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Architecture/design as a Second Career?

letoutsidein

Hello Archinect! I'm looking for some advice on the prospect of entering architecture, landscape architecture or the urban design/planning field as a second career. I currently work 7 days a month as a firefighter in an Canadian (Ontario) city and earn low 6 figures - which is plenty enough for how and where I live. I am fulfilled in the fact that I get to serve my community, work with a great group of people, and have tremendous work/life balance. However, I am not challenged cognitively or creatively... and that's where I was thinking design could come in.

I'm 37 years old and in past lives I've double majored in University (Business Administration and Economics), lived in Asia and taught as an English teacher, worked as a professional photographer as an entrepreneur for 5 years or so, and also worked in emergency services for about 12 years now.

I never really considered architecture until I was commissioned to photograph a wedding at Shobac (Brian Mackay-Lyons farm) on the east coast a handful of years ago. After speaking with him - I left  inspired by the creative and cultural influence he's had on the area. Ever since then, I've had a hard time not thinking about the prospect of becoming an architect or similar at some point in my life.

My GPA from 14 years ago was hot garbage at best (C+). I thought it was cool to 'double major'. I also thought it was cool to drink like 5 nights a week and only show up to mid-terms and finals. I wasn't really interested in my education and basically did the absolute bare minimum to get by. I knew I didn't want anything to do with working in the field by the end of my second year but thought it was better to finish the degree than to simply drop out or give up. Basically, I don't have any pipe dreams of getting into a masters program with my shit grades from a long time ago. I'm thinking the best route for me is to start from the ground up with Athabasca's Bachelor of Science Architecture Pre-Professional degree and build up a design education from there. I have no doubt if I apply myself at this stage in my life in something I'm genuinely interested in, my grades will drastically improve. I could also complete this degree while working and supporting my family which is paramount. Once I complete this... I would consider doing my masters on a leave and possibly make the jump. I could even wait until I'm retired - but that's quite a ways away.

I know it's a long road - but the million dollar question is - is it worth it? Is there anything else I should consider as far as working towards my goal of becoming an architect or similar?

I'm most inspired by biophilic architecture and the interdisciplinary studies of both the built and natural environment. I may be more interested in landscape architecture in the long run but feel learning about architecture would be a good start as a 'general' design education.

Sorry for the length of my first post, and thank you for your time.

 
Oct 22, 21 1:47 pm
Non Sequitur

Canadian arch here...

First things first, please take some time to research what it is architects do on a day to day basis since it's not the same as TV depicts it.  With the obvious out of the way, the path to a license up here in the frozen north is long.  

  • You need an accredited Master's degree since bachelor degrees don't cut the mustard and plenty of schools offer graduate programs that don't require undergrad arch experience. This would be a more sensible option that starting fresh from undergrad.
  • You then need to complete several thousand hours of work in a licensed arch office and enrol in the intern arch program of whatever province you live in.
  • After your hours are done (or mostly done), you write your 4 exams, pay your application fees, and get a license.  

So the path is long and not something that can be done part-time and typically 2nd careers should not take 5 to 7years to catch up.  there are however other ways to get your feet wet and many local colleges offer some tech and arch/design diplomas... just keep in mind that any university-level architecture course (undergrad or masters) is very demanding.  

Oct 22, 21 2:12 pm  · 
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b3tadine[sutures]

You forgot something.

Oct 22, 21 2:31 pm  · 
1  · 
Non Sequitur

profit?

Oct 22, 21 3:31 pm  · 
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letoutsidein

Thanks for the detailed reply. I understand that my education must be accredited by CACB either through a (professional) M. Arch program or the RAIC syllabus.

I suppose my line of thinking in taking an undergrad through Athabasca is that it would allow me to slowly pick away at the degree (you can take 1 course or design studio at a time) and improve my GPA while getting a foundation in design.

Otherwise, I'm not sure I would ever get accepted to a masters program even with my 'life experience' considering how competitive admissions are up here.

Oct 23, 21 10:36 am  · 
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letoutsidein

Also, with my children in school full-time now I am confident that I would have enough free time to complete the heavy work load of course work and design studio that an architecture degree entails - especially if I can pace the online courses appropriately.

I will definitely research other ways to dip my toes in the design waters before diving in. I believe that's prudent advice, thanks for that.

