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:


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

“Why do you want to be an architect?”

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.


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

About this author
Cite: Bob Borson. "Is it too late to get out of Architecture?" 27 Sep 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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