Mar9“My daughter/son is interested in becoming an architect – what is involved?” Since there are so many different ways to be an architect, there are many answers. There of course, are the basics, like working hard, good grades, graduating high school, going to college. It helps to be artistic in some capacity. I have to say, it’s definitely an interesting career and seems to catch people’s attention when it comes up in discussions. There are so many different types of architect that I have known – some are extremely good with the technology side, being excellent in science side of building, structural engineering whizzes, great detailers. There are also the artists that have great vision and wonderful communication skills to illustrate a building or design concept. There are visionaries and thinkers that have far-reaching concepts about urban planning and revitalization. All make good architects in different aspects of the field. College administrators sometimes say that a degree in architecture is really a problem solving degree – taking a challenge (needing more space or a new building) and finding different solutions to solve the problem (providing schematic designs, researching new properties). There is never one right way to solve an architectural problem, and it’s important as an architect to understand the parameters and boundaries of the site limits, budget constraints and scheduling and making sure to serve the client (they are the one paying the bills after all).
An architect is not always “Mike Brady” designing a building. Sometimes they serve their communities on Planning Commissions (like I do), as code officials, zoning officers, or as elected officials and get involved in government affairs. Some help in other industries, solving design challenges or coming up with prototype designs within a larger corporation. Furniture and product design attracts many architects, and others have gotten involved in theatrical work doing lighting or set design or are working for companies such as Disney and Pixar, designing virtual worlds.
I am always encouraging students to investigate different career paths all the time – not just on “bring your kid to work” day or for a school project. This is especially important over summer breaks – the rest of the world is still working, why not send your teen along with a friend to learn about their job, even if for only an hour…I have had many students shadow me at the offices where I have worked and it has always been a fun experience not only for them, but for me. I have been willing to donate that time to encourage their pursuit of a career, whether in architecture, interiors or engineering. I love seeing someone excited about a possible career, they get a lot out of seeing what I do and the skill set needed to be an architect, and it reminds me of where I came from and where I am now.
Throughout my 20 years of experience, I have worked with many architectural interns in different firms and try to give them advice to try out several aspects of their career choice. Maybe their ideal job is interning in a tiny office where they are drafting one minute, visiting a construction site with their employer another minute, and taking the garbage out the next. Or maybe it is working in a huge, famous architecture firm, where they can talk to many different department heads, see lots of different types of projects (even if they are only drawing a small portion of one large project during their entire summer position) and have a vast array of “experts” from which they can gain insight. Even just touring architecture firms’ offices (sometimes local AIA chapters have meetings at different firms – what a good chance to network, learn about firms, and meet other architects! You never know when you will need your next job…), talk to riends about the firms they work for, learn as much as you can so you can decide what will be a good fit for their career. I have yet to find an architect who doesn’t love to talk about what they do – so it doesn’t hurt to ask! I always encourage my interns to explore while they are young (and typically unattached permanently to any one location), find what is a good fit for their personality and lifestyle and try as many different types of firms as they can (this, however, is contrary to most employers, in that most firms want to keep the interns they spend money training…I’d rather send them out, have them explore and then decide if my firm was the perfect fit for them, bringing back experience from other aspects of the field). How will you know if you love the corporate and structured environment of a large firm or would rather join a small firm in the middle of a 5 acre farm with just a few coworkers (including a few cats, chickens, sheep and yes, at one point, even a llama) unless you try them on for size?
Every single firm I have worked for was in invaluable source of knowledge and experience and I wouldn’t trade any one of my intern architect positions for anything. So when your kid tells you she or he is thinking about being an architect, help them find one locally that they can talk to or visit…or tell them to call me.