Oct 23, 21 10:46 am  · 
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Non Sequitur

Don’t go Syllabus way. That path expect you to eventually work in an office while completing the program. It’s made for those already in tangential career paths (ie arch tech) not looking for part time. Besides that, I would put money on your life experience being a strong asset… much better than kids going straight into prof degrees without ever having to work for a living.

Oct 23, 21 11:16 am  · 
2  · 
Almosthip

Athabasca is not accredited unless you are registered in the RAIC syllabus program. Here is the list of accredited Universities.

List of Canadian Universities

Oct 25, 21 10:56 am  · 
1  · 
letoutsidein

Thanks. Athabasca is an accredited university - but specifically, their bachelor of science architecture program is not accredited by the CACB. It's my understanding that none of the university's in the country have an accredited bachelors of architecture program at this time.

I think it's worth noting on this thread that I spoke with someone at Athabasca recently, and they indicated they will have a masters program up and running in the next couple of years. They didn't think they would likely receive accreditation by the CACB initially - but were aiming to get it as soon as possible.

Oct 25, 21 1:16 pm  · 
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Jay1122

Work 7 days a month and make 6 figures? Really? If 8 hrs per day. Only 56 Hrs per month for a 6 figure salary? That would be a dream job. Screw architecture. Is that "firefighter" some kind of code name?

Oct 22, 21 2:41 pm  · 
3  · 
Non Sequitur

That's typical firefighter compensation up here. It's a good gig for those who can do it. Typically it's the equivalent of a month's hours spread over several 24-36 hr shifts.

Oct 22, 21 3:32 pm  · 
1  · 
sameolddoctor

Yup, firefighers are paid extremely well in the US too, and have great retirement benefits. It is not uncommon to see firemen taking early retirement in their late 40s and living off of retirement funds

Oct 22, 21 5:27 pm  · 
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letoutsidein

We work an average work week of 42 hours. I work Fri/Sun this week - Wed/Sat the week after - then only Tuesday the third week - Mon/Thurs the final week. Repeat. It really is a dream job in a lot of aspects; however, as Non Sequitur alluded to - it's not for everyone. It's also not exactly how it is depicted on TV or in the movies - although I thought Rescue Me did a pretty accurate job for the most part.

Oct 23, 21 10:54 am  · 
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z1111

Enjoy your family and your life. Pick a creative pursuit that is less demanding than architecture.

Oct 22, 21 3:01 pm  · 
5  · 
tintt

I like architecture but I wouldn't advise anyone to do it. School is competitive and demanding and loooong. If you make it into the profession you'll work many hours and most of it will be really tedious things like adding fractions and layout out sheets. You'll do this for wages that are similar to fast food workers. After 10 years, you can make a lot more but the hours are still demanding and many of your clients will try to stiff you or threaten to sue you. You'll produce drawings that you are legally responsible for but that contractors who build the work can't be bothered with and they will tell your client that the plans are "no good" because they don't want to do what is on them.

Oct 22, 21 4:02 pm  · 
3  · 
Archi-nerd

Why don't you become a fire engineering consultant?

Oct 22, 21 4:51 pm  · 
4  · 
letoutsidein

We have positions within our department in the Prevention division which are called Fire Prevention Officer - Plans Examiner. They are similar to the consultant position you mentioned. Ironically - I've never considered this! I suppose it doesn't have that creative flair I've been looking for; but I will definitely research this further. Thank you.

Oct 23, 21 10:57 am  · 
1  · 
Non Sequitur

Fire-Protection consultant is a full-blown STEM p.eng thing up here... and it is as dry and as technical as it can be. I looked into it a while back since I do a fair bit of this stuff day to day and decided it was easier to just hire-out the consultants than gain the experience in house.

Oct 23, 21 12:45 pm  · 
2  · 
letoutsidein

This sounds just about exactly what I don't want! Thanks for clarifying.

Oct 23, 21 2:04 pm  · 
1  · 
Volunteer

Some Master's programs in the US will give you a provisional admittance if you have poor undergraduate grades (cough, cough) and then give you unconditional admittance after you do well for a few semesters or a year. The large length of time since your undergraduate years is actually a plus as is the completion of a successful career Go talk with the Deans of a few schools. 

Oct 22, 21 7:32 pm  · 
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letoutsidein

Thanks. I guess I always thought they wouldn't even give me the time of day, but it never hurts to ask. I will definitely reach out to some graduate admission office's and seek some direct advice regarding my specific situation.

