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Niche in architecture

kristian96

Some architects eventually choose to specialise in particular areas. Specialisation can be related to market, role, skill etc. 

What are some common or uncommon interesting or dry, well-paying or unprofitable specialisations for an architect? 

Let us discuss. 

 
Nov 15, 20 11:51 am
natematt
Medical planner.... normally a pretty good option. Current market unclear, but otherwise there has been a severe shortage for the last 5 years if not longer
Nov 15, 20 8:38 pm  · 
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archinine
Spec writers
Nov 15, 20 10:49 pm  · 
3  · 
randomised

politician

Nov 16, 20 1:40 am  · 
 ·  1
Stax

Health (medical as mentioned above).  Lab design. Defense sector.  Mast planning.

There's quite a lot.  Its such a big discipline, people will specialise in something as its near impossible to learn about every building type in detail.

Nov 16, 20 4:20 am  · 
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mightyaa

Some I’ve worked with or have been offered positions to do:

Interesting and well paying: Forensic architect.  Basically I document and figure out what went wrong in construction.  Downside; no design, confrontational.  Once you get grey hair, you step up to expert.  Travel opportunity.

Third Party reviewer:  Pay is about the same.  You do QAQC redlines for various firms on the ownership/investor side as a part of risk control. 

Flexible: Specifications writer.  Work comes in waves, but could be a place if you want to live a nomadic lifestyle since it’s pretty much word processing, research, and developing your base specification.  One I worked with was doing the spec from a AirBNB on the coast of Spain, then the next month, was in Arizona hiking and living in a rented RV for a month. The work is often contract/gig with various firms.

If you like field work: Architectural facilitator/owner provided PM. Have a standing offer to do this. Basically, you are a third party in the construction trailer acting as a go between for the owner/architect/gc.  So basically you provide CA services and onsite QAQC.  Also heard large builders might have on staff to play with the Revit models to generate RFI’s, coordination details for subs, conflict checks, etc. From what I’ve heard, it pays better… but like forensic, no design.

Project coordinator: Works for the developer/agency.  Varied work, but essentially acts as the owner’s representative and reports to the board. Contracts the GC, design teams, guides the design, attends the OAC’s, tracks budget/schedules, etc.  My sister does this as an architect for a university.  Pays very well. 

Nov 16, 20 11:09 am  · 
5  · 
Wood Guy

I do all residential design, and though I can't say I'm getting rich by any means, I only see growing needs for the niches I have found: healthy indoor air environment, low carbon emissions, high comfort, custom kitchens, old house restorations, consulting on energy and sustainability to others. I have several requests right now to consult on indoor swimming pool enclosures but it's enough of a specialty that I am steering them elsewhere.

Nov 16, 20 11:38 am  · 
1  · 
Stax

I see a pretty strong and consistent future for this (note, I'm in Australia). Housing is always in demand here, and clients are getting more educated. Smart homes, energy efficient homes, and healthy buildings will be a big selling point for small business over the next several years.
My question for you Wood Guy - how strong is your construction knowledge for these buildings?  And how far into the project do you seek the input of a builder?

1  · 
Wood Guy

Interesting questions, Stax. My construction knowledge is pretty high; I have a BS in structural engineering and worked as a carpentry contractor and project foreman for ten years before focusing on design, and I still build small projects on the side. I would find it hard to consult on these items without a decent knowledge of construction processes, but I also find it hard to design any project without understanding the construction portion.

I'm not sure what you mean about seeking input of the builder. I try to practice integrated design, getting a builder on board by the end of schematic design, and working collaboratively after that. But some builders just want a set of plans and specs and to be left alone. (I don't work with those builders again.)

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Stax

You have a solid construction grounding there, which is great! And I'm glad to hear you include builders in the design process; from the end of schematic design is a great place to get their insight into where the complexities might be with the build.
I guess I'm from a more theory based background (studied architecture, worked in large design firms, worked client-side project planning), so I don't have the same skills as you, but I'm a complete advocate for early involvement of a builder, particularly on complex jobs.

1  · 
SneakyPete

If you suck at architecture: Plans Examiner.

Nov 16, 20 12:48 pm  · 
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atelier nobody

Hey, now!

1  · 

Small opening in a wall where you put stuff.

Nov 16, 20 1:05 pm  · 
11  · 
citizen

.10_01

2  · 
atelier nobody

Once it became clear that I am good at many of the technical aspects of architecture, but probably not about to set the world on fire with my great designs, I tried many of the things people have noted above (including the reviled plan checker). My current position is roughly equal parts spec writing, QAQC (I'm in-house, but in a very large company, so effectively 3rd party), and assisting teams with detailing. I probably make about the same as I would as a PA, and less than I could as a PM or CM.

If you're talking about going out on your own, vs a niche position within a firm, your income will be more dependent on how well you sell yourself than on the nature of what you do. There is something to be said, though, for being an outside consultant and letting other people take on all the liability.

