"Late" Transition to Architecture Profession

Good Morning, 

I previously completed a 4yr architecture degree from an NAAB accredited school and as life goes, I ended up in construction management in NYC for most of the past 10yrs since.  Recent events and losing some very close family members have reminded me life is too short and I want to complete my circuitous path to becoming an architect.  

In NY State I can qualify for the ARE if I go work at an architecture firm for a few years.  I have gained an enormous amount of knowledge and experience in building and design from construction management, which I know will make me a better architect, but I have no design portfolio to show for it.

Any tips or advice on building a portfolio?  What would a firm be looking for in an architectural project managers portfolio these days (what software)?  I'm concerned I'll be halving my salary and competing with college grads for entry level jobs.  

I am 32, married, have a baby on the way, and a mortgage, so I need to do everything I can to minimize the salary cut I'll take for shifting careers.   Any advice on how I could be competitive or at least get to an interview is greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance !

Jun 11, 19 10:15 am

The last two jobs I interviewed for (and subsequently attained offers) as a PM (with heavy CA work), I didn't even have portfolios.  We discussed some of my work at my current firm that the potential firms wanted me for, we reviewed some drawings their teams were working on, and discussed some typical issues I saw at a glance, and how I would handle them if hired, and generally we talked shop and focused on how people with my experience at my pay grade are missing.  Ultimately, my current firm counter-offered and has since given me a lot more responsibilities.  So everything worked out.

I would assume the biggest hesitation for your circumstances would be the question of whether your skills transfer enough to putting a set together.  I'd bring examples of architectural sets you've worked with that required your input and experience during construction.  I'd crop the particular sheet to the issue at hand, provide credit to the original architect (which may limit your choices of what to include), and discuss your strengths in interviews.

I would not break out your old drawings and/or try and draw new concepts.  Even if you were successful in this endeavor, you would then be hired as an intern drafter.  I actually made this mistake a bit roughly 5 years ago when I got back into a traditional architectural role from doing Property condition and owner's representative work.  It took me roughly 1.5 years to correct my responsibilities compared with my experience.  

I would also not try to create an in-depth CD set of some imaginary project unless you're looking for a Project Architect type role, and want to be directly responsible for creating sets and managing drafters.  

Shoot for PM roles, but do get familiar with the modern tools of the trade (revit and other products) enough to answer questions and prove that you won't be dead weight in that area.  Even if you land a PM job, you'll be taking a salary haircut and you'll find that architectural PMs might not put in exactly as much as your CM work, but it's up there.  Good luck with your work-life balance.

Jun 11, 19 10:51 am

Can you join a smaller design build firm and have a dual role to lessen the fiscal impact? The entry architecture positions are BORING and low paid. I’d shoot for some sort of dual position learn what you can and then offer your own design services, really the only experience you are missing is how to draft (1 community college course) and then just some basic knowledge on how to implement egress requirements into a space and deal with submitting to the city. Your background will make you a way better architect than 90% out there, don’t ditch and switch your career try and transition into a new role and have confidence in your experience. 

Jun 11, 19 11:42 am

I'd agree with the above about your portfolio probably not being necessary. I haven't needed a portfolio for my last two jobs, but I'm not in a traditional designer role. My guess is that with your experience in construction management, you probably won't be put in design roles either unless the firm is a smaller one and you'd be wearing multiple hats. I would skip looking for entry level jobs as well and work your connections you've probably made throughout the last 10 years to get interviews and offers without even looking at current job postings. If you can skip HR for your first interview because of a connection, all the better because you'll already be at the top of any pile HR might have of resumes. 

However, before you get too far, I'd ask yourself why you want to get licensed. Your reasoning is your own and only you can determine whether it will be worth it or not, but what about getting your license will make your life better vs staying in construction management; better hours, less travel, less stress, ability to be a sole proprietor or run your own firm, etc.? Are those realistic reasons? Does it open up opportunities that you've been passing up? Are you stalled out in the CM world and only a license will get you to a position you want to be in? What position is that, and why? 

Realistically, if the answers above reveal that a license isn't necessary, you might be better off spending the effort on getting other skills and knowledge that better serve you and your career path.

Jun 11, 19 11:47 am

At 32 you're not really very late.  For M.Arch grads the average age at graduation is around 30, so lots of people just starting out are your age, but you've got a stronger resume than they do.) 
Your CM background is likely to calm any fears about you only having a 4 year pre-professional degree and no architecture firm history - but it may not get you as far beyond entry-level as it sounds like you're hoping for, and yes you will probably be halving your salary and you're competing with recent grads.  I'm sure you must have a portfolio from your student days - you can dust that off just to show that you've got the background and the same fundamentals as the newer grads, but if I were you I'd try to steer the conversation more toward your CM accomplishments than dwelling much on portfolio. 

About New York's experience requirements:  NY has a lot of state-specific rules and idiosyncrasies that come up on this forum frequently.  Don't take an independent contractor/consultant position, make sure you understand the experience rules in-depth if you plan to take any part-time position or any position while you're going back to school even part-time, and don't take a job with any firm that isn't properly registered in New York, or you may find that the state won't accept your experience.  Architecture firms can't be LLCs in NY (but they can be PLLCs), they can't have non-architect partners unless the firm is registered as a foreign corporation, and various other weirdnesses. The state has a habit of using professional license applications as an excuse to discover companies that are registered incorrectly or breaking other rules, and unfortunately when they find one they disallow the firm's current and former employees' experience there.

Jun 11, 19 2:29 pm

Formerly is right about NY's weirdness. The only thing I'd like to add is to get in their system ASAP as we never know when someone is going to decide to remove the option for alternative paths to licensure.

I'm registered in NYS and I found that the licensing board was very helpful and responsive.  If you find yourself with questions (that aren't answered in their website) feel free to give them a call or send an email at minimum.


OP, do have contacts with the architects of projects you performed CM on? If you did a good job ask for a chat and talk about what you're looking for and see if they can refer you to anyone. A strong recommendation based on your actual work will be the easiest way to get past a portfolio screen.

Jun 12, 19 10:51 am

If you worked construction management, you should have worked on finishing quite some projects. Nothing wrong with putting them in a portfolio and highlighting your involvement and responsibilities. If you reworked, redlined or adjusted some drawings on site there’s nothing wrong with including those to show you know your shit...But most likely you wouldn’t even need a portfolio with projects at this stage, a nice resume and an up to date LinkedIn profile might suffice. Anyway, most transition too early into architecture ;) 

Jun 12, 19 3:17 pm

Excellent input from all and much appreciated. I am definitely going to reach out to an architect or two that I work with, and I have considered getting a job with a design build firm where I could continue as a project manager but might have the opportunity aid in design work occasionally as long as it was with a properly registered firm to account for ncarb and state experience requirements.

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