Oct 23, 21 11:01 am  · 
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letoutsidein

Thanks so much for all of the sound advice. I think it makes good sense for me to do a bit more groundwork in contacting local graduate admission office's - as well as speak with a few architects who are family and friends in regards to their day-to-day work.


Oct 23, 21 11:10 am  · 
1  · 
letoutsidein

In the event that I don't pursue licensure, do you have any other ideas in how I can pursue design in addition to my current career in a way that is helpful to society? I think my personality would be better suited to a craft based approach while I'm still young-ish.

Some ideas I have are:

- design/build custom furniture. Maybe I could do pro-bono work for local hospice, soup kitchen, habitat for humanity, etc.

- design/build custom residential houses. We only require a BCIN in my province (for better or worse). Possibly again helping out habitat for humanity or the likes on builds.

Any other ideas?

Oct 23, 21 11:12 am  · 
1  · 
Non Sequitur

Few people here know what a BCIN is since it's ontario specific... but it is a fantastic option. Its scope is limited to small buildings (part 9) and you cannot touch many types of uses but it's a great way to start up your own gig with far less time involvement than a M.arch plus OAA internship. I know many people who take the 2 or 3 year college diploma/degree in arch technology (or something similar) then open up their design office under their own BCIN.

Oct 23, 21 12:43 pm  · 
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letoutsidein

This really might be my best angle considering my situation. If I still have a yearning to design public buildings and natural spaces... I can always consider entering a masters program later in life.

Oct 23, 21 2:10 pm  · 
1  · 
Non Sequitur

public buildings here... take 5+ years to design and build. I'm working on a federal competition for nearly 2million sf and a 20y timeline. You don't just dabble between single-family & renos and then switch over night. But jokes aside, BCIN is a good option and likely something you can work on part-time. It's less demanding and once done, you're free to chase your own clients and projects without the need to fill in internship hours.

Oct 23, 21 5:03 pm  · 
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letoutsidein

Ha - I totally get that. I guess my ego is just trying to keep the dream alive a bit :) I think a BCIN will satisfy me until retirement when I really dig deep and think about what is required and how I like to live.

Oct 25, 21 1:23 pm  · 
 · 

If you are interested in design study industrial design, not architecture. ID is more process oriented and has broader concerns focused on human factors, material science, and manufacturing technology. The best programs are more "hands-on" and have a rigourous foundation in fine art and a range of classes in fabrication techniques (woodworking, metalworking, etc.).

Architects design buildings (in theory, at least). Industrial designers design everything.

Oct 23, 21 12:43 pm  · 
3  · 
letoutsidein

Very cool! I think the main thing I'm finding out here is that I am very interested in conceptualizing and building things.. but am not entirely sure how to go about starting the process or exactly how it will culminate. Thanks so much for your response.

Oct 23, 21 2:15 pm  · 
 · 
luvu

Miles forgot to mention that ID is much much much harder than architecture if you want to excel in this field ......

Oct 24, 21 7:20 pm  · 
1  · 

The design skills developed in ID will help you succeed in any creative field.

Oct 24, 21 8:16 pm  · 
1  · 
bowling_ball

Canadian architect here. 


This has to be a joke, with all due respect. Besides the brutal schooling that the typical path entails, which even streamlined will take 6 to 8 years, and then you aren't eligible for your license for another 3 to 5, depending on experience.... your first job will pay the equivalent of about $40k/year outside of the major Canadian markets. You will likely never make six figures again. 


You like architecture? Photography? Entrepreneurship? Go be an architectural photographer. Your area doesn't have a lot of good quality photographers and the barrier to entry is basically owning a camera and some software. 


I say this as somebody's who's been much more successful than most architects - don't do it. 

Oct 23, 21 1:21 pm  · 
1  · 
letoutsidein

I hear you.

I think it would be irresponsible for me to drop everything for a dream when I am being told from every angle - it's not a good idea. If I do, I will likely pursue licensure into retirement - once I am financially secure and it makes more sense from a time perspective.

Architectural photography is a possibility. But as someone who has spent MANY hours with a camera in hand throughout my life, I can't imagine it being very challenging nor creative considering my background. I appreciate you pointing out the obvious though - and completely understand why you'd think it's a good fit for me.

Oct 23, 21 2:19 pm  · 
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letoutsidein

Thank you again to everyone who has submitted a reply to my question. You've left me with a lot to think about. I truly appreciate your time and insight.

