What’s an architects day like?

Bob Borson —  September 24, 2012 — 40 Comments

So what exactly does an architect do all day? Chances are the answer is “a lot” and depending on the market sector in which they focus, probably something somewhat similar and somewhat unique compared to all the other architects out there working away. I thought I would put together a post that explained what I do and how I spend my time on any given day.

Of course, this was just one day … which happened to be Thursday, September 20, 2012.

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architect arrives at the office

The day started just like any other day, with me waking up at 6:00, groaning and generally wishing I didn’t have to go to work. This normally wears off by the time I have completed my shower but the likelihood that I am wishing I won the lottery at 6:01 is pretty high. I try to make it into the office early – normally before 7:15am because I have to leave at 5:00pm every day to pick my daughter up from school. I will admit that I get into work early because once I’m up, I’m ready to get busy … I don’t like sitting around (unless that’s the point because I’ve won the lottery.)

6:50am

First thing I did when I got into the office was to review a proposal for a new project we are going after that has a fast turn-around. I met with the clients yesterday afternoon (Wednesday) and they were making a decision on who they were going to hire 36 hours later … and wanted my proposal by mid-day today.

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architect sketching up a site plan

8:15am

Next up was some site plan sketches that needed to be prepared. We have a nice addition/ renovation project that I am working on and we have a client meeting tomorrow at 1:00pm. The various schemes are mostly complete but I need to put together some site plan drawings to show how the various schemes sit on the site. Nothing too tricky but I do get to pull out my Sharpie pens.

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typing up meeting minutes

8:45am

The exciting task of preparing meeting minutes for distribution. Preparing some sort of record of what was discussed, what was decided, and assigning action items is incredibly important and most residential architectural firms don’t bother. Although I will always acknowledge their value, there are fewer things that I hate doing more than preparing the meeting minutes.

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architect on the telephone

All Day Long

Generic telephone shot because I am on the phone a lot and I didn’t feel like recording each time I had a phone call. In all, I had 27 separate phone calls today … I made 19 and received 8. None of which were from my wife [sad face] she’s more of a text person since she’s in more meetings than any other human being I’ve every known. Whenever I feel like I have a lot going on, she can always scoreboard me:

Bob: Whew! Today was cray-zee! I must have received 50 emails today … AND I had 4 meetings. How does anybody expect me to get any work done if all I ever do is meet and talk about how we are going to get the work done?

Michelle: I had 50 emails before I made it into the office and had 16 meetings today. I had 3 meetings scheduled for the same time … and went to them all.

Scoreboard.

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prepare  for a schematic design presentation

10:00am

Meeting with one of the partners to review the plans and the preliminary cost estimates for the project. This was a quick meeting, we basically discussed what the roles each of us would have in the meeting – I would present the design and he would present the costs.

10:30am

More phone calls, checking on consultants, making sure that schedules will be met, and asking (a lot) “what can I do for you, is there anything you need from me?”

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architect in a tub at a vendor showroom

11:30am

Lunchtime … except I won’t be eating lunch unless I get my errands completed quickly enough. I am currently starting a renovation project on my house (see the introductory post “Working on your own house sucks“) and I had to run out and pick up some door hardware that I have to get to the door manufacturer before they will actually start making my door… I’ll go into detail on that story another day.

The place where I picked up my hardware was TKO Associates and they have a showroom full of groovy things – one of which is this freestanding bath tub from Blu Bathworks. Normally I wouldn’t lie in a tub like this but I didn’t actually want my face in the picture (it’s looking a little doughy these days…)

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door hardware for the Borson project

12:00pm

Finish playing researching in the TKO showroom and actually pick up my door hardware. Brushed Stainless Steel tubular handles from Baldwin (everybody seems to make this handle now). Now I have to drive over the Glasshouse – the people who are making this window/ door unit for me. (look at drawing #6) It is 6′-10″ high and 15′-6″ wide … should be awesome when it gets installed.

