Monday, April 27, 2009

The pros and cons of being an architect

I recently got an email from a high school student wanting to know what are the pros and cons of being an architect. I wrote the following and emailed it to her, and then it occurred to me that some of my tens of readers might also find this interesting. 

Pro: It's a really interesting job.  It's rare that you do the exact same thing week to week, especially as you get more experience.  I'm drawing buildings, then working out details, then figuring out how to make the client's latest request work, then looking at a contractor's estimate and seeing if it's b.s and then seeing if there's any way I can take some of the cost out of my project and then I'm looking at an existing facility and then meeting with the staff and then looking at a building that's under construction to make sure they're following my plans...you get the picture.  Even if you're an intern out of college, gaining your hours towards getting licensed, you should still be doing a variety of stuff--that's what the licensing requirements as set out by IDP is for.
Con: It doesn't pay super well.  We jump through similar hoops as other really well-paid professions, like nursing, medicine, and law, but we don't make near what they make out of school or even five years out of school.  With 8.5 years of experience and my license, I make $57,000 before taxes (U.S. dollars).  My husband makes $77,000; he has one more year of experience, is licensed, and most importantly for architects, he changed firms a couple of years ago, which is the best way to get a raise (other than getting licensed).  I encourage interns to get good with their money (learn to save, prioritize what they spend where) and sometimes to get a second job.  I had and still have one, teaching communication classes at a nearby adult ed center.
 
Pro:  It's a creative and challenging job.  There is some actual design involved, like making a building look nice, but there are so many other challenges, such as meeting a client's needs and wishes while also meeting building and accessibility codes and their budget and schedule.  It's making all the required rooms fit into an existing building or area of a building.  It's looking at two-dimensional drawings and understanding what the 3D space will look like.  It's looking for ways to get everything done on time and under budget and looking nice and working right....  I'm constantly learning.  I've built four radiology departments, and I've never built the same one twice.  That's refreshing.
Con: It's on the bleeding front line of the economy.  When the economy reeks like day-old diapers, we're the first to feel it.  Money spent on design and construction changes hands five times, so when the economy sinks, we sink, and it brings down the economy even more.  Always keep your resume in shape in case you get laid off.
 
Pro: You meet some really cool people.  Your clients and engineers are really interesting people.  I've learned so much about healthcare from my clients over the years that being in a hospital doesn't frighten me in the least.  You learn how different businesses work as well as some unexpected things: one of my clients climbed to the base camp of Everest last year, and another client used to investigate airplane crashes.  Interesting people in your life make for an interesting life.
Con:  You meet some really annoying as hell people.  Clients change their minds.  They don't understand your drawings.  They can't make a decision.  Then, they don't understand why you're not ready when they snap their fingers.  You meet rude people, self-important people, and ignorant people, and you can't really put them in their place because sometimes they're the ones footing the bill.  Along with your drawing skills, learn some good communication skills and learn how to deal with difficult people.
 
Pro: There's actually very little math involved.  I cannot tell you how many folks have said to me that they wanted to be an architect but they weren't good at math.  News flash: you'll never use anything above grade 9 math, maybe even less.  If it involves calculus, you need an engineer and you're not qualified to do it anyway.  What architecture requires is that you be generally intelligent and inquisitive, a good listener, and be able to draw and explain things such that anyone can understand what you're trying to do.
Con: It does take a lot of school and then internship to get somewhere.  In the US, you'll spend at least 5 years if you get a B.Arch, the first professional degree.  You'll spend 4 + 2 years to get an M.Arch, a Master of Architecture.  My husband has a B.Arch and I have an M.Arch, and professionally, there's not a noticeable difference.  After all that schooling, though, you'll have to work for at least 3 years before you can sit for the exam.  While at times those three years may get tedious, remember that you're working towards the long view. Internship is temporary; architect is forever.
 
Pro: What you do really matters.  I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to see a bunch of nurses' faces light up with they walk into the building I designed and get all excited about their new work stations and the lobby and the light coming in and look how big the exam rooms are now!  It's beyond gratifying to see the citizens of a little 4,000-person town ooh and ahh and take picture after picture of THEIR new facility and to have them walk up to you and say, "Oh, it's BEAUTIFUL!!"  It's incredible--even after almost 9 years--to watch the lines you draw become wood and stone and carpet and drywall and reality.  it's like a miracle unfolds on every project.
Con: What you do really matters.  You cannot half-ass things.  You cannot sorta know stuff.  You have to know.  you have to be sure.  You have to be on time and under budget and clear with everyone about what's goin on and how this building is made and what's expected of everyone at each deadline.  You cannot procrastinate.  that's another piece of advice I give folks considering my career--give up procrastination.  Prioritizing is one thing, but procrastination?  Forget it.  Your drawings have to be well thought out and coordinated with the engineers' drawings and with the drawings of the existing site or building.  There is very little fudge factor.

29 comments:

ms. kitty said...

Pixie, this is so great! Thanks for the glimpse into your life and work. Your remarks say a lot about the person you are. Thanks.

Sara said...

I'm glad my questions let other people get information too :)
thanks again btw!

Miss Kitty said...

YAY! This explains it really well.

Anonymous said...

on the math thing: If you consider algebra to be 9th grade math then I definitely agree with you, I have had problems with architects who considered algebra to be college math.

One rule of thumb that I was taught as an entry level engineer: If you're using calculus to solve it we probably didn't charge enough for your fee. Even structural engineers only use algebra in our daily lives.