I think it needs to be said that you should be extremely proud of what you do as a profession. I'm sure the work is tedious, and some people seem unappreciative at times, AND for some fucked up reason you don't get paid nearly as much as you deserve - but you make everybody's lives better - every day. Even if they don't know it, a well designed and built environment makes all of our lives more enjoyable. So, thank you.

Oct 23, 21 2:31 pm  · 
5  · 
Non Sequitur

Thanks for the kind words. Most laymen who come into the forum come in with a "I can do all this better than anyone, what's the quickest path I can take". Those wankers get eviscerated.

Oct 23, 21 5:06 pm  · 
3  · 
bowling_ball

I'll echo NS. It seems that unlike most, you've come here not for strangers to validate the decision you've already made, but to actually get real life advice. Good on you

Oct 23, 21 5:26 pm  · 
2  · 
bowling_ball

PS if you want to design homes you can do that now, though I'd recommend some education or related experience first. There's no license required anywhere (that I know of) in Canada to design most buildings under 6000 sf, and honestly you could pay an architect to review and seal your drawings if it came to that. There are many, many examples of excellent unlicensed some designers. Just beware that it would likely be done for the love of it, because it'll never be lucrative. Good luck.

Oct 23, 21 5:29 pm  · 
2  · 
Non Sequitur

BB.... paying to review and "seal" is not really permitted tho. Not saying no one is out there doing it, but they should not. Besides that, while you don't need a license to design, you do require certain qualifications if you want to to have your design go through permit. In ontario, specifically, that qualification is a BCIN.

Oct 23, 21 5:36 pm  · 
2  · 
bowling_ball

Yeah I don't want to get into the weeds of it but my point is that to design homes, you don't need a license. And that's true even in Ontario.

Oct 23, 21 7:05 pm  · 
2  · 
Non Sequitur

Very few houses have even seen the desk of an architect.

Oct 23, 21 7:32 pm  · 
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randomised

all the thank yous flying around...love Canadian archinect! 

Oct 25, 21 2:43 am  · 
3  · 
Non Sequitur

Sorry for being helpful for once. I’ll try and refrain next time.

Oct 25, 21 9:09 am  · 
2  · 
tduds

Soary.

Oct 25, 21 11:02 am  · 
1  · 
letoutsidein

I'm not helping the stereo-type at all, am I?

Oct 25, 21 1:24 pm  · 
 · 
Jian Huang
Hi letoutsidein,

In USA, there is a three-year program for those who do not have bachelor degree of architecture. Most universities offerring Architecture program have this three-year program.

You will learn Structure, Visualization (hand drawing & digital drawings or other medias), History & Theory of architecture, Professional Practice (management, codes, zoning, etc.), Environmental system, Design studios.

After graduation, you can work in architectural offices as architectural designer. But people can not call themselves architect before obtaining their license in USA.

Typicall, the salary for new graduates with a Master degree of architecture are about $50000/year.

Normally, new graduates’ responsibility in the office are helping architects to draft their ideas. Which time goes by, people can work on more things, they might be trusted to make some decisions. Obtaining license is one of the methods.
Oct 25, 21 9:33 am  · 
1  · 
Non Sequitur

But the OP is not looking at USA.

Oct 25, 21 9:56 am  · 
 · 

Yes, and I have only shared something with which I am familiar, considering Canada and USA are adjacent to each other. I guess there might be something similar? I am trying to provide some useful information, If not, just ignore my comments.

Oct 25, 21 3:19 pm  · 
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joseffischer

late to the game, (and in the US) but my brother did a lot of home building, deck building, repair, and a little bit of design/flair in his off (and on) time at the fire house.  He eventually decided to rise up the ranks and as fire chief at the county level, doesn't really have the time to do side projects now.  I guess my point is, at least in his area, the amount of work he got doing mostly framing and electrical work from his knowledge and coincidental meetings as a fireman was huge.  It more than supplied his need to scratch the "creative" itch.  He wasn't alone either.  His network of full-time firefighter side-gig contractors is still huge.


Oct 25, 21 11:37 am  · 
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letoutsidein

I know this game too well! The fire department is an incredibly industrious place when it comes to getting things done. On most crews I can find people who can build a house, rebuild a car, re-program the hall wi-fi network to be ad free, etc. Collectively we are extremely intelligent - we're just not very smart (the whole running into fire thing).

Oct 25, 21 1:29 pm  · 
1  · 
letoutsidein

I am inspired to take a craft based approach (ie. more hands on sketching and building) to my goal of becoming an eventual Design/Build Firm for BCIN projects only (basically we can design/build only certain types of buildings in my location - mainly residential - without being an Architect).

