Wanted: Advice from other architects

January 24, 2011 — 73 Comments


Okay … I know I  have asked for help before but this time is different because it’s not actually for my benefit (big shocker right?) I should preface this by saying I am not complaining … but I receive a lot of emails from people asking for advice – which I am more than happy to dole out at times.

You have a lot of email Bob


Stranger: I need your advice
Me: Great! I will tell you whatever I want and it will be right! Don’t worry about the fact that I am just some dude sitting on my couch writing a blog because I was looking for a new challenge … because I am an AWESOME dude despite sitting on a couch.
Stranger: Uhhmmmm … Can you tell me the best way that I –
Me: (shushing) tut, tut, tut, tut. Don’t bother me with any of your details. Since I’ll make up most of what I say anyways, I might as well make up the subject that I want to talk about. The topic will be … what job is most awesome. Are you ready?


This is becoming the most time consuming activity associated with having this site. I might make jokes about it but I actually do try and respond with appropriate and well thought answers. But I am starting to think that maybe I should seek out a different perspective than my own. That’s where you – the reader – can help. You can help me and the authors of these emails.

I received the following three emails on the same day – actually within a few minutes from one another. When the third one came in, it was with an exasperated sigh that the idea for this post was born. It would be beneficial to the authors of these emails to hear from someone other than me – I even asked them if it was okay for me to publish their emails so that others could offer their opinions. I know that they would appreciate some input and I can promise you that I will appreciate your input.

Email #01

My name is [removed] . I’m going to be graduating this year in high school and I’m interested to go to [removed]. To be honest, I’m not very well prepare for college yet, but I am trying my best. I may not be the most perfect student with outstanding grades, but I try my best to have the best scores that I can possibly have.  Architecture and Computer aided design (CAD) are my two interests. Math and CAD are my favorite subjects which I am also successful at in High School.

My guidance counselor says that it might be a little bit difficult because I am not good at free hand drawings but she said I can learn and that most [… architects use computers these days]. I have taken most Architecture related courses in High School: algebra I and II, physics, Computer Science, CAD, English… I would love to become an Architect tin the future and that’s why I try my best in everything that I do. I think it’s a fascinating job provide people who secure and healthy place to stay, to go to work, to visit. [Architects] develop new designs that make buildings or homes more athletically appealing as well as functional. So what is it like to be studying architecture? How is it out there in real life?


Email #02

My name is [removed] and I have – rather too recently – started thinking about being an architect. I am newly married, 20 years old, and a year and a half from an English degree. While I enjoy English and want to write, I find myself wanting to support my family some way other than on the hope of a published book. I even studied for months to take the LSAT and was scoring in the 170’s, but to be honest I just don’t want to be a lawyer.

So, if you do not mind extending a helping hand I have a couple of questions for you. First, is there any point to going to a school that is not top notch. I could get into [removed], but I live in [removed] and it is where my wife is going to school. Would an MArch from [removed] – while clearing not as good as [removed] – still be sufficient to allow me to have a rewarding career? Secondly, every site I read says not to consider going into architecture; that its dead, only the amazing will make money, and you might as well flush the money for the education instead. Funny thing is, that’s what they say about medicine and law as well. I’m a hard worker, I’m smart, but would I be a fool to go into architecture now when I could do anything? Third, while I do have an artistic eye and mind, my hand has no idea what it is doing. In theory I could learn to draw, at least that’s what the professors have been saying, but I wanted to get an idea from an uninterested third party.

Anyway, I appreciate your time reading and replying to this email. I just need someone to tell me whether I am realistic or insane.


Email #03

I recently encountered your blog while I was looking for some information on a story I was writing. I am a journalist, but live with an architect. This – in and of itself – is a trying thing. The recession has hit him and his profession hard. He goes around stating that his profession has been decimated and that is why it is so hard for him to find a job. He is running his own small firm – but I have been the main bread winner for the last three and a half years. He graduated from an Ivy League school – undergrad and masters in Architecture. It seems that this prevents him from re-inventing himself and doing whatever it takes to move ahead. Is architecture really dead? What do architects do when their profession is no longer viable? Can they get their head out from the clouds and inhabit the real world? Can they be effective?


So how about it people – can you spare a few minutes to give these people your opinion on their situation? I hope you can.



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  • StiniTen

    Hi, I’m currently an Architecture student in a Masters of Architecture program and it is super intense. During high school I took every class possible to lead me down the path to architecture school and now I’m in my dream program, but I’m not sure if I want to go for the Masters anymore. It sucks because the program won’t allow you to stop and just take the Bachelor’s degree, they give you absolutely nothing for all your work you’ve done UNLESS you go through the WHOLE program. I’m learning a ton and it’s extremely challenging, but I’m running out of money to fund this monster of a degree. I’ve had the same amount of schooling as anyone with a Bachelor’s in Architecture, but I have no stupid piece of paper saying it. I have no idea what to do now; try to find some low end job that ignores the piece of paper anyways, continue schooling and fall more in debt, or try to transfer to another school and retake classes that I’ve already taken. ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL IS HARD.

  • Hal

    Hi Bob, I’m interested in residential architecture and was wondering how much of an architectural student’s education in college is specifically for residential architecture and how much is for other types like commercial, industrial, etc. Would you say that most of a student’s residential knowledge is learned while interning. I would think that quite of a bit of a student’s architectural college program could be applied to all types of architecture, but I was wondering how much would not be applicable to typical residential design – your average home, not something like Bill Gates’ home.

    • StiniTen

      As an architecture student I can tell you that if you have the drive for the program then any architectural program will teach you all you need to know about residential architecture. Unless you want to make ‘cookie-cutter’ houses and then you don’t need any schooling at all. There’s an elegance to architecture that people don’t understand till they go to school for it.

  • Cp.Zee

    hello Bob, ur blog is awesome!) im 17 years old and just graduated from highschool. I’m living in Chechenya (Russian federation). heard that u gives some advises, sooo… We have some program here in Russia that pays for any university in the World but u have to be like enrolled to university(sry for bad english) THERE IS NO PROFESSION IN THE WORLD BUT ARCHITECT FOR ME BECAUSE IT’S THE BEST PROFESSION IN THE WORLD AND TAXI DRIVER. and i have some problems with my drawings skills, like i know basics of shading, perspective and ect. but i still draw bad( can u tell me something to make me better and tell my where can i go to study (archeticture unisversity) if u can it would be so cool)))) SRY FOR BAD ENGLISH again))))

    • mannofan

      Try Kansas State University, it’s the best you can get and they will teach you tips to make the drawing easier.

  • Alexandra P.

    Hello, I am married have a 2 year old daughter and am 25 years old. Life happened to me and now after passing a rough storm in my life I can say I’m in a very good place. I am considering going back to school to pursue my passion with the complete support of my husband, this passion being architecture. I am just trying to wrap my mind around how difficult and time consuming this will be. I want to ask anyone here to help me on giving me details on the process I will undertake, what is the best road to take anything I should read? I am a very persistent and passionate person. Any advice is helpful, like I said I am very determined and disciplined and believe I can do anything I work hard for. Im just worried for my little family.

    • Hi Alexandra,

      I clearly haven’t gone through the scenario that you are describing but I do think that with the support of your family, this is something that you can make happen.

  • Gary Dorn

    To # 2
    most of my collegues wanted to be an architect at a young age ( ie before they were 14) I was about 5 – Thinking about it a 20 could be okay – many people have changed profession to architects later in life, and vise versa. Sometimes studying architecture actually becomes the means and which someone works out what they really want to do – I had a friend who realised that films was her thing, and went off to Hollywood to learn film making- after graduating with a 1st class honors in architecture!

