19 Notable Figures Who Left Architecture to Follow Other Career Paths

What do Ice Cube, the members of Pink Floyd, and Seal have in common with fashion icon Tom Ford and former president Thomas Jefferson? They all studied architecture. Perhaps a representation of the diversity of talents in architecture studios, household names like Samuel L. Jackson and Courteney Cox found their footing as students of architecture prior to reaching success in other fields. 

We've put together a list of some of the most unexpected names gracing the yearbooks of architecture schools from around the world, including the likes of Queen Noor of Jordan and George Takei of Star Trek fame. Discover "Weird Al" Yankovic's true (architectural) passions after the break.

19 Notable Figures Who Left Architecture to Follow Other Career Paths - More Images+ 13

Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright

Three of Pink Floyd's five founding members, Waters, Mason, and Wright met while studying architecture at Regent Street Polytechnic in London, now known as the University of Westminster. After two years of architectural studies, Waters was dismissed due to a lack of interest in the history of building design and thorough disdain for critiques. The three would ultimately leave Westminster to pursue music, and have attributed inspiration for the iconic ballad "The Wall" to their time at Westminster. In 1969, Pink Floyd released "Music for Architectural Students," an album dedicated to their period spent in studio.

Ice Cube

Ice Cube. Image via Flickr Creative Commons user Eva Rinaldi

Perhaps the most surprising entry on this list, American rapper Ice Cube studied architectural drafting at the Phoenix Institute of Technology beginning in 1987, earning a diploma in draughtsmanship a year later. Ice Cube is said to have been inspired by the architecture of Southern California, particularly by the designs of The Eames House. Shortly after founding hip hop group N.W.A., Ice Cube began his studies in architecture as a failsafe for his career in music.

Bill Gaytten

Best known as the creative director of fashion house John Galliano, Gaytten began as a student of the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London. Upon completion of his studies, Gaytten found himself working for designer Victor Edelstein, followed by a 23-year stint at Dior before taking the helm at Galliano after the departure of its namesake.

Queen Noor of the Kingdom of Jordan

Queen Noor of Jordan. Image via Flickr Creative Commons user Skoll World Forum

Born Lisa Halaby of Washington, D.C., Jordan's Queen Consort and widow to former King Hussein studied architecture and urban planning at Princeton University. Entering university in 1969, Noor belonged to Princeton's first co-educational class. Upon graduation, Noor traveled to first Australia to pursue her career as an architect, subsequently accepting a job with British firm Llewelyn-Davies Weeks to work on a masterplan for Tehran. Shortly thereafter, Noor met Hussein and moved to Jordan, and has since served as a philanthropist and activist on an array of issues worldwide.


Seal. Image © Featureflash / Shutterstock.com

Famous singer of "Kiss by a Rose" and former husband to model Heidi Klum, Seal - born Henry Olusegun Adeola Samuel - studied architecture in London. After two years of study, Seal received an associate degree in architecture, subsequently working at a series of firms while concurrently developing an interest in music.

Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L Jackson. Image © DFree / Shutterstock.com

Prolific American actor Samuel L. Jackson first embarked on architectural studies at Morehouse College in Atlanta before transferring to dramatic arts. Unsurprisingly, Jackson graduated in 1972 with a degree in acting, subsequently abandoning his interest in architecture in favour of a career in film.

Courteney Cox

Courteney Cox. Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com

Best known for her role as Monica Geller on sitcom 'Friends,' Cox briefly studied architecture at Mount Vernon College in Washington D.C. Partially into her degree Cox withdrew to pursue a modelling career in New York City.

Tom Ford

Tom Ford. Image © Joe Seer / Shutterstock.com

Before launching his iconic self-named brand, American Fashion designer and filmmaker Tom Ford studied architecture at New York's Parsons School of Design at The New School. Ford spent a portion of his degree studying at the school's Paris campus, discovering French architecture and fashion simultaneously. Ford's architectural influences can be seen in his film "A Single Man," set in a 1960s modernist Los Angeles bungalow.

Aishwarya Rai

Aishwarya Rai. Image © Ilona Ignatova / Shutterstock.com

Known across India as one of Bollywood's most successful actors, Rai enrolled in architecture at Rachana Sansad's Academy of Architecture in Mumbai prior to her success in film. After a brief period of architectural study Rai began a pursuit of modelling, ultimately winning the Miss World Pageant for India in 1994.