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architect driving to a meeting

1:00pm

I have a meeting over at a client’s office to review and oversee a coordination meeting between the client and their IT / Security / Phone provider. This meeting is not too exciting simply because this isn’t part of my scope of responsibility – I am there simply because the client asked me to be there. Customer service is always the #1 priority so I put on a brave face and show up.

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create CAD stair details

3:15pm

Back in the office and I am trying to work out some stair details (I hate detailing stairs – they are way more complicated than anybody who has never drawn them or built them realizes.) I designed this stair about a year ago but I wanted to adjust and supplement the details to make things as good as they could possibly be. The contractor is getting close to start the framing in this area and I don’t want to be caught with limited options because I didn’t plan ahead.

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5:00pm

Leave the office so that I can pick my daughter up from school and start working on her homework. (not that I mean that I’m doing her homework but since she just started 3rd grade, I sit with her as she’s doing it.)

6:02pm

You know that proposal I reviewed this morning? The president of the company called me at home while I was going through spelling homework with my daughter. I didn’t recognize the number so against my regular judgment I answered the call. He told me that he had some questions about the proposal I submitted this morning.

6:05pm

The president informs me that they have decided to retain our firm for the project and that they are ready for us to start work immediately. Cool … nice way to end the work day.

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The rest of the day – from 6:05pm to 11:00pm (when I generally go to sleep) is not related to what architects do … it’s what most grownups who have children do. I love being an architect but I have to carry my weight around the house (those bugs aren’t going to squish themselves.) I put this outline together and I fully expect any other architects who read it to shake their head and say to themselves “yeah, Tuesday was just like that for me.” Being an architect (for me) is a really engaging job and I love the fact that I am presented with a myriad of responsibilities and tasks to perform most days. The days of me coming into the office and drawing all day on one project are long gone – I juggle 5 or 6 most days now.

So how about it? What’s your day like?

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  • Tony

    Pretty accurate. I am a fellow architect, and I enjoy your website. Thanks!

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

      Thanks Tony – I appreciate it

  • MCR

    up by 5-5:30am – 16oz of coffee while checking emails.

    6-6:30am – deciding if riding my bike is good or just start waking up people via phone calls to discuss the days acitivities and goals

    7-7:30 – breakfast with family

    8-9am- if going out for meetings or site visits ( shower and prep)

    – if staying in the office – stick to the phone calls and start to procastinate regarding details or presentation drawings to do.

    10-12 am – meetings / phone calls / or being able to do drawings

    1-3 – drawings galore with scheduling of trips to overseas projects and preparation of needed finishing materials for the projects

    3-6pm – going to hardwares or meetings with suppliers of materials and figuring out what they have to offer.

    6-8 – dinner with family

    8-10 pm documents and pencil pushing + figuring out needed items for tom.

    i think were on the same boat…and yes i hate detailing stairs! I was laughing out load on the scoreboard conversation with your wife….

  • saqres69

    In Chicago a teacher and a police officer make more than an
    Architect, so I have to supplement.

    So I do work for a big firm and I have small work/projects and
    teaching I do on the side as well.

    Wake up at 4/4:30, start working on my side projects, 6:00 to
    7:00 at the Gym to clear my head, 8:00/8:30 I am at the office.

    At the office, it mostly sitting at my desk drawing,
    coordination meetings, answering emails….

    5:30 I leave the office to be at a teaching Gig I have that
    start at 6:00 pm few days a week, by 8:30 I am back at home.

    I then try do get some work done on my side projects for an
    1h or so and go to bed by 10:30/11:00

    The days when I am not teaching I leave the office at 6:30
    to be back at home at 7:00 and get more work done on my others projects.

    Week-ends are usually running some errands for the house on Saturday,
    teaching, clients meetings on my side projects and get most of the work /drawings
    done for my side projects as well.

  • skimpypaychek

    ok here it goes again.