    Anyway as a design architect, the thinking that would be most valueable is being able to think in 3D pictures – atleast that is what I do.
    But architecture as work can involved many many more different aspects. – you mentioned your interest in language and writing. Architecture has a marvelous tradition in those fields.
    Studying architecture though , as Bob says elsewhere, centres around the Design studio, so even though you say you hand is not co-ordinated with your head, you can learn to connect them – it will just take time, plenty of practise and patience – but does design and problem solving interest you – If so , go for – try labouring or something manual

    good luck

  • daveh

    When I read the suggestions for finding a summer job in construction I was curious what that would entail? Could anyone provide examples of what there is or things that would be done in a construction job or things like that?

    I would like to get my feet wet but have no idea what a job in construction is all about.

    • Getting a job in construction – especially if you have no skills – means doing menial labor. The advantages of being on a construction site is that you get exposed to process and technique and as an architect, that has value.

  • Bales

    These are good questions that have come up through-out my career. For a little background, I have been in the design and construction industry for over 30 years. First in a family owned construction business, and then into architecture. During my first round of college I had been talked out of architecture and obtained a degree in business. As my passion, I went back to college for architecture. I have been in architecture for over 24 years.

    I had recently initiated a review and study of the changing business models and methodologies in the architectural industry. As it turned out, there were three previous studies evaluating these conditions over the last 15 years. The studies are very relevant to all three of the emails. These studies can be easily obtained through the AIA. In addition, the AIA and NCARB have posted the survey results of today’s employment in architecture. Please note that the surveys are focused solely on registered architects. They did not include architectural support such as drafting, administration, specification writers, construction administrators, etc. The percentage of unemployed persons in the architectural industry is considerably higher.

    For those considering the choice of architecture as a career I would recommend that you just do some basic math. To take the path to being an architect you will need a minimum of a Masters in Architecture (6 years), Completion of the Intern developement program (average 3 years) and then you will be allowed to take the 7 Architectural Registration Exams (ARE’s) about another 2 years. Unless you have time to really focus and hopefully pass all the exams in one year. At which time you have very little experience in the actual constructability of a project….just design concepts.

    Result – Cost for 6 years of education, 3 years of IDP, and 1 to 2 years taking exams. 10 to 11 years. At which point figure in the average salary and how long it will take you to pay this back. (I have found the average salaries starting out to range between $35,000/yr to $40,000/yr). With today’s economy and the limited amount of work I know too many registered architects, with 10 plus years of experience having to take part time postions at $15.00 to $25.00 per hour (No Benefits). These postions also require proficiency with Auto CAD, Revit, Sketchup, and Photoshop. I recommend you check into the associated costs to learn these programs, and in some cases, purchase them yourself.

    I chose architecture because it is a passion. But as my associates would say, for most of us it is a “starving artist profession”.

    Email #3

    My wife and I are in the same situation. Remembering that architecture is a passion and an addiction, the reality of our economy dictates that there is a necessity to have alternative avenues. Unfortunately for an architect, the alternative avenues are focused on design and construction. (These avenues are a part of the aforementioned studies that can be obtained from the AIA).

    Personally, I have redirected into doing whatever it takes. I now provide services to various firms as an independent contractor (various architectural support, contract reviews, specifications, construction administration, etc. to general contracting). These reduce my overhead drastically. This still has not adjusted for the tremendous lack of work. We have decided that the industry is not going to change or improve for quite some time. Figuring the next 5 years are going to be about the same, I am in the middle of reworking my entire career path for the benefit of my family and stability. This is something many architects are facing right now. We may not like it, but we do still like to eat….have clothes, and even a place to live. (cardboard box not optional).

  • architecture

    does anyone know the measurements of the beetham tower manchester?? there is only information on the height and not the width. please this is urgent!!

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  • Lexe

    Architecture is a difficult field in which to make lots of money. Architectural education, however, is fantastic, and will give a person a wonderful set of skills. These skills might find a more lucrative and satisfying use in peripheral endeavours. If I was starting out today, I would not choose architecture. The path to licensing is too long versus the benefits of licensing.
    My story:
    After finishing studies at possibly the best public school in the U.S. I was unable to even find a job in architecture, largely because I am African American. It would be difficult for you to imagine the responses I got when having interviews. So I started my own design/drafting firm. The success from my efforts was immediate, and very surprising. At the time I started out, my total monthly expenses in my little studio apartment were $500 (1975) within about three months I was earning what amounted to $50k per year, which was good money back then, and far more than any firm was offering new grads. After less than two years, I bought my first real estate, which was a Victorian apartment building in the San Francisco East Bay area, my business began to bring me around $80k per year, which was very surprising. I bought a four story John Hudson Thomas fixer house, near the Rose garden in Berkeley with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge about one year later.
    After several exciting years, I managed to weave together a career that blended architecture, and real estate investment, buying three apartment buildings, and two houses in San Francisco, and environs before I was twenty-seven. All of my buildings had a Bay/Golden Gate view.
    Now many years later My income peaked at $600k/year in 2005, and I got involved with foreign investments and projects.
    The final lesson , as I see it, is to not be discouraged when your career takes an unexpected, or even apparently undesirable turn. If one of the firms that I was trying for in the seventies had hired me I am sure I would not be where I am today

    • ony

      Hi, I am about to enter a graduate architecture program this summer and am excited to go through the program. However, I may seek alternative routes as a career. Would it be possible to contact you to learn more about your experience in developing your business?

      Thank you for your time,

      • Lexxs

        HI, Please send me a few queries via this service. I am busy for about two more weeks, or so, but will get back with you

        • ony

          Hi, thank you for your reply. Wasn’t sure if it is ok to put personal info out there, but here’s some background to give you some insight:
          I am an African-American male, artist (trade of a painter: mostly realism). I graduated a few years ago from a TX university majoring in Biology & Psychology, minor in studio arts. I was able to gain also some business insight from starting an international student chapter that prompted my interest in project management, subsequently undertaking a nonprofit leadership program. After an internship and acquiring a job position with a local art community/museum involving intrapreneurship (freedom to develop a team within the museum to administer art classes), strategic planning, and facilitating art – health classes for youth, I soon derailed from my notion to become a MD/public health professional to one that literally builds community. I realized that architecture encompassed all of my interests. Therefore, I soon obtained a position at the Architecture Center as an Continuing Education/Affiliate Firm coordinator, applied to a NY design M.Arch program, and am on my way this summer to begin my architectural pursuit in a fast paced metropolitan.

          Hopefully, my background description wasn’t too extensive and not tiring to read haha. Facetiousness aside, as an African American.. in TX, it is not difficult to see the disparity of African Americans in professional fields and it is even more so in the ‘prestigious’ profession of architecture nationally. Meeting and working with AIA committees, talking with firm CEOs/principals, and experienced architects/construction employers it is very apparent that the profession is still a white-male dominated profession (at least here in TX). Although I would say the people that I have talked to are quite progressive, they too still exclaim to me the same statistic of substantially disproportion of African Americans in the architectural profession. (Perhaps this could be due to low enrollment in general of African Americans in public universities or that there is an overall low population of blacks in US in comparison to other “races”, but that is another discussion for another day).

          My point is this.. although I may work in NY/intern abroad in an architectural firm during grad school, it is unlikely that I will take the traditional route of the field. Yes, I may be looking too far ahead; but after all, aren’t architects taught to be visionaries? Though my situation is different from yours due to generational outlook and overtness of racism, it does not mean that the profession has completely been “cleansed” of old habits. In addition, there is a lot of “forums” taking place about the profession but not much is being done to execute the solutions for these issues, even the most basic ones that can be rectified internally. For instance, the defense of the term and protection of the word “architect” does not hold and has been detrimental to the advancement of the profession as a whole (just an opinion!).

