Top Ten Reasons to be an Architect

Bob Borson —  February 22, 2010 — 158 Comments

Top 10 Reasons to be an Architect

I have seen a lot of lists recently that have reasons why not to be an architect so I thought I would come up with a list of reasons why you should be an architect. To make things interesting, I am only allowing myself 30 minutes to write this entry so hopefully this limitation will force my own reasons to the surface.

1. It’s a lifestyle, not a job.
Architects typically tend to think about architecture all the time, I know I do. Not just the big ‘A’ type of buildings or projects, but every little thing from every where I go. I go somewhere and start looking at materials, form, massing, lighting, etc. If I take a trip somewhere, I start by planning it around the buildings I want to visit. Probably 90% of all the books I buy (not including children’s titles) are about architecture – I even put them on my Christmas list.

2. People respect architects.
Even if they don’t really understand what we do, there is a perception that architects are ethical and responsible and will endeavor to make the right decision to our own detriment. It’s part of the reason that ‘architect’ is chosen so often as the vocation for title characters in movie and TV roles. Architects aren’t generally viewed as driven by financial rewards like doctors or as scurrilous as lawyers (can be).

3. Job is constantly evolving.
Architects are not artists – we have to address building technology and programming. There are constantly evolving materials and construction methods out there and we are required as a profession to address the demands of the public at large (building performance, energy consumption, incorporating recycled materials, etc.). Architects create new design concepts that push how modern day construction is executed. Architecture is one of the few professions that is never static.

4. Artistic freedom and personal expression.
As an architect, we are given certain project parameters that help guide the direction of our projects. We are then given the freedom to pursue the artistic embodiment of those parameters. 10 architects with the same client and the same project parameters will provide 10 different solutions. Every time.

5. You can be your own boss.
You can be your own firm of one and still be a viable service provider on almost any size project. You can enter contests and win commissions for major projects by yourself – I can’t think of another vocation that can provide similar latitudes. I have also seen a team of 3 people design and prepare construction documents on a mall over 1,000,000 square feet.

6. There are tangible (and sometimes euphoric) results.
Anyone who has ever seen a building that they worked get built knows exactly what I am talking about. I am still excited to watch one of my projects getting built – it’s like having your own laboratory where you can experiment and refine things that you consider to be important and worthwhile. It ties into the artistic freedom listed in #4 but architects generally have a sense of ownership on every project they work.

7. We can positively impact peoples lives.
It is rewarding to develop a personal relationship with your client, particularly when you know that the process will yield a more fruitful end product. By understanding the process, our clients appreciate the product. By appreciating the product, they are acknowledging the role it plays.

8. Experimentation is expected.
Despite architecture having to contain building sciences and technology, the final esoteric product does not have a definitively right or wrong answer. Because no two architects will ever come up with the exact same solution given an identical set of parameters, there is a liberating sense that you are here for the purpose of imparting your own personality on the project. We are expected to try new things, explore different materials, and incorporate emerging technologies into every project.

9. Longevity of Career.
You can practice the profession of architecture for as long as you want – you’ll always be an architect even when it isn’t your 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.

10. Incredible variety of options within the profession.
Unlike other professions, you graduate with a degree in architecture without having to know what type of architecture you are going to focus on. This is really great because when you graduate, you don’t know enough about the possibilities to know what you want to do. You can float between big and little firms, the role of project architect, designer, or management. You can work on building types from different market sectors like hospitality, residential, civic, retail, etc. and will still be an architect. Your degree will have a marketable value beyond the time of your immediate graduation.

Bonus. We can wear ridiculous eye wear and get away with it.
People expect architects to be a little bit nerd mixed with creative artist. This conflict of known social paradigms allows generous liberties to be taken with your personal billboard (but you have to earn it).

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  • Terra

    Thank you for pointing out so many positive things about this career and lifestyle! Everyone is always complaining. I am in agreement with all of your points and appreciate the positive point of view! Thank you.

  • Kerry Hogue

    well I disagree with number one. Architecture might be a lifestyle but it is a career. those that view it as a job should leave the profession. I find that architects that only think about architecture are limited in their interests and miss out a lot on what life has to offer. Yes I look at buildings and drive my family nuts with the constant analysis, however I have a lot of other interests that also occupy my time and are destinations to do things, without a building agenda, and the spontaneous building discovery is often quite rewarding. I don’t live eat and breath architecture, and I an passionate about what I do.

  • Gary

    I’m having a problem with #3 Architects are not artists??? I have always viewed Architecture as art pure and simple. It is an art to be able to apply spatial reasoning skills and envision rooms, traffic flow, mechanical needs, material choices and application, use of light for comfortable living, solar heating and cooling, designing an aesthetic exterior, envisioning an overall style of a structure. designing a functional kitchen layout. creating a structure for a given piece of land and using it wisely.
    I’m a builder, home designer, furniture designer and inventor and consider almost everything I do to be art. It is even an art to frame a house beautifully and efficiently with well thought out construction techniques.
    Architects are artists and possess a unique quality not enjoyed by everybody. Spatial reasoning is an ability to envision space and put it on paper. One must interpret a vision in three dimensions and express it in two dimensions. It is not the same as intelligence and relies more on an aspect of imagination. Stephen Hawkins the world renowned physicist says he has no spatial reasoning skills. It is also something I was not aware of how easily it came to me until working in the field showed me how difficult it is for many people. I often correct mistakes by Architects, Engineers, Designers, Carpenters and frame houses with consideration for the mechanical needs after I have left

  • Alex

    Hi Bob. I’ve been looking your posts and I have to say I’m really glad for the things you share with us. It’s great to read your experiences about the profession and these sort of things, the different perspectives we can get once we “make it” I’m a student of architecture and I deeply appreciate all your entries. Speacially those about sketches, I think are the core of our thinking proces and sadly in many schools (faculties) are ignoring them. Again thanks so much. Greetings. Saludos desde ColOmbia.

  • Covey

    Hi bob. I am a freshman in high school and currently looking at becoming an architect. You are right about one thing — looks like architecture is A LOT more than just designing building. I already knew that it can take up to 8 years of college to become an architect, and that they get paid well. I also know you gotta know LOTS of math (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus) Got any more info/advice for me?

    • Alex

      Hi Covey. I’m architecture student myself and from my humble expierence, from this corner of the earth, yes sir, surelly you’re gonna get a lot of algebra, geometry, trigonometry and a little bit of calculus (maybe). Geometry it’s very, important and it’s the basis to learn everything regarded to architectural drawing and representation. Also physics, speacially statics if we’re talking about structures. but don’t let that get you down, If you’re really going for it, you will realize that it’s really a lifestyle. Greetings and good luck.

  • Tina

    Hi Bob,
    I am a student in 8th grade, and I would like to be an architect. What steps should I take (as of now) in order to become one? Should I read books on architecture, draw buildings as a hobby,etc.? Also, what colleges are the best in architecture?

  • paru

    nice words