How can I become a more creative and better architectural designer while employed?


I graduated from a highly-ranked B.Arch program a few years ago and now have about four years of professional experience under my belt.  I have been excelling at my current firm and making my way into a Project Managerial role, and I am fairly strong organizationally, technically, and in leadership.  Some day I would like to start my own architectural firm or partnership. I am an ok designer, but I believe it is one of my weak points, especially when I compare to some of the dedicated designers at my firm, for example one who has interned for OMA.  So, I would like to improve, in order to become more well rounded and be the best Architect I can be.

What are things I can do, maybe every day, to improve?  I'd like to almost outline a program with deliverables as "becoming more architecturally creative" is quite vague.  And I'm not sure that, for example, reading architectural theory will be so effective (if you think otherwise I'd like to hear) vs dedicating an hour a day to sketching or something similar and hands on which engages my right brain more deliberately.  


Nov 4, 19 12:41 pm

My basic advice for any creative pursuit - whether it's architecture, music, painting, cooking, carpentry, whatever... is to pay attention to what other people do, then investigate why they do it. In your own output - try not to simply reproduce the what (i.e. following the recipe), but rather reproduce their why with your own spin. The goal isn't to create faithful reproductions, but to hone your critical thinking muscle. You'll do it poorly a bunch, but with each failure there's an opportunity to understand why your solution didn't capture the question properly.

1 - Absorb. Look around you. See everything through a critical eye. Sketch. Sketch again. Sketch the same thing in different lighting conditions. Read histories. Read criticism. Read theory. Never stop learning. Never stop questioning what you think you know.

2 - Produce. The great thing about 'design' is that no one needs to give you permission to do it. Mock up little follies & studies. Dream up your own fantasy projects. Iterate on an idea, or take something existing & think about how you'd improve it. Do it a lot. You won't be good at it immediately, but you'll get better out of repetition.

Nov 4, 19 1:16 pm

thank you for this comment; this is a great simple approach, and I will be using this as I move forward.


Do no-fee competitions and self-initiated projects about things that interest you - not for Instagram likes. Layer these fun projects with technical expertise you've gained through work.

Nov 4, 19 1:49 pm

Define “good designer”.

Nov 4, 19 8:38 pm

quit working as a project manager and find a job in a design role. it's weird, this idea that being good at your intended job is a side project to do after work.

Nov 4, 19 10:41 pm
atelier nobody

Easier said than done, when one has spent considerable time in the profession not building a design portfolio.


well it only gets more difficult with time.

atelier nobody

Also true.


to expand on this for the OP, i started off in a role that developed into being a project architect. after about 5 years realized i wanted more hand in the design, and got a job that gave me that opportunity. it took a while to find the job, and a while to get good at it, but absolutely worth it. this can be done. i didn't do any particular side work or competitions, just showed how i could design based on my understanding of specific aspects of a project. when my team needed help, i found ways to insert myself in things i knew i could do. 4 years experience is hardly enough to say you are specialized in anything. if your current office can't provide you this opportunity, find one that will. what Erik says below is very good advice.


I appreciate this comment but I actually want to be a PM (slash PA, my firm is small enough that one takes on a version of both roles), but I just want to be a better on, so I'd like to increase my design abilities concurrently. 

1.  Draw as much as you can.  Keep a sketchbook and draw.  Explore ideas, sketch details of great project you admire.  The more you draw, the more you think like a designer.

2.  Remember that design is something that runs a spectrum from whole-project schema down to the smallest details.  It's all design, and it's all important.  Find a small area or detail of projects you are working on and own them.  Bring your talent to bear on smaller details, and make them unique and special.  This will lead to more capability, which will lead to broader scope.

Nov 5, 19 2:00 pm

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