          With that said, I am intrigued by the rogue route taken on your part as well as the entrepreneurial direction you chose. My questions are how did you get involved with real estate development (not sure if that’s the term)? Also, environs? (also a new term to me). In addition, did you take business classes (MBA?) or did you feel your architectural background was enough? What good case practices can you share about growing your firm as an African American, and how did you obtain/maintain your clients? And it would be great to hear about your transition into foreign investments and projects?

          I apologize for the late reply as I didn’t receive an email about your reply post. Thank you so much for your time as I know you are quite busy. I look forward to your reply. Regards,

          • Lexxs

            I will try to reply to your main questions at the end of your email. First let me say that you appear to be well on your way in terms of skill set acquisition (breadth, etc..)…..My involvement with real estate came in a manner that seems almost ridiculous in retrospect. I read a book titled “Nothing Down” by Robert A. Allen, and another book called “the international Man” by Casey. The first book is one of the few books that I know has made many people successful investors…..I have had over four thousand clients, ninety percent of whom were multimillionaires. Of that total, perhaps eighty percent obtained their wealth via some aspect of real estate investment or development.

            I overcame my challenges by maintaining a professional appearance, always groomed like an executive, and never left home without wearing a suit and tie.It makes a big difference when you are young and seeking a high dollar project from an older person….I realised the importance of playing by the rules and being scrupulously honest and above board. …I also realised that it is difficult to make money without reliable employees. Having employees to do the production drafting frees you up to go generate more projects……Real estate ownership will give you and your business the ability to obtain financing when needed to even out the low points that come in business cycles. , and to build wealth…..I know a young African American man who started out 35k in debt , who was able to accumulate $750k in cash within 1-1//2 years solely via real estate investing in fixers, that he would repair and flip. I found investing a very important component. If your area is costly , consider another city, but I would avoid slummy areas, and lower middle class neighbourhoods, unless I knew them thoroughly…Find out the type of client who will respond well to you. You might find contractors, realtors, interior designers, investors, small business owners, but look around for several sources of repeat projects, and try to get twenty, at least, as a client base…This is all I have time for now . Best Wishes, and right now Brazil is a newly hot area for architects

          • ony

            Thank you soo much for your advice. I will look into the books as well as the ReDev processes. I just have a question on the latter end of your reply, what do you mean by “sources of repeat projects”, do you mean doing more than one project with a client?
            I can see also how Brazil would have great potential. I find your information very inspiring and I look forward to more of your advice when the time avails you. Thanks again,

          • Lexxs

            Yes the repeat clients were usually real estate investors, developers or builders. Many brought a new project to me each month.

    • DannG

      Hi I would love to speak with you regarding your path and experiences. I graduated in 2011 and have yet to find a position in my field. I know the lack of experience is a set back and also i am an african american female. The route you have taken is actually where i would like for my career to go. Is there some way that i could contact you that would be best for you? email? linkedin?

  • I’m agree with Pencils and Architeqt

  • Natalietai_silentandstill

    Do you think I could still be an architect if i have a good eye in art somewhat suck in math and really suck in science? 

    • Gary Dorn

      Hi, sometimes being an architect requires of us to be an allrounder, but that is not how we start out – its a life long journey, whereby we address our deficiencies with patience, humour and diligence. Virtues which we all have.

      As a side note (but related) My daughter is studying fashion design, which has a glamours appeal for her. But 2 and bit years into her course and she is getting disillusioned. This is due of her weaknesses (design) and strengths (garmet making) being exposed.

      I’ve explained to her that skills are learnt along the way and that we have to allow ourselves the patience to learn the skills we are deficient at, so that we can become designers with full knowledge and understanding.

      As to architecture school – its an environment whereby you will be exposed to how maths and science has been applied in the real world – via studies of Virtruvious and Palladio, Bruneslleschi and Wright, LeCorbusier and Ando etc.

      Follow your heart, interests and passions.

      Skills and knowledge are learnt along the way, which enable you to become part of the solution.

      For me, I’ve worked out that I completed my apprenticeship when I was about 32, after completing about 18 years of education ( schooling, university, working, adult classes, observing, thinking).
      I can now draw, design, model, communicate, lead, assist, construct and learn just about anything.

      p.s. In strawbale construction, most people ( teenagers to the elderly) come with no knowledge and skill, just an interest and desire. After a hands-on practical workshop, they become empowered and encouraged.

  • Spatial Pioneer

    I’m not an Architect yet, so maybe this is just my hopeful energy, but I hardly think Architecture is dead. “They” also say chivalry, latin, and youthful empathy are dead. It’s hard for those who have hit a slump (In practically every situation) to see the change that is to come; it is what we do before that change that reinvigorates the world. Self-fulfilling prophicy isn’t the right word, but it’s the first that comes to mind. If we as a whole accept an idea as true, it may as well be true since nobody is willing to correct it. There are fascinating, world altering break-throughs out there, that SOMEONE is striving to reach, if you feel there is no hope than you will never be one of them.

    Just sayin’

  • leah

    hi im going into high school next year and im thinking about becoming an architect. the thing is that i dont know what classes to take, i know although that im going to take computer aid driftingdesign. but what else to i take? should i take a drawing class? im soo lost and need help 

  • miriam

    eu ñ sou boa em desenho ,mas quero fazer arquitetura na falcudades eu posso aprender a desenhar? ou ser que se torma mas difícil ,poque eu ñ tenho abilidade com desenho.

    • Miriam, nem todos os arquitectos são bons desenhadores. O
      importante é conseguir expressar, comunicar e encontrar as suas ideias, e o
      desenho normalmente funciona bem e rápido para esse fim. Existem muitas
      técnicas de desenho que poderá aprender e praticar. A actividade de
      Arquitectura tem obstáculos muito maiores que o desenho, não penso que a falta de abilidade em desenhar deva ser um impedimento por si só. Boa sorte!

  • Steve

    I am struggling with architecture. I had a foundation class, where we would make a couple of projects and have outside critiques and managed a C for the class. I’ve had other classes in the past and just couldn’t get it. Even in the past classes, I had trouble. I believe I’m a smart guy but I think architecture can be very difficult and demanding. I think I went into architecture not realizing what the real world was about. I just had a thought of what it was and didn’t try very hard to go for it. However, I have been today but my grades aren’t “acceptable”. Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m in the wrong profession. My undergrad was in construction management and I’m going for my master’s. I chose architecture because my brother in law was in construction and thought that that would be the right direction. I couldn’t find work though. When I first got into school, I thought about engineering because I was pretty good with math and science. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to go into a different direction. Maybe to be a teacher. I’ve thought my cousins how to do math and my brother as well. I just seem to be good at it. At times it was hard, like finding out what a derivative was, or an integral and other things like that. But I found it rewarding. The problem is, I feel like I have to start over again. Not only that, but to find an interest that uses math. Sorry for my rant, but that’s how I feel.

  • Geminiroxi

    I have a granddaughter in first grade who wants to be an architect. What activities do you suggest including anything on the internet? Thanks.

    • She could get involved with Hearts and Hammers or Habitat for Humanity – both take on people with little or no knowledge and give them hands on experience AND they are both good causes doing good things.

  • TeenDesigner

    I am a 7th grader in Minnesota and decided I wanted to be an architect in 4th grade. I took a summer class and LOVED it… but now I’m starting to like interior design/remodeling a little more. I love looking at my dad’s This Old House magazine and seeing how normal people w/ no degree in architecture whatsoever rejuvenate their living room like that. See, when I get an idea for a house I always want to design a new kind of kitchen island, or put in that awesome chair I saw @ IKEA. Is there a degree that has both architecture and interior design in it, or do I have to do them separately?
    – TeenDesigner (-:
    BTW, I really liked the “Fireplaces” post!