    If you work for a firm that designs projects in the range from 1hundred million to 1 billion this is your typical week.

    Wake up at your desk and work – fall asleep – wake up at your desk and start working again.

    An architect that gets off at five? That will get you replaced real quick.
    Firms do not care about Family, Friends, or anything else.

    Its grind grind grind.

    And always watch your back – those smiling architects around you are just waiting to grab your work off your desk and run it to their boss and
    take the credit.

    Its a sick business but somebody has to do it,

    Oh and they will treat you extra special if you wear Designer clothes like Prada or any new fangled style. Typically Ivy League grads from rich families – They can afford to “look good” on the meager salaries they offer.

    Police officers and school teachers make more money -
    At least in Chicago.

  • skimpypaychek

    In the real world of Architects its more like this

  • Don

    Wake up at 4 or 3am (I’m an early bird). Draft, sketch, study until 6-or 6:30, go to gym for an hour or so. Make/receive calls and emails around 9 until lunch. I actually hate this part. I don’t like sitting in front of the computer or phone because I like talking to people face to face but we all know that can’t happen. Meetings outside, running errands, projects until 5-6 (or until 7-9 for those special late cases). I go out on dates, or with friends/family if I’m out early (pretty much single here) but I try to make sure I’m on my bed around 9 or 12 at most to get sleep and start the next day. All the important stuff happens in the morning (even that going to gym cause it clears my head) and all afternoon work seems just like follow ups.

  • http://www.facebook.com/maneldat Manuel Tavares

    Hi Im an architecture student in Portugal and I just read your post about ten reasons not to be an architect. I am still in my first year and Im full of doubts. Its just that this is so annoying and I fell in a depression because of working through the nights. Ive read a bit here and there that the life of an architect isnt easy AT ALL, and so passion is like fuel to endure all those hardships. I dont think I have that kind of passion about buildings and all that. It also deeply saddens me that my social life as well as my will to wake up are fading away bit by bit. Sometimes I think about droping out, but I just dont know I feel desperate. What d you think? Should I drop out or endure the pain? Even if you dont answer, thank you all the same.

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

      Manuel,
      Nobody can answer this question for you. If you already think you’ve made a mistake, chances are that you have. It is also just as likely that you haven’t been at it long enough to know what you want.

      Nothing easy is worth doing but if it doesn’t satisfy some portion of you it might be time to re-evaluate.

  • shilli

    i’m thinking about changing my major from software engineering to architecture and minoring in computer science. But is it very hard to get a job as an architect with a bachelors only? I love computers but ive wanted to be an architect since forever and am always wanting to go to the architecture classes everyday. Is the economy for architects really that bad? GIve me some advice please and thank you

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

      I just have a Bachelor’s degree (granted it is a 5 year professional and from one of the best schools in the country…)

      US Dept of Labor and Statistics predicts that architecture will be a growing field over the next 20 years

  • Katie10

    I am a third year architecture student and I am pleased to hear that the all nighters seem to stop once you are an architect as a profession. My day usually starts at 8 am when I wake up usually 2 hours before I have class. I get work done before class, mostly things I did not finish the night before or had no time to do, and I have class at 11. I then have class til 12 and then again at 1. Typical college students would go home to eat lunch, but not architecture students. About 90% of the class packs a lunch so we can work at studio. We then have studio from 1-5…but it doesnt stop there. I am usually up until around 3 am each night working on projects and homework. I am exhausted. I’ve wanted to be an architect since I was 8 years old. I was always drawing houses and playing Sims (just to build the houses) and it is just so discouraging when I am so overworked like this. The lack of sleep is really taking its toll on my mental and physical well being.
    Would you say architecture school was harder than actually being an architect? I am looking for encouragement that it gets better but a straight forward answer is appreciated

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

      your question has nuances to it – the time requirements for being an architecture student versus being an architect are wildly different (architects work way less than students). But all the pressure you feel in school is self-applied whereas your job requires a bit more attention to deadlines and deliverables. As a result, I look back on my time and school and realized that I loved it – real work is more stressful but more rewarding – now our projects actually get built.

