Is it too late to get out of Architecture?

John Picacio's cover art for 'AGE OF MISRULE: WORLD'S END'

Within the last few months, the number of emails I have received from people asking whether or not they should get out of architecture has been staggering. Equally surprising are the emails I receive that ask for direction on whether or not they should go into the field of architecture. The answer to both questions is easy:

Maybe?

For some people, the first question I ask them – the ender question, is always the same:

“Why do you want to be an architect?”


If the answer is I have always wanted to be an architect, I move on to the next few questions. A person’s motivation for becoming an architect is singularly important. I went to college to become an architect while my friends simply went to college. My resolve and dedication towards becoming an architect was tempered by many all-nighters, 207 credit hours (187 required for my degree), and no fraternity for me – nobody who graduated from the University of Texas School of Architecture the same time as I did was in a fraternity (or sorority) – you just didn’t have the time.

It was hard to get to where I am at right now and the people who were doing it because they thought it would be cool, for the money, or some other reason other than ‘I have always wanted to be an architect” didn’t make it. If there is something else out there calling to you, architecture probably isn’t for you. I haven’t regretted my decision ever.

Ever.

Sure, there have been loads of times when I wished I didn’t work as much as I do, made more money; I even get tired of the ladies who are “architect groupies ” following me around. It’s tough but I have always wanted to be an architect.

This is a portion from an email I recently received which actually got me thinking about this post. The person who sent this loves to design and thinks about it all the time … it’s how she spends her free time, she travels to locations, she studies buildings, she even tracks down the designers in these locations and goes and meets them. In her words:

I really love this stuff, but know that I might have problems working for clients. I can see my temperament not quite matching up with that process. I’m a bit stubborn. And also impatient.

It’s hard, I always wanted to be an artist, and now I can’t figure out how to be a designer.

The traits that she describes won’t keep her from becoming an architect or designer – in fact, I would also suggest that these are important traits that any successful designer should have. Also, if her stubbornness and impatience are so uncontrollable as to be a real problem, she’ll have issues in any profession other than ‘Hermit’. In my response email to her, I included a list of quality architecture programs near her and should she decide to pursue a Master’s degree in architecture, I think she’ll do really well.

As to the emails that are asking if they should get out out of architecture – that one is more difficult to address. Architects aren’t the only professionals that are suffering right now. In my mind, it’s similar to changing jobs because you don’t like someone where you are working – not a real good reason if it’s the only one because you probably won’t like someone at the next job either.

I still like to try and find out why a person who has gone through the process to become an architect is thinking about leaving. Have your motivations for being an architect changed? Is it circumstantial? Maybe it’s simply that you want to make more money or you simply hate the job that you currently have. I can appreciate why someone would like to make more money but are you worth more money doing what you currently do? For example, in my circumstance I am well paid for a 10 person residential firm considering my name isn’t on the front door. If I wanted to be paid more, my first couple of possible moves would involve looking at larger firms or more commercially focused production firms, not becoming a lawyer. For me, it would be about trying to find a balance and still continue practicing architecture, not changing professions.

I’ve always been pretty good at shooting the bull and have been told I would have been awesome at sales. The very idea of selling anything just to be selling anything would literally make me shrivel up and die. To my way of thinking, I would be better served by investing ALL of my time and resources into winning the lottery before selling paper or plastic o-rings. While both would probably ruin me and force me into living in a cardboard refrigerator box in some alley, going into sales would probably add “crazy” and “pavement licker” to my resume.

When trying to select an appropriate image for this post, my mind started wandering a bit and it landed on John Picacio. John and I went to architecture achool together and we both spent time in Europe traveling together in 1990. John and I were never all that close but even 20 years later I can still remember John’s sketches; they were ridiculously good. I still see one sketch in particular in my mind’s eye. John and I were in Siena, Italy, and John was drawing the Piazza del Campo. He was using the white of the paper as much as his sketch pen to bring the buildings to life and it was simply amazing to see. We lost touch after awhile but I always thought he was so good at drawing, why would he be an architect? Apparently John came to the same conclusion and is now an internationally recognized and award winning illustrator.

And I say good for him.

John could always draw better than the people who taught our drawing classes and he figured out that this was something he would rather do than pursue a career in architecture. I’d say it’s worked out pretty well for him. So if you’re interested in becoming an architect because it’s all you’ve ever wanted to do than I would heartily urge you to continue on towards your goal. If you want to become an architect for the groupies, money and fast cars, you might want to reevaluate your options. I’m not suggesting that it can only be one or the other but if you’re already unsure … you’ve got some difficult roads to travel in front of you.

What would you say to someone contemplating a change? Things will get better but will it be worth sticking around? Doctor’s are starting to run into problems but we’ll always need them. Lawyer’s have their issues too, but unlike architects who are working themselves towards irrelevancy, at least Lawyer’s make it so we can’t get rid of them. Architecture defines me and I wouldn’t like to envision myself doing something else – but what about the people who don’t know? What would you tell them?