    • Matt


      think the best interior designers are architects; look at all the great
      “interior design” that bob is working on, integral to the
      architecture.  Visit the best architecture offices in your community and ask if
      you can do a job shadow for a day or afternoon (we have had 6th graders job
      shadow in our office). Talk with your middle school guidance counselor to make
      this happen for you, and don’t take no for an answer!

    • I think the advice Matt just provided is really sound – you can be an architect working in the field of interior design a little more easily than the other way around. In some cases (like on of the partners in my office) you can have undergrad degree in one and a masters degree in the other. 

      Since you are only in 7th grade, there is actually a lot of time before you need to finalize a decision like this – take this time to try and figure out if you like one more than another if needed.


  • I too earned multiple degrees including an MArch from a top ten university but have had a difficult time finding work. I am continually turned down for every job I apply for whether it is architecture or custodial positions. I was an older student and now my age is also against me in that I am told that…”we’re actually looking for someone right out of college so we can mold them into the type of architect we want them to become.” So I barely exist with a high dollar education, no prospects or hopes of finding a job yet alone a career, and the sinking realization that my ever increasing student loan balance will never be satisfied at least by me.

  • architectrunnerguy

    Great responses so far, especially Gardenladys.

    My advice to those in high school who ask me about becoming an architect is always the same. I recommend getting an actual job in an architects office for the summer. That’s what I did between my junior and senior years and actually it extended through my entire senior year after school.

    Of course right off the bat I was thrust into the position of the lead designer of a new 3000 seat music hall….ok, just checking to see if you’re still reading here. Figured that would make you sit up in your seat. Seriously, I ran prints, went on errands, picked up the mail at the PO, made the coffee, stocked the fridge (we had free soft drinks), took the bosses car in for maintainance, etc. but I kept my eyes and ears open and asked a lot of questions. Eventually I had a “board” of my own doing drawings like reflective ceiling plans, building presentation models (which I turned out to be pretty good at), doing the press type lettering, etc.

    And then of course I went to a university but had a guaranteed job every summer during my college career.

    This approach does several things, all good (And this doesn’t just apply to architecture, it can be valid for the law, medicine, accounting, vets, you name it).

    First, I’m able to take a look at the profession BEFORE going to college and seeing if it appeals to me. Nothing worse then spending two years in design school and then deciding its not for you.

    Second, I had a ready job every summer.

    Third, I got to see first hand the “real world” aspect of architecture. The theoritical aspect of school is invaluable of course but experience with real budgets, real timelines and real clients (not to mention gravity and building codes) is a big benefit.

    And finally fourth, as with most any endeavor, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Even though I was only 17 when I started there, contacts where made, and they went to other firms or formed firms of their own. In one case, a few years after graduation, my “interview” with a former coworker was really a formality. And the “office boy” that took over when I went to college? Got to know him better when I came back for summers and a few years after he graduated from college, we formed a partnership that lasted 20 years. When I sold my share to him (friendly split) we had a staff of 16 people including 6 architects. Turned out big things in the future started out back in the print room of that firm.

    So get into an office. And they’ll pay more then McDonalds.


    • Thanks for the comment Doug. I think this is great advice. I was able to work in an architects office for a few summers (one of my jobs was to cut the 15 square foot patch of grass) and get exposed to how architecture is actually practiced. It was valuable experience for me and I think your advice to people thinking about becoming an architect is very practical.

      Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

  • Will

    I have had my firm for 35 years, and have survived the various recessions. This recession is different, because it doesn’t seem to be ending.

    To question #1, and #2) If you are still in school, or will be entering university, My view is that a person should have two career paths. By that I mean that if you choose to study architecture, and eventually become an architect, you should have the skills, and preparation also for a secondary career, for example, nursing, law, math, or another science that you can fall back on.

    Question #3) After many years of being in one profession it is very difficult to re-invent ones self . It might require returning to school to learn new skills, or counseling, so as to think about the skills one has differently. A real estate developer client, and friend once said that he thought that my design ability would be a great asset to have in the world of real estate development, and investing. I have always been involved with real estate from the early days of my career. It has been a way to even out the peaks, and vallies that I encountered in architecture. Now it looks like I may take his advice and venture into developing also.

    Architecture has truly been decimated during the last five years. I was personally making $10, 000.00 a week before the recession, and got down to as low as $1500.00 PER MONTH, in the last two years. I had to let staff go, and eliminate international air travel for projects. So for me , the party is over for the time being. The only other option would be to go live in China, or the UAE, and do projects someplace like that….. Best wishes all…

  • Stephen Hall

    I did talk with my wife about #3, it just took a while to get back here.

    She laughed out loud about the “head in the clouds” comment. In a way that implied the truth had been written. Ouch.

    She encouraged e-mail #3 (geez, Bob, give them a fake name next time…) to walk a mile in the architect’s shoes. Ask yourself the same questions. My wife commented that she would not ask me to give up my profession/passion because she cannot imagine me asking her to give up her profession/passion. OK, wow, I got lucky to have such a wife.

  • Brokenkeys

    I agree with the comments already made and I’ll try not to cover the same things.

    I started getting laid off in 2006. Florida was hit early. I trudged on from firm to firm. But after each layoff the period of unemployment between jobs became longer and longer. Until the last one from Dec ’09 to Oct ’10 finally drained me of everything. I applied to every firm in the state, every advertised or semi-related position I could find and leaned hard on every contact I had but to no avail. Then I finally took a job as a network engineer for an internet service provider.

    I’ve worked at firms large and small, in positions from summer intern up to senior project manager and, like everyone else, I experienced the “pigeon-hole” effect. My pigeon-hole turned out to be computers, networks and printing. I have no extra training or knowledge just some mysterious ability to make computers do what they are supposed to do.

    Now some company is paying me a living wage because it looks like I know what I’m doing with their millions of dollars worth of equipment (boy are they in for a surprise!). Computers aren’t my first love but, excuse my south, she’s pretty enough to keep me interested.

    The point is that architecture school gave me the skills needed to survive in the modern world; research and become familiar with foreign subjects, think outside the box, problem solving and most importantly, creative thinking. I work with guys, we all know people like this, that are ridiculously smart but when it comes to solving a problem outside of their knowledge base they lack the creativity and ability to adapt. And that’s when I, the guy with virtually no knowledge, comes in and shows the double computer science phd how to do it. Typically I’m wrong but my approach is always so different that it breaks their mental log jam thus allowing for the problem to actually get fixed.

    Architecture schooling is absolutely worth it, it’s up to you (and sometimes the economy) how you use it. Many of the greatest and most successful people were trained in architecture school. The one I always mention is Weird Al Yankovic. Like him or not, he obtained all that outside the box creativity from somewhere…

  • JT

    I’m unemployed at the moment, having finished contracting as a graduate architect.

    I’ve graduated in Architecture Design. I have 5 years experience in the industry. I spent another 2 years doing a drafting course.
    I couldn’t find work when I came out of school and to make it worst I thought, I got into the wrong career. It went downhill from that point.

    I have been fired from different practices, big and small because at the lack of my real-world practical skills like documentation and construction.

    I had a career crisis and wasted a year trying to find out who and what I wanted to be.
    But every time I tried to run away from architecture, I only start to miss it.

    It wasn’t until a miracle happened and I got a job interview with a world famous practice. They offered me a 3 month contract position and hoped for the best. They needed me after the 3 months so they extended my contract for another 3 months. Then just before Christmas, they let me go! I spent sleepless nights, sweated for hours like a pig, lost a bit of hair, but in the end there was no work for me to be allocated to.

