Arch Career: Hardship & Advice Needed


Hi everyone, I’m a 30 year old with a career in architecture. I’ve been employed at a firm for over 5 years until COVID-19 laid off all of the employees working at the architect firm. Also to mention, I live in the bustling city of Seattle. I was a project manager/architectural drafter for those years. I was content at my last job.  Since my lay off, I’ve had many restless days and nights frantically updating my portfolio, job searching, applying & crossing my fingers/being hopeful. Results aren’t very good... I just received my first rejection letter within the past 2.5 months of applying to 16 firms.

Since then, I’ve pondered about the architecture career... Clearly, the salary does not match up to tech-field friends of mine and it has become increasingly challenging for me to be happy & continue with this career. When i first graduated I was unable to find a job for a year (horrible I could barely pay for my student loans) now, I’m afraid of the uncertainties and instability of becoming an architect. I originally wanted to pursue architecture thinking design was amazing, I would change cities but it’s very overwhelming to find jobs and keep them these days. I’m done with my NCARB hours and was hopeful to pursue licensure soon. That’s another hump with this career. Like they said in school to us students “you’re only successful 10 years down the road” so maybe I’m being impatient? 

I researched other possible careers with my degree in architecture. Very slim picking... This might sound crazy but should I feel upset that I’m barely getting paid the “Seattle average income salary?” The field is very competitive as well. I worked hard to get this degree and want the satisfaction of it. I feel like everyday the walls are closing in on me and I’m slowly regretting my career. 

This pursuit and dream of becoming a successful, well paid, happy working architect worries me a lot and I want to know if anyone else has concerns like mine? Or does anyone have any word of advice or care to share their story? Anything helps! Especially during tough times, I’m here to listen! Thanks for your valued time. 

Jun 5, 20 11:20 am

The worst case scenario is never finding one's niche and drifting along into middle age in what is essentially a drafting position - or BIM production workhorse nowadays. Through a combination of macroeconomics, lack of skills upgrade, office politics, and at the heart of it, a lack of talent, one could find him or herself in such a role. The lack of design talent - itself an ambiguous term encompassing everything from a failure to be stylish to an inability to design effective building systems - is not necessarily a death kneel. Some have found success in managing projects - though that of course demands a healthy knowledge of building - and some have moved within the profession to a business development role. I've mentioned this before in another post but the main categories of positions one could aspire to in a typical commercial office:

1) The Businessperson: The boss who takes the financial risks, who wines and dines developers, and who builds an efficient design pipeline which he oversees but not always participates in.

2) The Technical Guru: The one who through experience and practice acquires indispensable knowledge in virtually every aspect of design and construction. Could end up taking a co-ownership posiition. 

3) The Head Stylist: Not always the most knowledgeable about the technical aspects of building but possesses an unmatched (within the firm) knack of crafting good looking designs. Also indispensable for the moment but may be usurped by newcomers with most current tastes. In less commercial offices, the Businessperson may also be the one who dictates the studio's design agenda and look.

4) The Technologist: The BIm expert who may or may not hande the firm's technological work full time. Often starts out as a typical designer but through self-advancement and working to improve the studio's workflow, climbs up this specialized ladder

5) The Specialist: Not as common in certain offices that focus on a wide range of building types. These could be healthcare design specialists, airport experts, or even someone with knowledge of a market-applicable field.

4) Project Managers: The most common level to aspire to. A jack of all trades with good communication skills to navigate between the Businessperson, the clients, GC, and the whole menagierie of folks in between.

5) BIM Workhorse: If one doesn't make Project Manager, this is the most likely spot.

Outside the studio, there are many other positions, from facade specialists to sales reps. Like all cultural professions, the architecture business awards its stars multiples of what the others make. What you do not want to do is to be stuck in a race to the bottom. One must be realistic about one's strengths: Some things can be improved on, such as detailing skills and knowledge of building systems, while other more subjective traits may now, such as design flair. Some people recognize this early and work hard towards being a technical guru or excellent PM at firms that divide the design and technical aspects strictly. Some move to firms that allow designers to develop skills in both - a far better training ground. The designs might not be jaw dropping but they are sound constructions.

Jun 5, 20 12:37 pm  · 
5  · 

Personally I recognized about six months into work after graduation that I do not possess the requisite "D"esign skills to make it into a top notch brand name firm. It was a rough thing to recognize but I think the labor market has the final say. This doesn't mean I will stop designing for fun in my own time - or pursue my own projects. But I knew for sure that I did not switch careers only to work on random multifamilies of middling quality - which realistically is the sole option available to me. Careers are built on successive steps and wrong steps will often lead to wrose ones. It is difficult to hop on a totally different trajectory - in my case, jumping from commercial multifamily to the upper echelons of big name firms.

Jun 5, 20 12:53 pm  · 
1  · 

This Covid downturn is just another in the boom and bust cycle of the industry. Each time this happens (1992, 2007, 2020) the people who can leave the industry and pursue other careers do so. If you have skills to transition into something you like better then you could look into it. If you love, love, love designing buildings then stick with it. It will turn around and when it does there will be pent up demand for architects. That also always happens as a part of the boom and bust cycles.

It takes a very long time to get good at this profession. To master all the facets or at least a big chunk of them. You will never make as much as other professions, so the only reason to stay in is because you love it.

Take care.

Jun 5, 20 2:27 pm  · 
4  · 
James Bragg

Hi Architien

I sympathize with your situation. At the moment a lot of people are struggling globally because of the knock-on effect that Covid-19 is having on the economy. In a climate such as this, if I were unemployed, personally I would focus on getting employed first, and then possibly adjust my trajectory.

If you are doubting the profession you chose because, at this time, you are finding difficult to find a role that satisfies you, it may be worth putting things under a certain perspective: I don't believe it's only architects/designers who are struggling right now. Everybody is.

I seem to understand you applied to 16 firms over the past 2.5 months. That to me suggests you are being very selective which, in my view, clashes with the current stafe of affairs.

I think ARteMiss summed it up nicely, it may be a matter of patience after all.

Jun 6, 20 5:03 am  · 

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