Urban designer going back for M.Arch?


Hi all - I'm a mid-30's urban designer considering an M.Arch. A bit about my background: I've been practicing as a planner/urban designer for the last 10 years, and advanced well in my field (senior staff at a well known firm). I mostly do district master plans, urban design frameworks, etc. I have good software/graphics skills and am good in rhino, grasshopper, autocad, adobe creative suite, sketching, etc. 

My motivation for considering an M.Arch is twofold. The first is technical: I did a dual degree with planning/urban design, so I have a good handle on general site design, urban design principles, etc. However, I often feel out of my depth once we get down to the building scale beyond basic massing and typologies. The second is practical: I often find that in my firm most of the real design in urban design is done by architects or landscape architects rather than dedicated UD staff, even if the work is still conceptual pre-design (eg: at a master planning stage). In that sense, I feel like I've hit a real glass ceiling: it seems unlikely that I'll be able to lead project teams in the future without a more traditional design degree under my belt. 

Going back to school would be a significant hit financially (even with a scholarship), so I'm thinking carefully about the tradeoffs. Ultimately, my primary goal is to do urban design with the design and technical knowledge of an architect. I'm less interested in a traditional architecture role taking projects all the way through CD's and CA.

So my questions: 
1) for someone in my situation (mid-30's, significant adjacent experience) what general advice would you give?
2) for those who went back to school in their 30's, what was the experience like? I've been through a studio environment before, so I know what to expect on that front. My sense is that being older and more experienced, I may be able to realize some efficiencies and maintain a bit more work/life balance than was common the first time around. 
3) Given my goals, does the M.Arch seem appropriate? Are there other paths you'd suggest? Are there urban designers in your office who practice without arch or landscape arch backgrounds? 


Jun 14, 21 5:23 pm

It's a good combination and will put you in a great position once you go look for work ... or provide you with a decent background for teaching etc. Like all mature students .... act mature and feel confident that your skills and experience have been worthwhile and show that you don't need to be interested in every bit of "design candy" that is offered to you.

Jun 14, 21 5:47 pm  · 
1  ·

I don't see the trade-off from your point of view. That's 3 years of your time on a degree when you could be transitioning to a architectural designer within your firm and learning about architectural design on your own using real projects. Is this ceiling self-inflicted or are they not giving you these design opportunities? If the former, the m.arch is a waste, especially when you're not interested in the construction aspect of the profession.

Jun 14, 21 6:01 pm  · 

It's a good point about learning arch design using real projects. The primary issue is that there seems to be a barrier to entry: Because I'm not trained as an architect I run into questions like "but how would that work, since you don't have the knowledge/skillset to do architecture?"

I've started to come to the conclusion that without a formal arch degree I'll always be a second class citizen professionally. That's the only reason I would go through all the trouble of a degree at this point. But if your firm or experience would suggest that's not the case, and this is more a function of the specific firm I'm at now, that would be great to hear! 

Jun 16, 21 3:40 pm  · 

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