    I have had 4 job interviews that declined me the last two weeks. I have 2 upcoming ones this week.
    Right now, I’m at a cafe somewhere in Melbourne enjoying the sun and reading the latest issue of Architectural Review magazine over a nice Chai Latte.

    What’s my point?…Well in the end of the day, you need to love architecture because no matter how much disappointment it gives you, you can’t think of anything else you love doing therefore you will overcome all obstacles.

  • Gn

    i am a 20yo female from Venezuela, 3rd world country, student of the 4year of architecture at one of the best colleges. Besides that i’m 6 months away from getting my anthropology degree from the same university, that’ve been said, to the 3 persons that send the email, only thing i can tell you is: you have to be SURE, POSITIVE, that you LOVE architecture. It is passion what made me go through all my career, cause, lord knows, it was never easy. Still isn’t. Being good at architecture it’s not being good at drawing, that is a common but wrong perception. If you’re not sure, if you like easy things, if you love sleeping and hate not going out w/ your friends, if your social life it’s a priority for you then avoid the awkwardness and don’t do it. To study this, you need to really want it, have commitment and drive to do things. You will lose birthdays, anniversaries, parties, you name it, but you have to make sure that you’re losing this things because you are doing something you love. There isn’t a day in which i don’t ask myself “do i really want this” cuz it is HARD. But that doesn’t mean i love what i study, even if architecture doesn’t love me, so please, be honest to yourselves, avoid suffering, and ask yourselves, if you REALLY want it, do you have passion for architecure? it the answer is yes, then go for it, w/o a doubt or blink. Hope that helps.

  • Jumping in here a little late. Stephen very succinctly provided great responses for e-mails #1, 2, &3- comments that I wholeheartedly agree with. A common theme that I note here (and in other of Bob’s posts) is one of passion- or to put it in Stephen’s words- “Full commitment is required.”

    As a licensed architect for close to 20 years and a partner in a small Michigan firm for more than 10, I have been through several downturns. The current one however affected me the most, and resulted in an 18 month move to Vermont for what appeared to be a great opportunity, and now a move back to Michigan. I have recently joined those of you who are also searching for the elusive architect position- something I have never had to do before.

    My advice to those of you thinking about entering the profession, recently graduated from architectural school, or a young associate who is questioning his decision to be an architect: How you approach your schoolwork, your studio projects, your ARE prep, and finally your job, will have a direct effect your future. I believe that architecture is one of those professions that you get out of it what you put into it, and the current state of things does not allow you to coast- full commitment, remember?

    It goes without saying (since you have heard it loud and clear from Bob and others here) that you need to push yourself beyond where you thought you could ever go, and to keep improving your skills, no matter how old. But it’s more than just broadening and sharpening your skillset, I’m talking attitude.

    I’m realistic- this economic downturn affected architects at all levels of the profession, even those with deep skills at the top of their game- hell, it happened to me. But I am a firm believer in a positive attitude, despite all the negativity surrounding our profession. It starts with how you interact with your family, classmates, and professors; how you offer criticism in your studio crits; how you develop relationships with your fellow co-workers, employer, or partners; and finally with how you approach each project with consultants, contractors, and clients. What I’ve found since I have been “hitting the streets” is that staying positive and treating people fairly for all those years has resulted in referrals from colleagues, doors being opened, and unique opportunities being created where I wasn’t looking. It’s not just about networking (which you all need to be doing religiously), but with making a real and positive connection with those that you live and work with.

    Work hard, stay positive. It’ll pay off.

  • Stephen Hall

    I’ll try to not be redundant, but no promises. I am an licensed architect and have had my own firm for over 25 years. Per Bob’s request, I think that is all the qualification required…

    To e-mail #1:
    I can’t tell from your message if you are already accepted into a school of architecture. I’ll assume you are. If so, you might want to take more than the minimum requirements for drawing. It can be a lot of fun, actually helps be able to really look at things, and I think you will need to develop decent drawing skills – it is a great way to quickly explore concepts and communicate with your peers and clients. If you can get to the point that you are comfortable making rough sketches right in front of clients, I have found that they love to watch. As to “what it is like to study architecture?” Read some of the Bob’s posts and comments – it is basically brutal while you are in school. It is also a lifelong pursuit, if you are passionate about architecture. How is it out there in real life? Right now it is brutal, again look at posts on Bob’s site. It looks like it will be for some time. If you want to be an architect, you will be. You’ll put up with all of it if an architect is what you are meant to be. I tell young people considering the profession that being an architect has to be what you are and is not just what you do. Full commitment is required.

    For e-mail #2
    Studying at a top-notch school would, of course, be better. On the other hand, it is not the only path – some great architects did not go to school at all – mind you, they tend to predate NCARB and the like. I think the question about a rewarding career is more important. My reading of your e-mail concerns me that you are casting about for something to do and are not passionate about architecture. See my response to e-mail #1 above – the rewards of the profession for most of us come at a high cost. Architecture will not die until humans stop needing shelter and art, but the profession might break your heart if you are not head over heels in love with it. To rephrase your question, you have to be a fool about architecture to give your life to it.

    For e-mail #3
    I may ask my wife about your questions and post again or ask her to post, since this hits awfully close to home. I admit that living with an architect can be a trying thing. I don’t do it. OK, yeah, I do live with myself most of the time but still I’m not sure I would want to live with another architect. I hope there are some rewards from the relationship and some particular rewards for living with an architect.

    Is there a question about the validity of how terrible the construction industry is right now? He is not alone, things are miserable for the construction business. My informal surveys seem to put the architecture profession working at about 20% of capacity. Others may have more accurate data. I can tell you that it is frustrating to not be able to bring in my share of the bacon or bread. I’m not sitting around twiddling by thumbs, there is just not much work out there. I will assume your architect feels the same.

    As noted above, architecture is not dead. I think it may have to change, but it will remain an important part of the human experience. Good design makes us better and enriches our existence. The profession as currently practiced may not continue to be viable, but some of us are working to change our ways. As for having our heads in the clouds, I don’t know about your architect, but many of us spend a lot of time down on the ground, or in the trenches, but can get up into the clouds when we have the chance. Not much is as real as standing in the middle of a construction site answering questions about how to build something as complex and tangible as a building. And not much is as uplifting as a great design.

    If your architect is anything like many of us, it may be nigh impossible to re-invent himself. As noted above, architecture is not what we do, it is what we are. If he has to re-invent himself, it may be at the cost of who he is. I hope he will not have to face that choice.

    I sympathize with the stress you are experiencing, assure you that you are not alone in that, and wish you and your architect luck, strength, and peace.

    • Susanneramirezdearellano

      Dear Stephen:

      I am #3 and do appreciate your response. The thing is – architects believed they are a chosen few – and are misunderstood. In this economy – everyone has had to re-invent themselves. I am a journalist, a writer, who has worn as many hats as it takes to take care of the family. I didn’t have time to bemoan my profession’s fate and kept on moving forward. Architects – my father is one also – over think everything whilst they read Proust and look at a window sill. That is – as long as they have someone supporting their mental masturbations. But this is not real life.

      • Skylar

        Spoken Like a True Writer.

  • This is a quick word of encouragement to the author of e-mail #3.

    First of all, thank you for being there for Your Architect. We can be moody at times (not to mention self-absorbed and self-destructive) but we mean well and we have a lot to offer the world if given half a chance. Thank you.

    Statistically, Your Architect is right, the design community has been one of the hardest hit employment sectors. Construction activity is a key indicator of economic health and we architects serve as the proverbial canary in the mine shaft. Our jobs are among the first to go in a downturn. If he feels “shafted” by it all, it’s no wonder. But (at the risk of wearing out the metaphor) tell him not to give up, there’s still a lot of value to be brought up from the mind shaft!