Original Post and Comments from Life of an Architect

Cite: Borson, Bob. "Is it too late to get out of Architecture?" 27 Sep 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 Jul 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=170179>

15 comments

  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Interesting post. I would like to hear about these architecture groupie ladies, you may have just revealed an unexpected perk to the profession :)

  2. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    For me, if someone is considering droping out architecture, I just have to say, leave it fast. Architecture is a way of being from an individual to the society. Once an architect you embody it, there’s no turning back. If it’s not part of ourselves, let it just go, and not just architecture, but for almost everything else.

    My personal view on the matter.

  3. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    I dont think anybody would want to get out of Architecture simply because they dont enjoy it anymore. Its probably because unless youre working for a huge multi-million dollar firm most of the smaller (7-8 people) firms are having a hard time staying afloat because there’s no jobs and the jobs that are there are being snatched by these multi-million dollar firms and for most smaller jobs, clients dont like paying their bill. Architecture, sketching, desigining, is an amazing thing, running a business in it as a small firm during these tough economical times is a different story.

  4. Thumb up Thumb down +5

    I am one of these confused people. And I could use some help.

    I’m currently a studying architecture. However, I am having doubts. I know I am going into the field for the right reasons. I have been fascinated with it since I was a little girl. However, I am worried about the actual nature of the job. I am all for putting my nose to the grindstone to get through school and in fact, I enjoy it most of the time. But, the same note, I don’t want to grow up and be one of those parents that puts more into my career than their children. Everyone is always talking about the long hours, and I’m wondering how are Architects manage to find balance in their life. I’m fine with skipping out on the sorrorities/ fraternities, like you mentioned, but I don’t want to skip out on baseball games and PTA meetings.

  5. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    Great article for a guy working in the profession. I’d like to hear from the ones who are not. I finished studying in 2008 and haven’t been able to get a job in the field yet. Why shouldn’t I have given up? The industry is completely decimated. Mr. Borson is the same type of Right-wing hypocrite that would criticize people who had there home’s foreclosed as opposed to the banks who gave them the mortgages!

  6. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    “….unlike architects who are working themselves towards irrelevancy…”

    why do you say this?

  7. Thumb up Thumb down -3

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  8. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    If people ask this question (Is it too late to get out of Architecture?), it means they’re still IN Architecture and they still have a choice. How about those many who are already out, FORCED OUT, of the profession after layoffs and years of unemployment? What’s their choice and their question? Probably “How to get back into Architecture and is it worth it?”. Far more interesting topic for a growing number of people.

  9. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    GET OUT! While you still can. I graduated 2 years ago I still have no time for any life and still am barely able to feed myself and pay rent. I have worked at a number of offices and this is endemic in the industry….

  10. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    If you’re asking yourself this question? Then yes, get out… In this economy, if you aren’t fully committed, you aren;t going to make it.

  11. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    Very interesting post indeed.

    I worked as an architect for 5 years before I decided to move on. I was good at my job, got promoted very quickly through the ranks, and was one of the youngest ever to become a Project Architect in a medium sized firm of 50 people. But unfortunately I was an entrepreneur at heart and an Architecture firm startup where I would be doing house extensions and bathroom renovations just didn’t appeal to me. As at that point I was working on project that were $20-50M.

    So what did I do? On Christmas Eve one year, I bit the bullet and resigned. I was always doing IT around the office and was also the CAD manager when I had spare time. And I decided that I would instead pursue a business in IT which would be faster growing and more dynamic. I would provide IT and CAD/BIM support to Architects and Engineers. I started an IT business called ‘emagin8′ (www.emagin8.com.au) – we would provide imaginative solutions to Architect’s IT problems. This is our 8th year in business in Melbourne, Australia and around 70% of our clients are Architects. On the day that I resigned I had zero clients and looking back it was a bold move but I have never regretted.

    I am often asked if I miss Architecture, and to be honest I do miss it at times. But an Architecture course really boils down to imaginative problem solving skills – a skill which I manage to utilise on a daily basis.

  12. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    Get out while you still can is my suggestion to anyone who doubts their choice of architecture. After 20 years in the game I wish that I had never become an architect. I love it but the reality of making a living and working for an office is just not a nice life. Especially so working a standard 12 hour day knowing that 4 hours are unpaid. I recently ploughed through about 1000 resumes of all levels of architect and they all had one thing in common except for the recent grads ..everyone had jumped around from office to office staying only 1 to 3 years ..so not a stable profession and you can guarantee economic cycles bringing at least 1 recession each 10 years putting the lot of us out of work. And now with BIM a counter intuative software that is less drawing and more database management the pleasure of the art of architecture is gone. I believe that architecture is the emperors new cloths!

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