      Cleared that right up didn’t I? Nothing is as easy as we would like it to be.

    • Juan Carlos

      When at school you are learning, projects may result more complicated and difficult to get done, consuming many hours of work and re-work, it is normal and necessary. With experience getting a project done may come more natural and within a precise time limit. When I was a student many things I didn’t get them, but now I do, it is a growing process and experience helps a lot. Will you be a good architect or a awful architect? Who knows! Many architects I know are terrible designers and they never “got it” but that is a complete different subject.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.a.fournier Jason Fournier

    It’s funny how different and similar a day in the life of an architect can be.

    I have been in a large (50,000 people globally) practice for the last 6 years, of which, 5 of them have been in the Middle East. The scale of project I am involved in is larger than those you are involved with (or I was involved with in the States) but the nature of the design studio is fundamentally the same.

    I have three primary roles; face the client, give design oversight and fill out lots of paperwork.

    Even though our office opens at 8:30am I am in the office at 7:00…it gives me an hour or so to get my work done. Running a large studio that usually has three or four huge projects simultaneously with upwards of 30 people (architects…not including building engineers and infrastructure engineers) to keep productive my day starts before theirs so that when the project managers sit at their desks to start their day they have clear direction and can make the most of the day ahead.

    Facing the client here is very different than in the U.S. I have to be in Dammam, Doha, Riyadh, Jeddah, Dubai and Basra in any given week and have to deal with consultants from Australasia, Asia, Europe and North America so though the nature of the work is the same the level of coordination is quite different. It is not uncommon to be on the phone very late into the evening to connect with consultants on the west coast of the States.

    And, like you I have a family so I have to slip out and pick up my 4 year old from Kindergarten as well as read him his bedtime story.

    Thanks for the post…it was nice to see a day in context and give me the chance to think about my own day.

  • Mr.Adams

    Thank you Bob for your post, I believe it is wonderful. From my perspective your day is very strenuous but it seems all worth it at the end of the day no matter the outcome because of the great objects that you conquered throughout the day. Im in the military for the time being and have always been interested in architecture, your post make me want to pursue the architecture industry. Ive sketched pretty much all my life and have decided to pursue this dream. Thank you.

  • zack

    is it true that most architects drive Saab?

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

      is Saab still making cars? (take that as a “no” to your question)

    • Alditype

      I drive an Audi. Architects recognize the beauty and great design as well as safety and functionality.

  • Jacob

    I’m an architecture student at the University of Memphis and I have read 5 of your posts in the past half hour. I really enjoy them and have learned from each of them, mostly because everything (even the somewhat negative ones) has supported my career choice. I have made the right decision. My only concern is that I’m a big family man. Do you feel like you spend enough times with your family? Seems like in every movie where the husband has to be a jerk who’s too busy with work and cancels the weekend fishing trip with his son, he’s always an architect. Tell me this isn’t true!!

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

      I work about 45 hours in a typical week, maybe 50 in a busy week (which happens just a few times a year). I come in early and leave at 5:0 almost every day.

      Some firms have a culture where everyone works all the time – we don’t think that is a sustaining model so we go to great lengths to keep that from happening.

  • Mingy

    Thank you Bob, this has really helped me to understand career as an architect, my normal day routine as a student teacher was 9-3 school with kids and as a pharmacist was 8 till 8 until shop closed operating dispensary, I guess though if an architect had their own architecture firm or did contracts, would be working more flexibly, which I’m after,,

  • MEL99

    Where does your wife work? What does she do??

  • KAT

    You work a long day! I’m still on hourly, so unless I get overtime approved, I have to make do with just 8 a day and no more.