    To answer your primary question, no, architecture is NOT dead.

    Our profession is rooted in the ancient means of construction and will always be governed by timeless laws of physics. It can be argued that apart from a few software packages we still practice in a 19th Century mode. This is about to change. Much like a planet can appear to slow down and reverse course against a constant field of stars, architecture looks and feels to be in retro-grade. Your Architect may feel his world slipping backwards, but it is a spatial illusion. Our orbit is in tact, and like that woeful planet in the night sky, our profession will surge ahead.

    In practical terms it may be another few years before the economy picks up. Your Architect will have to work through this. But I believe the mid- and long-term potential for our profession is very bright. Our world is undergoing “third wave” changes (to borrow a phrase from “Future Shock” author and futurist Alvin Toffler) and we can help shape those changes. We architects are problem solvers, consensus builders, and knowledge brokers by training. If there is a group that can change things for the better, Your Architect is already part of it.

    Several of us have used our career downtime to re-invent ourselves. I launched my blog while unemployed and have discovered many other (brighter and more prolific) architects who have similarly made an impact online. (A tip of the hat to you Bob.) Individually and collectively we will make things better because it’s in our nature and our training to do so.

  • Anonymous

    Every career is dead, wages have been flat for over a decade and asset growth has gone no where for the last 20 years. The only solution left is to stop the fretting and move forward, otherwise you are just muddling. And, muddling is just wasting time which cannot be reclaimed.

  • Rsmith


    Good engaging question!!!

    I decided in 7th grade to be an architect and have loved every minute. I love working with people and working on my craft. At 58 every project is still a rush. Sure, much time is spent doing things which are not “design” but still an instrumental part of the process.

    My life has also been focused on honesty and integrity. Every day I have choices of which way to engage with those I work with and work for. I am well centered and grounded with the life I have led so far.

    I especially get great pleasure from watching my adult children care about their surroundings and the design of items they buy. It is great when they can do with a simpler life and stuff as compared to our culture of materialism. My son buys the best items for himself which will last a long time because of the quality. Makes a father proud.

    Teachers teach not for the money but because it is their passion. Doctors make more money but many times don’t watch their children’s softball games or help with homework, but they can take a 6 year old to Cancun for winter break. You have to decide what’s important to you.

    Anyone who wants to be an architect should do it and not go down a path which will not leave them fullfilled. The whole world is not an oyster… its a design opportuntiy!!!

    My blog is listed below.

  • Often blogging is much more interesting when it approaches this kind of discussing forum!

    I don’t really know what people think of the architect’s life in the US (besides reading your blog obviously!) but in Europe, people often think that being an Architect is like being a creative director or even like being “Don Draper” (from the tv series Mad Men). But in reality working professionally as an Architect is a great distance away from what you have been taught in School. That’s why I always recommend that students start collaborating with Arch Studios soon enough to gain some real experience.
    I must say that 95% of the Architect’s work nowadays is focused on coordinating teams of other professionals (engineers, contractors, etc); reading, understanding and amending their own designs in accordance with the more and more strict safety rules. If you own your arch studio you should spend a great amount of your time managing it and looking out for your collaborators are doing. I don’t say that this can be very appealing to a great deal of Architects and that’s great. People should do what they love. But in fact, while you have spent 90% of your time in school designing buildings, you will spend 5% of your time or less designing professionally. Just because when you are working on a schedule people tend to not take into account the time and effort it takes to pick up a blank sheet of paper, the program of the building and its constraints and design a basic study of a new building. So where you should have spent a great deal of time reflecting and find great spacial and functional solutions, you’ll have to have a study to present to your clients often in a really tight schedule.

    But as I’ve said, people will prefer to manage, and others to design. Just keep in mind that whatever you’ll learn in school, you’ll have to learn 10x times more when you start working.

    But what’s life without any challenges?! 🙂

  • Good point Preston. The first thing I tell prospective architecture students is to find a construction job. Spend the summer, or better yet take a year off from school, and work with a residential builder, commercial subcontractor, or even a construction manager. It’s one thing to learn to design ‘pretty’ structures; it’s yet another to know how all the materials and systems integrate to make a structurally sound, energy-efficient, and at the same time, cost-efficient building.

    Studying architecture is very different from practicing architecture. Most schools do a good job of teaching the critical thinking and visual communication skills it takes to generate design solutions. You don’t have to be the best sketch artist, but it is important to find an effective style of communicating your ideas – models, 3d CAD, collage, etc. While most of the architectural schools also do a good job of teaching the ‘science’ of architecture, some schools are better than others at integrating construction technology into the design curriculum. Hence, the reason I also suggest getting some first hand construction experience.

    I think it’s more important to find a school that fits you, rather than choosing a school because of it’s pedagogy. Some of the best people I’ve worked with in architecture firms had only two year CAD degrees. They excelled because they understood the context of a project, were effective communicators, and knew how buildings were actually constructed.

    In real life, architecture is no where close to being dead. Design jobs may be more scarce because of the recession and the slow-down in construction. But given the number of physical structures that make up the built environment on this planet, there is plenty of work for architecturally-trained individuals as long as buildings need improved, altered and maintained.

    I would caution those that think that architecture is all about glamourous, award-winning design projects. Despite noble ambitions, chances are you’ll spend more time working on projects with clients who have tight budgets for modest ideas. This is where much of the negativity about the profession comes from. But an architect is needed to work on the plans for that retail center remodel, or the addition to the small industrial park office.

    Much of what is reported and discussed about the low pay, long hours and demanding clients is true…and that can be frustrating. But if you have a love for constructing things, communicating with space and tectonics, and shaping the built environment of the world, then architecture as a profession holds many possible avenues for a gratifying career.

    Bob – Thanks for this great forum and getting the discussion rolling. You have done a tremendous job shedding some light on what its like to be a part of this profession.

  • Preston

    My advice to those who are thinking of becoming an architect: work a job in construction. Even if you only work for one summer, actual construction experience will set you miles ahead of your fellow schoolmates who have absolutely no clue how things actually get built.

    • Futuristic Arch.

      I agree, I am from Melbourne, Australia. I did a double degree in Architecture and Construction Management. I am a Registered Architect working for a commercial builder and very satisfied with my choice. I feel a lot more rounded having done my construction management degree. The experience is unimaginable!

  • DAP

    My Humble Opinion:

    Architecture Everlasting:

    Burdened – Fractured – Misunderstood – Forsaken? ARCHITECTURE, the missing piece? A Place of Confusion? – The Lost Space?. The home of an architect, the house of a designer, the shelter of a visionary or a person of vision? – Forgotten, Rejected, Displaced? NOT in my life time, as short as it may be – for I will give it all I have, even if “having” is not at my best, as far as I can see. And even under the worst of times and circumstances – Unemployed, Home caged, Unneeded, Unwanted? – I will NOT Surrender, I will not give up – I will keep drawing by “Hand” and will use the rest of my tools to show others how handy – how helpful – how happy I can still BE.

    I LOVE BEING AN ARCHITECT… I love Design, designing and being a designer, an inventor, a space creator, a servant to the planning of spaces and the responsible specialist of making this “world” and better WORLD! – The accountable, capable and best trained individual for providing “Quality of Living” and Quality of Environments”. First to perform such tasks, let alone with having the capacity to feel the LOVE of doing one of the most important jobs in this planet: Designing the landscape for a deserving humanity – as if people matter – with Mother Nature in our minds, in our might and in our hearts.

