management design. I had three architects working for me…all older. Today I am a senior designer with the worlds largest rubber company. They are probably trying to figure out where their next job is going to come from? They seem to be frustrated artiest?

  • Vin (UK)

    Hi Everyone,

    I will be posting this comment on both the 10 reasons for and 10 reasons against becoming an architect so hopefully I get a great response.

    I will give you some background and then hopefully you can all give your views on whether I should pursue a career change!

    My background is varied asI trained as a Transport Designer and graduated back in 2007, at the age of 23 with a high BA Degree. My final year project was widely recognised by the Royal College of Art for enhancing nature within the city landscape but I couldn’t afford the RCA’s mental prices to study and live in London so didn’t go any further. Thankfully after hard work I found a short placement at a yacht design company but since the placement I’ve been part of the internal and external communications industry as a Graphic/Project Manager. I’ve recently lost my job and in a way I’m glad as I turned more in to a salesman than a designer as the company and industry struggled to gather work.

    I’m still hungry to achieve more and use my current skill sets in an architectural setting and I would relish the opportunity to become an architect. I do appreciate that I would be looking at new qualifications but I’m keen to pursue a life long
    dream of designing buildings.

    I have read comments on both pages and other websites regarding architecture and see that a massive amount of employed/unemployed architects are very unhappy and say don’t bother wasting your time. This is the same way I feel about vehicle design. It was 4 years wasted as I’ve not found a job and have been forced to move around a variety of industries to get money in)!

    I’d like to know as I’m 29 and need to gather a degree in architecture, which is 3 years and complete the rest along the way, which will be another 5 at least, Part 1,2 and 3). Am I too old to start this process?

    I do have knowledge of AutoCAD, Rhino etc from my yacht design days but all these comments have started to make me question whether I’ll end up jobless again in 3 years!

    The economy is coming back slowly and architect firms in my area are taking people on at trainee level with part 1 complete.

    I would be grateful for people’s thoughts and any advice.

    Steve

    UK

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  • Richard L. Thornton

    Just stumbled upon your website and was amused. Everything you say is true. I was evicted by FannieMAE on Christmas Eve of 2009, despite them telling people that they were not doing such stuff. I spent 2010 homeless and in at tent in the Smoky Mountains. I spent 2011 in an abandoned chicken house in the Georgia Mountains. I have seven years of university education – am both a professional architect and city planner. Had my own firm for two decades – Won lots of awards in both areas, but there I was in a tent with my three dogs. Oh, and I lived very modestly before hand. My last project was designing Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial in Tulsa, OK – then had no work in 2009. All savings run out eventually.

    What Georgia Tech did NOT prepare me for was the rise of fascism in the United States. When the Republicans took control of Georgia in 2001 they targeted me because I was an award winning architect-planner, even though I was not involved in politics. Their leash pigs (cops) called up women I dated and told them I was a serial killer. Federal cops called up my clients and told them that I was an Al Quaida terrorist. Grannies . . . I am an evangelical Christian! Soon my only clients were Native Americans. I am Creek Indian. I finally figured that the brave new world they planned, only Republicans and veterans would be allowed to own professional firms. Architects in general were distrusted because they tend to be free thinkers. So thus I was made a guinea pig for their madness. What they didn’t know was that after college, I was a covert for US Naval Intelligence in the Maya lands. Those skills helped me survive the decade from hell.

    That also led to me recognizing the half square mile stone ruins at Track Rock Gap as being an Itza Maya terrace complex. The rest is history. Exactly three years after being served an eviction notice, the premier of the History Channel’s America Unearthed was about my earth-shaking discovery. Now I have a new career as, for lack of a better term, an archaeo-tect. LOL God does have a sense of humor.

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  • Ed

    In no. 2 of your list you mention having a job in a “real” industry that cares about it’s employees over the long haul. I challenge you to list one industry that cares about it’s employees.

    • Barabbas

      Public school teachers.

      • http://tavernadoverbo.blogspot.com/ Trustvainer

        Not here. :)

  • Sheri Scott

    #7 yep *sigh*

  • B

    Great article. Wish I had read it before becoming an architect. Pay really sucks.

  • Guest

    I’ve worked for 10 years in several big architecture offices before I started working for other companies. After 3 years, I still don’t regret my switch. Architecture itself is great, working as an architect is social exploitation of the worst kind. If one of my sons ever decides he wants to become an architect, I’ll break his fingers.

  • http://twitter.com/John_Done35 John Dunn

    I am currently attending college as an aspiring architect, i love what i am doing in the architecture program and I feel that architecture is the perfect career field for me. I even tried to contact you(Bob Borson) while considering the profession in high school. however this is the most depressing article i have ever read about the profession. while this article certainly won’t change my passion or dream of one day calling myself an architect i was wondering if you could offer any positive opinions about your decision to become an architect?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson
      • http://twitter.com/John_Done35 John Dunn

        Thank you, I found this shortly after posting this comment, including the article you have suggested, in fact your blog has numerous encouraging posts about being or becoming an architect, and seeing as that is hard to find i very much appreciate it.

        Regards, John Dunn

  • boomboomarchitects

    Possibly the Problem for some is an issue because they are running a business and thus depending on Fees and being famous and wealthy etc. etc.
    Having one stone (or what ever) been Build is an achievement which can’t be ignored other than it’s been demolished to soon. You make things happen and people are living in it or with it. When you pulled through you’re ideas have become part of the time-line and history. So be sure it is worthwhile.

    I don’t give a damn being jobless now. I did amazing stuff