George Takei

George Takei. Image via Flickr Creative Commons user TEDxKyoto

Primarily known for his role as Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek, George Takei began as a student of architecture at University of California, Berkeley. Takei pursued architecture for a brief period, choosing to transfer his studies to the dramatic arts before beginning a highly successful career on television.

Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy

Born in 1840, Hardy was an English novelist and poet and was known to be admired by then aspiring writer Virginia Woolf. Hardy began as an apprentice at the age of sixteen, working under architect Thomas Hicks before beginning his formal education in Dorchester, and subsequently King's College London. Before beginning his career as a writer, Hardy won numerous awards from the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Architectural Association, in addition to his role in the construction of London's historic St. Pancras Station.

Art Garfunkel

One half of the famous duo Simon & Garfunkel, Art Garfunkel is a dynamic player in the arts community, having dabbled in music, film, poetry, and architecture. Garfunkel attended Columbia University in New York City where he studied architecture, ultimately graduating with a degree in art history in 1962. Curiously, Garfunkel completed a graduate degree in mathematics in 1967 and began work on a doctorate in the same field, abandoning it at the peak of Simon & Garfunkel's success. In 1969, the band recorded "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright," an homage to one of Garfunkel's architectural heroes.

Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu. Image © yakub88 / Shutterstock.com

Israel's current Prime Minister holds two degrees from MIT, one in architecture and another in management. Netanyahu's time at MIT was defined by a period of instability in his home country, leading him to complete his four year architecture degree in two and a half in order to return to his role in the military. When describing his former student, MIT Architecture Professor Emeritus Leon B. Groisser said of Netanyahu: "He was very bright. Organized. Strong. Powerful. He knew what he wanted to do and how to get it done."

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson was indeed a practicing architect, but led a double life as President of the United States. He gained some success as an architect despite an absence of formal training: he learned all he knew from books on classical European architecture, notably Palladio's The Four Books of Architecture. He was particularly inspired by Italian architecture and is credited with the introduction of numerous Palladian elements to the American architectural landscape. In 1772, Jefferson built a residence for himself in Virginia and named it Monticello. The house consequently established what would be later known as 'Jeffersonian Architecture.'

"Weird Al" Yankovic

Weird Al Yankovic. Image © s_bukley / Shutterstock.com

Born Alfred Matthew Yankovic, the parody artist studied at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, graduating with a degree in architecture. Yankovic's career took a sharp turn away from architecture shortly after completion of his degree, beginning a multi-decades long career in music and record production.

James "Jimmy" Stewart

Jimmy "James" Stewart

Star of It's a Wonderful Life and frequent co-star of Katharine Hepburn, Stewart studied architecture at Princeton University in New Jersey. Although he aspired to be a pilot for the United States Navy, his father persuaded him to attend Princeton where he excelled as a student and was awarded a graduate scholarship for his design of an airport terminal. Stewart never pursued graduate studies in architecture, but went on to enjoy a highly successful career and appeared in over 92 films.

Ralf Hütter

Image © Miroslav Bolek. CC BY-SA 3.0

The founder, lead singer and keyboardist for German band Kraftwerk didn't come from musical beginnings: he trained as an architect. Although little is known about his architectural studies, in an interview with the New Zealand Herald, Hütter said: "constructing music and live performance comes from the same spirit." Hütter has since hinted that he will pursue his interests in architecture when Kraftwerk disbands.

Bonus: Kanye West

A photo posted by Noam Dvir (@dvirnm) on

Although not formally trained in architecture, West has a close affinity to the profession, often publicly reinforcing his close relationships to an array of architects and designers. In 2012, West collaborated with Rem Koolhaas to create a seven screen performance pavilion in for the Cannes Film Festival. Shortly thereafter in 2013, West gave an impromptu lecture in the studios of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, inspiring a formidable argument by GSD student Sekou Cooke entitled "Keep Talking Kanye: An Architect's Defense of Kanye West."

Have any to add to our list? Comment below.

Doze personalidades brasileiras que deixaram a arquitetura para trilhar outros caminhos


About this author
Cite: Finn MacLeod. "19 Notable Figures Who Left Architecture to Follow Other Career Paths" 23 Jul 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/770338/art-garfunkel-ice-cube-thomas-jefferson-and-the-pursuit-of-other-non-architectural-interests> ISSN 0719-8884

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