    Architects – PLEASE don’t give up!… Architecture students, PLEASE be your very best and do it while holding passion in your hands. Architects “want-to-be”… PLEASE, Be IT!, be One, be the One, be the one that will help us “ARCHITECTURE Lovers”, to Love this shattered world even with more courage and care by designing better places and spaces – homes, houses, buildings and shelters, landscapes and escapes on the land; To be human and humanitarians; To be Courageous, Committed and Contagious of design excellence and anything worth LIVING FOR; To be the surveyors of all things with great truth, and purity – admirable and commendable. To be the responsible professionals with the best principles and drives to lead this spherical clutter to more peaceful and beauty defined places worth LIVING IN.

    I believe, ever so passionately, that Architecture is by far and by definition, the most desirable and needed vocation for this place we call Earth. Perhaps and only parallel to Astronomy where your search for other planets is the daily quest and ever so magnificent task – for an Astronomer, like and Architect- that at any moment can either discover a new beginning or perhaps and/or imminent global concern. I believe that Architecture and its realm of creative activity can and will be the ambit that will stitch our bounding borders, our Terra Nullius, our cultures and compromised landscapes. Here we still are, some self-driven perhaps, but still many so comforted and comforting, highly creative and hyper energized, as humble as some of us can be… we are here to do, to design for people, for the land, for the be best we can hope for, to stay and hope for the best.

    Should you need us? We have been here and there, from the most primitive hut to the hugeness of the far away new cities, for the humblest room to the private land, we are here, at our best, changing, reinventing ourselves, doing more, better and exploring new places – artists, musicians, sculptures, counselors, doctor of broken spaces, visualizers of better places – The “space” designers.

    Burdened, Forgotten, Rejected – NOT in my life time, how ever long as it might be…
    I Love Architecture – I Love Designing – I Love… Like I give a DAMN…. See you in the middle of the most difficult time on history – The core of opportunity, Candidly,
    A Resilient Architect” – XXVII A.D.

  • GreenRascal

    I agree with GardenLady.

    I was in the top 5% of my high school class, but it was a very small school. I had an architect as a mentor my last semester of hs, courtesy of a county-wide program that pairs students with mentors in any field they choose. This was a great great thing for me. I loved my mentor’s office. I even worked there part time while going to the local university to get my BS in Arch. When I graduated I worked for the same office full time, but projects were becoming smaller and less frequent, and I was not able to get a license or move up to any higher level.

    So I moved half way across the country to attend a masters program at an ivy league. Don’t ask me how I got in. I must have done something really awesome with that portfolio. I found a few other small offices to work for while at the ivy league, and when I graduated I got an awesome job at a big engineering firm too. It was CAD mokey work, but I was learning a lot too. I bought a house in the ‘burbs and got married. Then the backlog dried up, and they slashed half the staff, myself included. I was lucky to be there long enough to get authorization to test for my license though!

    Now I scrounge around for part time gigs – which there really are no “architect” jobs for me because I’m in that middle zone between inexpensive interns fresh out of college and licensed professionals with 10+ years of experience who can move across the country at the drop of a hat. Things are hard, but eventually will improve.

    I think high school graduates going into architecture might have okay timing now. If you go to a long professional program it will be better. Learn as much as possible. Go study abroad. Make sure to have a well-rounded education.

    Money spent on an architecture degree is well-spent, especially if you are going into some sub career of architecture. Find a niche. Try being an architectural critic for a magazine if you like writing. Work for a big developer and push transit oriented design if you like law.

    One of the things I was lucky enough to fall into last year was teaching 3D modeling at a small university. I never thought I’d love teaching so much. That’s part of having a well-rounded education. If you know something about a lot of different things, you can find a niche doing stuff related to architecture. Design is everywhere, haha.

    • JT

      I was thinking of teaching first year students coming out of high-school. I really want to guide them in the right way unlike some of the tutors I had in university.

  • Jeromy Murphy

    My name is Jeromy Murphy, Architect and Registered Accessibility Specialist (alternative career in architecture). I graduated from Texas Tech in 1997 and although my career path took a sharp turn right out of school, I have never regretted architecture as a career. Here are my thoughts on the questions above:
    #1 You sound like a great candidate for architecture. Math skills will benefit you greatly, especially in the structures classes. Don’t worry about free-hand drawing, this is a mostly irrelevant skill for architects these days. I know of very few architects that can draw worth a damn. But it can be useful to impress. The delineation classes at Texas Tech were designed for entry level artists, they will teach you everything you need to know. Architecture school is fun, it is especially good for visual learners. If you enjoy detail work and are clever and crafty, go to architecture school.
    #2 Don’t waste money on a fancy degree. Primarily you want a professional degree from an accredited university. Here in Texas, I have seen no advantage between graduates of UT, A&M, TTU, UH, or PVAMU. With an undergrad in hand, you should be able to get a MArch in 3 years. Architecture is NOT dead, it has just taken a hit recently. The market was lousy while I was in school in the mid 90s so the architecture graduation rate plummeted. As a result, it is not a crowded field for architects with 15 to 20 years of experience.
    #3 “He graduated from an ivy league school.” That should inform the author of question 2. The profession is not dead and it is viable. The economy sucks, that’s all. But I do recommend alternative careers in architecture such as Accessibility Specialist or Forensic Architecture.

    Best thing about architecture, is being able to say “I’m an architect” at cocktail parties.

    • Anonymous

      Saying ‘I am an architect’ at a party must be fun. Try saying, ‘ I am a derivatives trader’.

  • Bob – you are my hero. You have done a spectacular job at showing what it’s like to be an architect in your exact circumstances. You are sharing in a way that few are. and so…you are on the front line for would-be architects. They can find you online and you are massively engaging. Thanks for doing it.
    I agree w/ your other commenters, they need general information, say through AIA and NCARB. Basics. Career counselors and aptitude tests can give them specific feedback on their own capabilities and interests. “What Color is My Parachute” is good. I just found online aptitude tests in a google search.

    Re: directly personal conversations, when people come to me on twitter or my blog, I respond. And they can see what we care about via tweets and blogs, an opportunity unique to 2011. I wonder.. will it help them? I did not talk to an architect before enrolling in college. But I was very sure, the certainty of a 15 yr old! And talking w/ me gives them one perspective, mine, who doesn’t really know them. We had people stop by the office all the time, looking to see what we did b/c we were in a storefront, very visible. I think that told them more than they could get in many online conversations. Being there, among a bunch of architects working on projects. Tell those would-be’s to go find a few local firms, walk in, see what we do. They may get in the front door, maybe not. It’s a roll of the dice.
    In the online world, maybe Architizer and AIA can team up with some kind of chat board? They have the networks and massive amounts of people. Maybe as Collier says, we can try to handle it here, among the few hundred architects active in our cluster. I think that’s more fragile. That’s the problem you are having. But if Collier wants to take it on, I’ll contribute on occasion. I just think that Architizer has a better set up. They have job boards, maybe not chat boards. Might be a good thing to start. Gives newbies a global view.
    We need good people to pursue architecture so I think we all have a stake in this topic. Architecture is changing, not dead at all. Thanks for your blog post, it’s important. Feel free to send people my way, I’ll talk to them. cindy @urbanverse

    • Thanks Cindy – I hope people continue to seek you out. I mentioned to Collier that anything he could put together would be fantastic – I know he is trying to start an online community and resource for architects.

      Taking the time to respond at this point seems to be the benchmark for meeting people’s expectations. Most of the people who email me seem to be surprised that I actually respond – that doesn’t seem quite right does it?


    • Thanks Cindy – I hope people continue to seek you out. I mentioned to Collier that anything he could put together would be fantastic – I know he is trying to start an online community and resource for architects.

