5 Things I Love and Hate About Being an Architect
Although I’ve been a licensed architect for a little over a year, I’m still relatively young in the profession of architecture with a total of 4 years and 3 months of professional experience. In this time, I’ve been able to exponentially grow, take on more responsibility, and climb the corporate ladder at my firm. During this time, I’ve had observations of my peers and personal experiences that I’ve loved and hated. Here are 5 things that I love and hate about being an architect.
1. Going from lines on paper to a real structure
I remember a field trip that I planned in my first year of graduate school to visit several local firms with a group of students. After a week of asking my professors and friends to connect me with some local firm leaders, I was able to set up a handful of trips with about 10 students. During one of these trips, I remember asking one of their architects, “What is the most exciting part of being an architect?”
Her answer is one that now resonates with me, which was, “I love coming up with a design on paper, showing it to my client, incorporating their feedback, and seeing the ideas come to life.” Today, I’ve been able to see several projects that I worked closely with our clients on from the conceptual stages through to construction and inhabitation by our clients. It truly is a great moment when you find yourself physically walking through a building that was once an idea in your mind.
2. An unexpected sense of respect
Before I got licensed, I remember having a weird sense of embarrassment whenever someone asked me what I did for a living and I said I was an intern at an architecture firm with a Masters degree and some experience in the profession. At the time, I knew that I could’ve simply said, “I’m an architect in training and I’m working towards licensure” or “I’m a designer at an architecture firm”, but deep down I needed my architect license to validate the title.
After I got licensed, I feel confident telling people that I’m an architect working at so and so firm on such and such projects. I’ve started to realize that there’s a sense of respect that I get from many people who I tell that I’m an architect. From the outside, people who aren’t in the profession perceive architects of being in a higher status. It’s similar to how people view lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc..
3. Knowing a little about everything
As an architect, every project that we work on involves basic knowledge of every building trade. This includes the building’s structure, mechanical system, electrical system, plumbing, fire protection, building codes, landscaping, and so on and so forth. Although it would be fantastic if I had the ability to learn all there is to know about every building trade, it’s impossible to master them because they’re constantly expanding.
So, being an architect requires that you know enough about every discipline to be able to orchestrate a team of consultants and bring a project together. As the person in the middle of all the trades, it’s important for an architect to bring up issues between the different disciplines in a project such as a duct going through a steel beam. We also need to know how to control our project costs and meet our client’s budget.
Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by all of the information that comes to me, but as I continue practicing as an architect, I’m finding that it’s slowly becoming easier to manage.
4. Constant collaboration
Being at the office can get boring if all I did was always sit at my desk in silence without any interaction with others. Luckily, being an architect requires constant collaboration with the project manager and younger architects to develop designs, details, graphics, etc... Although there are days when my phone doesn’t ring and I’m focused on developing a new Revit model or making revisions for a set of construction documents, I usually have a lot of opportunities to collaborate on a project or chat with the people who sit around me. With the constant collaboration, my time in the office is enjoyable and time goes by quickly.
5. Never ending creative ideas
My favorite part of architecture is the conceptual design and the construction document stages where you come up with the ideas for the building and then develop the details to make it a reality. As I continue to pursue design competitions and my 30x30 projects, I find that my passion for creative thinking is constantly growing. In fact, my creativity spans beyond the realm of architecture into other areas of my life such as product design, graphic design, and photography.
1. Age is a sign of knowledge, skill, and expertise
When I entered the profession of architecture, I quickly realized that there’s a big correlation between my age and the way that people perceive my knowledge, skill, and expertise. In most cases, when people find out that I’m a young architect, 27 years old, with 4 professional years of experience, there’s an instantaneous switch where they’ll ask questions to test whether or not I’m capable for a certain role or task.
This correlation between age and one’s knowledge or skillset needs to change because there are lots of younger architects who are looking to grow and continue learning who are more than capable of taking on larger roles and tasks. A collaborative group that is inclusive of all ages is capable of achieving greater goals.
2. Being used as a tool
Every architect has been through the early stages of their career where they’re given redlines to revise on a set of drawings. I’ve observed some of my peers who have been in the profession for over 10 years who are still drafts people who are given red lines to revise drawings in AutoCAD, Revit, or other drafting software. If you’re in this position and despise it, talk to your employer and seek change or move on.
Today, there are times when I get a set of redlines for a construction document set that my team put together and regardless of roles, we all work together to make the corrections. In fact, it’s a learning experience where we’ll develop the design and construction documents together, get our set reviewed by someone outside of the project team, and then revise the set based on a discussion that we have on the markups.
3. Unrealistic expectations from other architects
When I started working as a young architect, I was, and still am, passionate about all of the work that I am doing at the firm. With every project, I would ask my team members and others in the office about the best approach for a specific task such as reviewing product submittals for a project or drawing a specific detail. After some time, I began taking on larger roles on projects and helping others develop details.
One day, I was meeting with an architect who was much older than I am who told me that they understand I’m trying to grow and climb the corporate ladder, but I need to understand that there are dues that every architect has to pay. This architect then went on to saying that young architects just have to accept the fact that they need to draw bathroom elevations and details for a year like everyone else, including themselves, had to do when they were young architects.
I wholeheartedly disagree. There are no dues that any architect has to pay and there is no dreary path of bathroom details that every young architect needs to walk. Everyone has their own passion and ambitions as an architect and it’s up to them to forge the path to the life that they want to have as an architect.
4. Being expected to do free work for friends and family
One of the first things that a friend said to me when I told them I would be going to college to study architecture was, “Great! You’ll design my future house for me for free right?” I’m sure other architects have and are still hearing this from their family and friends. Although this is typically meant as a joke from some of my friends, I now lightly mention that my time and energy has worth.
At first, I thought this would lead down a bad path where my friends would think that I couldn’t take a joke or that I was money hungry, but it has actually led to meaningful conversations. In fact, I spoke to a good friend of mine about my plans to start a business in the future and he had a few projects in mind. It’s now a project that we’re working through the logistics of and eventually, we’ll bring it into my firm and make it a great project!
5. Lack of diversity in the profession
Everyone knows that there’s an issue of diversity in the profession of architecture and it’s something that needs to change. My reason for hating the lack of diversity is that I typically find myself in meetings where I’m the only person of color. I also find myself in many meetings where there’s a lack of females. Although I often don’t realize this until the meeting is over, there are times when I feel uneasy with certain jokes that are told at these meetings. In an ideal world, there would be a room full of different genders and races sharing ideas and collaborating to meet project goals.
As time goes on and I continue growing as an architect, this list of things that I love and hate about being an architect continues to evolve. Some things that I once hated have slowly become something that I enjoy because I understand the reasons and the importance of them. Others that I once loved have slowly transitioned to things that are just a part of the profession. Ultimately, this list is different for other architects and I’m sure you have a few items that you’d add or take away from this list.
If you do, feel free to let me know in the comments section below!