Nov 16, 20 1:10 pm  · 
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kristian96

OK, so what are some of the worst pigeonholes out there and how do you avoid them? 

Nov 16, 20 4:21 pm  · 
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mightyaa

ANSI compliant bathroom designer... I know a guy who was top of class, won tons of awards/fellowship grants, and started at a big name firm. As the new guy, he was assigned the ANSI sheets and designing the bathroom cores on high rises. Got really good at it along with the fixture specs... Too good. Was pigeon holed and spent 4 years stuck doing nothing but that and had to quit to get out. Essentially a bathroom designer does not get promoted or put in charge of projects much less allowed to design anything important because you are a bathroom designer.

2  · 
shellarchitect

Renderer - a lot of guys in my class made beautiful renderings and still haven't advanced much past that. They'll never get licensed and have no construction knowledge because all their time is in front of a computer.

2  · 
shellarchitect

How to avoid - aggressively seek to be a generalist. At the junior level avoiding larger firms is probably a good thing. Your projects might not be as impressive but breadth of experience is valuable.

1  · 
Stax

I agree with that comment - aggressively seek to be a generalist.  

I started in a big firm and it annoys the management a little if you won't sit still in one 'pigeon hole' - 3D guy, documentation guy, carpark guy, fire stairs guy etc...  But I found I got extremely bored with doing those things over and over..

 · 
square.

jumping around firms early in your career, while painful, is a great way to get exposure to many types of offices, projects, etc.

1  · 

^also a good way to increase compensation and responsibility. Even if you don't get pigeonholed in one role, you can get pigeonholed into one salary range and expectations of responsibility ... depends on the firm and your level of self-advocacy though.

3  · 
midlander

everyone take responsibility for their own career - meaning look at each job as a single lesson building up to the role you ultimately want. some but not all firms will work with you to accommodate job role changes if you have a strong plan for yourself. and that's fine - in the long run we all respect people who move on when it benefits them. don't let your managers write your career plan.

 · 
midlander

also note most managers are essentially project managers or business managers: they are thinking about the projects at hand and what they need to get good projects in the future. planning your career development is just not part of their work. talent management is an important role for a firm that wants to grow organically but one that few architects have a natural interest in. i have to admit i'd rather spend my work time reviewing designs and discussing strategies than figuring out what my staff want in their own work. so i'm glad when they can tell me clearly and with some thought how it can fit into the team's work needs.

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shellarchitect

another plus to jumping around is to expand your personal network.  By moving around a person will meet many more architects, engineers, designers, etc.  These people can be invaluable should you ever need a key contact.  I might have jumped too much in my career, but I also make more and have a much wider breadth of knowledge than most of my peers.

Nov 17, 20 4:04 pm  · 
1  · 
shellarchitect

I'd rather not share on the interwebs, but I'm happy to share my income with anyone in person. Keeping it a secret only helps the boss-man. I also firmly believe that "churn" is good for everyone.

2  · 

I wish there was a better culture of sharing compensation. I've privately shared with co-workers and others who ask. I do like to tease out why they are asking, as I think that's important, but I've never told someone no if they do ask. I also think it's important to have discussions about how and why you got the compensation you have when talking numbers.

Edit to add: There was one time I didn't share my compensation when I was asked. It was with my last firm as I was putting in my notice. The firm wanted to counter and asked what I was being offered. I just shut it down so they didn't embarrass themselves. My offer was about what my supervisor was making (he shared with me previously) and he was pretty much maxed out at the firm. When they asked me to help sit in on an interview with someone that might have taken over for me, he asked for a minimum compensation value that was $15k less than I was going to make and everyone in the interview balked at the number once he left.

2  · 
square.

i've gotten much more comfortable with this, even outside of my office. i think pay secrecy/lack of transparency is an incredibly toxic thing that perpetuates secrecy, paranoia, and competition.

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I've found a correlation between comfort talking about it, and the level of compensation. But probably only to a point where it might be perceived as boastful or arrogant. I think I'm getting to that point personally, but it depends on who I'm talking to.

1  · 
JawkneeMusic

i am on a mailing list (tho i cant find it) for a society specializing in structural shells.  Maybe also niche masonry construction.  Riveting.  Composite beams.  Precast (prestressed) concrete.  Posttensioned masonry.

Nov 17, 20 8:13 pm  · 
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JawkneeMusic

posttensioned Wood

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shellarchitect

Tho se guys generally have architects, i'm curious what the pay is like.

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x-jla

less about specific area, and more about specific project delivery methodology, but designer led design-build is where the money is at, and it’s not very common despite being very desirable/convenient to clients.  This method allows the designer to make profit on projects that they normally would not be able to engage, like small-med sfr.  Because of this, new market territory, lost to gc’s, can be regained, and Thoughtful design can be made more accessible to a broader economic demographic.  

Nov 19, 20 10:13 am  · 
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