I plan on spending a couple of years sketching, re-honing my metal and woodworking skills, and apprenticing as a general carpenter. What other hands on skills can I be working on? Aside from the obvious computer designing stuff.

Also - if you didn't NEED the educational institutions (as I don't in this scenario) - but could still use them - how would you go about learning how to critically think and design buildings?

Would you still take a formal education like a bachelors undergrad? Would you instead take an architectural technician/technologist diploma route?

Or would you go full blown Good Will Hunting and read every book on the subject ever? What resources would you recommend I read or look to in order to develop a good design sense for architecture? I've bought a bunch of stuff from Francis Ching and A Pattern Language - but I figure you folks will have some inside gems. I know I can't replicate the quality of design I would produce if I were a part of a functional studio or firm environment - but just humor me please.

I know that anyone can design a building - but as you're aware, most buildings are uninspired, look like shit, and are generally focused on the bottom line. If I ever have the privilege of designing and building homes, I want them be of modern vernacular, respect the environment, and blend into their natural surroundings. Any thoughts are appreciated.

Oct 25, 21 1:50 pm  · 
1  · 
square.

imo, architecture isn't a subject that lends itself well to learning through reading (i say this as someone who is both an architect and loves reading, and i read almost no "architecture" books).

there are a few ok books like the one you mentioned, and of course the marketing-based monographs, but architecture is a discipline best learned through using your hands.

Oct 25, 21 2:19 pm  · 
6  · 
letoutsidein

This makes good sense to me. So, how would you go about learning how to design quality architecture in my scenario?

Oct 25, 21 2:40 pm  · 
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letoutsidein

The school I mentioned above (Athabasca) offers design studios which are virtual. You basically meet weekly for critique and assignments. Although not ideal, would this be a good option?

Oct 25, 21 2:54 pm  · 
1  · 
z1111

Agree with square. If you want to try your hand at it I would suggest the following: get a tablet of newsprint, an HB pencil, and some modeling clay. Look at and walk around at some spaces-anywhere doesn't have to be what you think is an interesting building. The space in and around your house will do just fine. Draw the space not the objects in the space. Then try to model it. Use passive line when you draw it the blank area on the paper is part of the drawing
. Try to get a feel for the voids as a palpable entity and what emotions they might suggest don't worry about details. Computer modeling won't get you there. This is just an introductory exercise to see if you like or have a feel for architectural design.

Oct 25, 21 2:57 pm  · 
4  · 
letoutsidein

This is awesome. Merci beaucoup!

Oct 25, 21 3:15 pm  · 
 · 

Get a job in construction for hands-on experience.

Oct 25, 21 3:19 pm  · 
3  · 
square.

construction is great- i did it for a few years and learned at least as much about architecture as i did in school. i also recommend taking a drawing class and a design class, if possible. to echo others, pursuing the full architecture route is absolutely not worth it- you will do less and less of the things you are interested in, and it will stop being a hobby/interest and just a job. if you can pair construction, drawing, and design into some kind of hobby or side gig, you'll be much better off.

Oct 25, 21 3:31 pm  · 
3  · 
Almosthip

letoutsidein - I am a syllabus student and I can tell you that the design studios are self taught. Yes we meet once a week with all the other students (all 9 levels) in the syllabus for our province, plus a few volunteer architects. There is no guidance except for peer critic. If you have any questions you can send me a DM

Oct 25, 21 4:53 pm  · 
1  · 
Non Sequitur

Letout... to be fair, many times our buildings look like shit because we're forced to do silly things like prevent the spread of fire, allow for firetrucks or the collapse of floors... just to name a few things. 8-)

But to echo the above comments, get yourself into a few evening art classes.  Still and life drawings are great ways to learn how to sketch things quickly then move on to more abstract/fluid/geometric things like urban scenes.  You won't find much critical thinking in the tech college courses tho since those programs are designed to pump out workers so I'm afraid you'll have to find your own path on that.  My 2 cents is don't focus on architecture theory.  Look for something else in the social or natural sciences for example. 

Oct 25, 21 5:00 pm  · 
6  · 
letoutsidein

hip - thanks for reaching out. I'll send you a DM sometime later today non - hahahahhahaha! We appreciate the practical things you (have to) do for us :) Thanks for all of the guidance everyone!​

Oct 26, 21 8:43 am  · 
1  · 

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