Anonymous said...

i wish i read this 9 years ago, but you live and learn right?

Anonymous said...

I cant tell you how much this blog has helped me, I have really been looking into becoming and architect after highschool. Not to mentior that this has helped tremendously with the career goal research paper I am writing. This gives me new insight in the career I know so little about. Thank you very much

Anonymous said...

I would just like to thank you for writing this. I have always considered architecture as a career while growing up, I loved drawing and I loved playing the Sim's games lol so I thought "Hey why not draw houses for a living when I grow up?". It's nothing to say I was ignorant to what an architect actually does, and what you have wrote has helped me tremendously. I had my doubts, because who actually grows up and does their "dream job"? Thank you so much again for shedding some light on this particular career, I wish you the best of luck.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this. I enjoyed reading. I really want to go into architecture myself because I love drawing and designing but I was worried about the math. I think this was the extra push I needed. I'm sure the years of studying are worth it.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said,

Thank you for the info! I was assigned a school project!

Katie said...

Thanks so much for the information. I'm a high school student and we're doing a project on careers we're interested in. I still haven't decided completely on what I want to do for a living, but hearing you talk about your job, you sound like you are very happy where you are. A friend of mine suggested architecture once and it's been stuck in my head ever since. I have always hated the thought of being stuck in an extremely boring job, with the same routine everyday, and according to you it sounds like thats not the case. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Unknown said: I love bacon. They are awesome. I think this article is neat but not as neat as bacon. Bacon taste great. You should design a building with bacon pattern. Bacon is awesome. It is specially designed by god. BACON!!!

aseem said...

hi i am a civil engineer ..is it possible for me to do masters in architecture in usa

Mile High Pixie said...

Katie: Glad to help--see if you can job shadow for a day or so at a nearby firm to find out more about the profession. You'll want to know as much as you can before you go to college for this.

Anon: Hell yeah, I love bacon too! I don't usually publish non sequiter comments, but...bacon!

Aseem: You can get an M.Arch in the US even with your civil engineering degree. The M.Arch will take you 3 or 4 years instead of 2 years if you had an architecture degree, but you can do it. Good luck!

Izzy said...

Thank you so much. I've been looking for something like this, since I've been thinking of being an architect. I know that I am highly artistically inclined, but I haven't really tried designing architecture... I think that's the key factor I need to explore now.

Thanks :]

Anonymous said...

How many hours do you work a week?

RiO said...

This is a wonderful post! I'm studying architecture myself and I love getting the insight of people that are already on the playing field.

THANKS!!! =D

Mile High Pixie said...

All: Thanks for the props! If you ever have another question, lemme know.

Anon: I generally work 40-45 hrs/wk, but occasionally I'll work 50-ish if there's a big deadline coming.

Anonymous said...

hey just wanted to say thanks for listing it cause atm im studying architecture working out if i should drop or not >_<

Quang Anh said...

This is REALLY good !

Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for posting this! I've been signed in in an architectural major at a very good university in my country but still can not decide if I should take it or leave it...because I also signed in at a college (not university) in medical major. Now I guess I become more prepared for architect...I was scared right after I know you will need to do almost everything with softwares (because my basic is not good, atm) but now I feel more interested and challenged to learn architecture. Again, thanks for posting this :)

Anonymous said...

It's like I wrote the "sims" comment myself how cool I'm just like you ... And I really like this page because I'm going to study architecture next year so it helps :)

Anonymous said...

I was wondering about architecture... but after reading this im 100% percent certain now!

Thank you! you've written my lifes future.

Stephanie said...

You are amazing. I'm finishing a 3-year technical program as an Architectural Technologist and I've been wondering if I should go to University as well. THANK GOODNESS FOR NO MATH! Its insane how many physics and math pre-requisites some universities have though. Thank you so so much!

WhatsOnTheARE said...

We are really glad we came across your blog. We will read a few more posts and decide if we want to add you to our Link Lists. Quick Question, you have a Masters Degree your husband doesnt. How often do you meet people with masters that outperform those with just a BArch in terms of salary?

Jasminesummer21 said...

I'm 16 years old and am trying to figure out what I want to do with my life I've been thinking about being an Architect for many years now and have been getting experience with painters, landscapers,stonemasons,tile installers,hardwood floor installers,and construction workers (I've seen a house built start to finish and was at every meeting). Im trying to get a bunch of different skills under my belt.Is there any other things I should look into? (for experience)I've also been drawing 3D homes. (I love drawing houses and landscapes)

Elijha C said...

OMG I needed this! I loved it! I live in CO too, and I haven't decided on my major yet. I thought about architecture, but I needed an inside tip. Thank you! THANK YOU THANK YOU!

ManicStreetPegasi said...

Thanks for this! I've always been really interested in buildings and their architecture, and this helped reassure me that it's a good area to seek a career in.

My only query is: What qualifications do you need to get into the subject? I should be able to get passes in my three A levels, but do we need better than that, or do we have to have specific subjects and A-level/GCSE?

I'm unaware of your nationality, so forgive me if you have no idea what I'm talking about above, I'm from the UK.

Anonymous said...

how do you know if you are passionate enough for this? i mean i like drawing and m pretty good at it. but i don't know if i am good enough for this? how can i decide?

Anonymous said...

This information was amazing!! Thank you so much for posting this. It is so hard to find good information like this. :D