      Taking the time to respond at this point seems to be the benchmark for meeting people’s expectations. Most of the people who email me seem to be surprised that I actually respond – that doesn’t seem quite right does it?


  • As a non-architect I cannot comment on that aspect. But as a person who teaches at a university, I can say it’s best to follow your passion. Even if you switch careers, at least you’ll have a degree. But if you don’t follow your passion, you’ll always wonder, “what if?”

    • I would agree and tell people to embrace your advice. While telling people to pursue the idea of their dream might seem frivolous, doing the right thing for the wrong reason isn’t much better.

      Trying to the find a balance – that’s the trick isn’t it?

  • GardenLady

    There are many lofty expectations put onto an architecture career, even before it begins. It’s a pretty unique career, in the sense that it’s expected by many “outsiders” that the architect (or arch. student) must be some phenomenal artist/designer and that they are paid far too much money for their talent. Really, the architecture field embraces quite a few architects that will never attain the status of “top of their field” and even if they were, they wouldn’t necessarily be rolling in the money.

    With that said, architecture is a field in which it is not entirely necessary to even be an architect. Similarly in medicine, you can be a doctor or a nurse or a nursing assistant or an x-ray technician. That’s where the misconception with architecture arises. Laypeople assume that if you study architecture and obtain an arch. degree, then you must be an architect. There is no other job role that comes to mind for them. Even for a graduating architecture student, it is sometimes daunting to know where to start and what the ultimate goal is for your career.

    I think the best thing to do is give you an idea of who I am. I believe it will help answer many of the questions from the e-mails. I was a great student in high school, with A’s and B’s and the occasional C (I surprised myself to be in the top 12% of my class, since I had to work my butt off to get the grades…it did not come easily, like it did for many of those above me)! It was not until the summer of my Junior year of high school that I finally decided to pursue architecture, and I picked the field because I had no idea what I really wanted to do and enjoyed the idea of a major that encompassed almost everything that interested me. I was not an artist, though I had previously taken some arts classes. I also was not the best at math (I even needed a tutor at one point). However, neither prevented me from attending architecture school.

    I applied to six schools and was accepted to all of them, but made the decision to stay near home (and save some tuition cash). It was a great school, but not my first choice, if money weren’t an object. Also, it was a well-rated university for architecture, but not an Ivy League school, either (my grades were just not good enough for that). I met a lot of great people and had a great education at my local university. Also helpful was that I stayed local after school, as well, which meant that potential employers often had graduated from the same school or knew enough about it for it to be an advantage in a job interview.

    I graduated in 2000 with my B.S. in Arch. (yes, I cannot even try to become licensed w/those 4 years under my belt) and had no problem finding an internship job. I already started a family while in the middle of arch. school (seems impossible, huh? hence the 4 year degree, which took 5 years to obtain), so I needed a decent salary and it wasn’t too hard to find at the time. I then subsequently changed jobs a few times, due to moving (most of the time my salary stayed similar to when I left the previous employer’s, but it increased by about $15,000 over 7 years…not that great, I know, but there were times where is was much more of an increase than that). Each time I moved, I had no trouble finding a job. Granted, many of these jobs I was happy to move on from within a short period of time, to the point where I was seriously wondering if I wanted to continue with an architecture career in any way.

    As I stated previously, there are many jobs you can do in the arch. field. I mostly was a CAD monkey, but often had design input as well (not a whole job, but pieces of it). When I worked for an engineering company (large-scale), I had a lot more independence and a much higher salary, since the arch. design isn’t all that interesting, which they compensate you for. The great thing in a place like that, is that all of the other engineers are easily accessible to answer questions, and the benefits packages are much better than most smaller firms. Otherwise, I worked for very small firms, which I always liked better, because the work was more interesting. However, you’re a slave to many of them. If they’re off for religious holidays and that doesn’t coincide with your kids’ school breaks, then you’re taking a lot of time off (often unpaid). And, that’s a sore point, if there are deadlines, too. Also, smaller firms expect you to work more than 40 hours/week, even though you’re technically being paid for 40. Not a great situation if you have a family. In case you haven’t heard it before, architecture is not the most family-friendly career (mostly due to the hours, I think), which is hard to consider when you are young and not even in a committed relationship yet. I actually stepped back from my career to have my second child three years ago. I haven’t begun again, because I know it’s nearly impossible to find a part-time architecture job, and because my husband is an engineer (requiring extended hours, as well). It’s difficult to have an arch. career and another career job when you have a young family.

    As far as the profession no longer being viable, I don’t believe that’s really the case. There is an enormous amount of potential for architects willing to learn more and design sustainable structures, as well as retrofitting existing buildings. The career will be alive, as long as people need buildings, just as medicine and law will be around as long as people need doctors and lawyers. Sometimes, it’s tough for an architect to put the hours into learning more, though…it’s a career that consumes your life and sometimes we need a break from it. It’s hard to stay relevant without constantly learning, whether about new design methods, software, or historical precedence. Almost four years out of the profession, I can see just how much I am capable of being able to do. I see what types of other careers I could easily transition to (even if more education is necessary). I enjoy writing. I enjoy teaching. I enjoy landscape design. I even learned that I enjoy baking. I might even go as far as to say that I enjoy interior design. All of which can lead me on a path away from architecture, even if it’s not for a full-blown career, but just for a job that fits into the rest of my life. I also have the unexpected surprise of understanding what it is that I do want to do within the architecture field, should I pursue that route when my daughter begins full-time grammar school. Sometimes architects need a break from it all to figure out why they even wanted a career in architecture in the first place (I kind of forced a leave of absence on myself with a pregnancy; it’s hard for an arch. to step back after so much education and sacrifice with work and sleep over the years)!

    So, my point is that architecture really does give you a great basis, as far as education goes. It costs a lot (you will have the extra year or so, compared to other degrees, should you want to become licensed). But, if you stay local to where you currently live, in-state tuition will save you a bunch of money. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to be an astounding artist or a mathemetician or physicist to be a good architect. You do not even ultimately need to be an architect to work in the architecture field; you can focus on CAD and 3-D modeling, construction or project management, or even as a office manager for a small arch. firm. Lastly, it is difficult for many who have worked as architects to pursue a different path, if jobs aren’t abundant where you live. Sometimes, you need a “free pass” from a spouse or friend to pursue something completely different for a while, so you can refocus on what is important for you in an architecture career and what you’re willing to compromise to pursue it. It’s easy to get lost, especially after you yourself accept that you may not be the ‘top’ architect and your salary is never quite enough. 🙂

    • This is a great response – thank you so much for taking the time to respond with such a thoughtful and considered response. Your response can easily stand on it’s own.

      Thank you

    • JT

      Thank you for your post!
      I don’t have many friends from the same profession and I have too much of an ego to confide in them about what I’m going through being a graduate architect made redundant.
      But because of your post, I become more positive, re-fueled, and inspired.
      I realized, I’m not alone in this game 🙂

  • Bob, it’s good you are sharing this load.

    I won’t have time to answer at length until this evening (when I will try to respond to email #3) but I believe getting such inquires into the hands of architects with the specific knowledge and passion is a great idea.

    There may be forums for this sort of thing, but it seems to me that the architectural blogging community is best suited to address public questions. Who knows, if there was a designated “ask the architect” site that we could all promote, it could serve as a clearinghouse matching subject experts with the specific inquires.

    A FAQ page could be developed to cover most topics, links to general recourses would be another feature, and specific questions could be addressed by interested architects (as response to this specific post will indicate).

    The Internet is great for this type of information sharing.

    ‘Awesome Dude’ Borson can’t do it all.

    • Colier – you get it up and running and I will give you my efforts and my forum if you think it can help people.

      I look forward to your response to email #3.


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