    And I have to confess….I like doing meeting minutes, except when I really want to record that someone said something really stupid or were complete jerks, but I can’t really write that.

  • http://twitter.com/DoubleEmpty MMP

    Very interesting and entertaining article….Thank you!

    • http://twitter.com/DoubleEmpty MMP

      Is that a Chevy Tahoe in the driving pic?

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

        yes – I drive a Black Chevy Tahoe (insert inappropriate “man” joke)

  • http://twitter.com/mizblueprint Juliana Inman

    Hmmm. In the office (@ home for last 22 years) at 7:30. Furiously finish historical resource evaluation and CEQA findings for an historical winery “up valley”. Email/send to Owner & County at 9:00 am. Fix oversized photo exhibit and re-send at 9:20. Read/respond to daily avalanche of email till 10:00. Phones till 11:00. Local politics till 12:00 (City Council hat.) Noon Rotary meeting till 1:30. Meet LAFCO staff in the driveway (more City Council). 2-3:00 work on HVAC coordination for project in construction document phase. Email till 3:30. 5 minute phone interview with newspaper (City Council). 3:35 – 4:30 – prepare invoices for 4 jobs. Hate this part and wish I had someone else to do it. 4:30 – 4:45 client stops by with fire sprinkler scope of work and contract for project in plan review. 4:45 till 5:15 more invoice work. Writing this summary and re-thinking the day – 5:15-5:25. It was a good day. I was offered free tickets to a wine event this Saturday by a client, but have a schedule conflict. I will be able to pay myself next month.

  • ChristopherSipesRA

    Monday: in the office at 6AM, client meeting at 930, existing measurements at 1130, finish work at 245 to coach MS soccer at 345, then coach HS soccer matches at 530 and 7PM (neither of which are my kids teams). Home at 10. Respond to client email hiring me for residential addition. Not a bad day,….

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

      wow … I hope you like soccer. I think at times people underestimate the value of getting an early go at things. 6am is early (says the guy who got to work today by 6:30am).

  • http://twitter.com/remarchitect Robert Moore

    When I was your age and had young children my day was similar to yours. Now that they are grown(?) and I have been practicing for 30 years my day is still quiet similar to yours. Congratulations on getting the project!

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

      Thanks Robert – I hope that my days are similar to yours in 15 more years (since my daughter will technically be “grown” by that point)

      Cheers!

  • http://twitter.com/FivecatStudio Mark R. LePage, AIA

    Wow! Very interesting how similar my typical days is (right down to the 3rd grader).. except that being a business owner as well as an architect, I wear a few more hats requiring a few additional daily tasks. Thanks for sharing your day.

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

      I would imagine being a business owner also adds a few hours to your day as well!

  • http://twitter.com/Alexandrafunfit Alexandra Williams

    I”m not an architect, but I’ll still say what my typical day is. During the UCSB quarter, I teach 3 classes in a row, starting at 0800. Then I run errands down the hill (I live up a mountain pass). then work on the computer for my other job (self-employed) before running back down the hill to pick up my son from high school. On the days I don’t teach, I do the computer and fit in a workout or walk. Wow, I just bored myself with that explanation.

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

      (I wasn’t going to say anything…)

      sounds like a lot of pokers in the fire, but since I know that you go on lots of walks on the beach, I won’t feel to bad for you :)

  • BobM

    My day is much like that but I have a LONG commute, answer questions from team members all day and make sure computers keep running (and keep up on all MY project work) Then LONG commute home and homework duties with my 3rd grader also.

    Good stuff.

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

      Thanks Bob. It will be interesting to hear just how similar (in one form or another) how the typical day of an architect goes.

      Cheers

  • ashok babu

    You are lucky to be able to wind it up by 5 PM….

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

      it speaks to our corporate culture. I have things I need to get done – normally I can get them done during regular business hours. There are, however, many times when I have evening and weekend meetings since our clients typically work and frequently need to meet outside those “normal” working hours.