Should I pursue architecture? seeking advice and opinion


Hello all, 

Writing seeking advice. I recently graduated undergrad with a double major in art history and studio art (sculpture). For most of college, I assumed I'd just go down the paralegal into lawyer track, as I had worked for law firms over the summer, and kind of just assumed, since I studied humanities, I'd be a lawyer. I've reconsidered this path, and have been looking into more creative avenues--UX/UI design, industrial design, architecture. I love building things, cherish my long nights in the sculpture studio, am constantly thinking about shape and form/the relationship between human movement and an object/place. Also, without fail, career aptitude tests tell me to be an architect (I know to take that with a salt flat's worth of salt, haha). At the end of the day, I know I will find much more satisfaction in my life if i'm working in a creative capacity, with visual, tangible results. 

I recently applied and hope to be accepted to Berkeley's summer institute for architecture. Primarily, I'm curious if any of you have done this program, know about it, and/or think it's a good use of time. I'm primarily interested in using it in a career exploration function. 

Other questions I have are:

Is architecture a rewarding profession? more creatively than financially. I get massive rushes of satisfaction and excitement when I finish a sculpture, reuse scavenged materials to build a chair, etc. --is that sense of satisfaction preserved in the day to day life of an architect?

How common is a non-arch undergrad degree in architecture? even after completing a masters, are non-arch undergrads at a disadvantage, employment wise? 

Is it a transferable degree? i.e what other creative routes do MArch holders sometimes go down? Does it open up opportunity in other, related fields?

What areas of architecture are the easiest to get into, or have the most expected growth? My interests lie more in residential architecture. 

Connected to that, does your personal style affect your employment prospects? I am very interested in the creative reuse of materials, and raw materials--scavenged metal, roughhewn timber, concrete, experimental shapes, site-specific projects. Would a firm specializing in colonial style homes, for example, not want to hire me, even if i'm just after project experience?

Would you say it's an unhealthy work environment? for example, big law is famously cutthroat and depressing. Art world seems to be similar. Startups seem to more generally have great working cultures and work/life balance. Where does architecture fall? (is this question too general?)

As for my more technical skills, I consider myself to be a competent sculptor, working mostly with wood, metal and wax. I'm pretty good at drawing--the level of precision required of architecture would be a learning curve, but I'm not too worried about that. I have a pretty good mind for math, but was never too interested in it, outside of the simple math I used for sculpture (that was fun). I imagine I would find it more exciting if it was in the context of designing a building. 

Thanks for reading and I would appreciate any and all of your opinions, resource recommendations, and advice. Apologies for the long post. 

happy building!

Jun 29, 20 2:07 pm
atelier nobody

Definitely do the summer program. More on your specific questions later (if I remember).

Jun 29, 20 5:53 pm  · 

That's a very long post! I'll answer something at random:

Is architecture a rewarding profession? more creatively than financially. I get massive rushes of satisfaction and excitement when I finish a sculpture, reuse scavenged materials to build a chair, etc. --is that sense of satisfaction preserved in the day to day life of an architect?

There are moments of this, but by and large, no.

Architects don't make buildings, we make cute little drawings that someone else uses to make a building. Working on those drawings can be rewarding, and certainly some end up being beautiful, but in 99.9% of firms they are merely instruments of service - in the same realm as a written contract essentially. You want a contract to be well-written and complete, but it isn't a work of art. 

Some firms do employ more analog exploratory processes to design buildings - model making, form finding, testing, iterating, etc... but at most that might be 5-10% of the design process. You still have to get to finished 2D construction drawings if you care about making built architecture, and that takes a great deal of time. 

My experience in architecture (11 years) has been one of long stretches of hard work (45-120 hour weeks) with little reward - at least as you describe it (other than financial and the occasional "thanks" from my boss), taking pleasure in small victories - figuring out a detail, building a beautiful model, or making a banal drawing look beautiful. The payoff comes all at once when the project is finished and occupied and usually doesn't last all that long before you are on to the next project. 

Jun 29, 20 6:36 pm  · 
2  · 

Non-architecture undergrad degrees are very common for students in M.Arch programs.  About a third of admitted first-professional M.Arch students come from architecture undergrad majors, another third from related majors (other design fields, art history, urban studies, etc.), and the rest from unrelated or less-directly-related majors (everything from chemistry to English to religion.)

People with architecture degrees eventually end up in lots of other fields - but it's not a degree that a lot of employers in other fields particularly seek out.  A professional degree in architecture is pretty specifically geared toward a career in architecture, but the design and thinking and time management skills transfer well to lots of other things. People I went to school with ended up in many other things: resort management, city arts coordinator, real estate, historic site curator.

It's relatively easy to get into residential architecture, as the vast majority of all architecture firms in the US are small residential firms.  But residential architecture is also one of the least stable and lowest paying specialties in architecture.  Many people work for many different types of firms during their career.  In general it's not a profession where very many people stay in one firm for their entire career.  It's very cyclical, with lots of downturns and upswings that follow the general state of the economy and construction and real estate booms and busts.  

Some firms have a decent work/life balance, though the traditional culture and the architecture school experience are pretty harsh.  Architects aren't typically great business people, and many imagine themselves to be dedicated artists who live for their work, so a lot of firms have cultures of long hours and late nights.

Contrary to popular wisdom, difficult math is not part of most architects' day to day jobs.  Sculptural and other artistic abilities will be very useful in developing a strong portfolio for applying to architecture schools.  Whether these interests will factor heavily into your career as an architect would depend on where you eventually find yourself and what your role is in practice.  

Jun 29, 20 6:44 pm  · 
1  · 

If you have to ask ... then dont do it. Wait, that was my snarky answer.

Do the summer program if you want to. But also try and do an internship in an architectural office. THAT will give you the true answer...

Jun 29, 20 9:25 pm  · 
1  · 

If you choose a good office. If you don't it will turn you off it forever. So I'd be careful with this piece of advice. Architecture isn't just architecture offices.

Jun 30, 20 11:42 am  · 

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