Architects and their Quality of Life



I'm another typical student who has pigeon-holed himself into the career of architecture, and I feel like a complete fool. Is being an architect really as bad as people make it out to be?

I'm currently studying A levels in the UK in maths, physics and art, having just dropped chemistry AS yesterday. 

Since I was a kid I wanted to study architecture; I strangely had a misconception that it was a respected trade that rewarded those who worked hard, suited to those who loved to draw to communicate their ideas. I dreamed that I would once be able to sustain a better lifestyle than my parents whom both left college at 16, a lifestyle that has been characterized with stress and debt.
I continued this idea right up until this summer, and have now spent most of the summer reading about the doom and gloom that awaits me after £9,000 pa tuition alongside exceptional workload and long working hours. I understand that most industries - perhaps excluding the good-for-nothing bankers - are affected by the recession. But it seems that being an architect just makes everything worse.
Most folk resort to telling me to do what I enjoy. That's all when and good until it doesn't support a family, and to simply keep a job you must work yourself until you have no free time. 

I would really appreciate some advice. Do you regret becoming an architect? Did you realise the profession would have been such a state when you entered it? 

Sep 3, 13 3:04 pm

I would say that if you are having misgivings at this stage, you're probably going to be questioning architecture all the way through school.  

To a certain extent, you should pursue what you enjoy, but if you've accepted that your professional life is not the end-all, be-all of your existence, and you'd like to earn enough to pursue things beyond just work, pursue something else.

My two cents.  At the end of the day, follow your gut.

Sep 3, 13 3:21 pm

SeriousQuestion above is right.  A handful of people, through luck or talent or bullshit, get to do the fun stuff.  The rest of us are back room drones, underpaid, bored and generally disatisfied.  If you don't just love it for its own sake, do something else.  You are right in having these misgivings.  Listen to your instinct.  Architecture is not a very good career choice for most people.  I for one wouldn't go near it if I had my life to live over again.

Sep 3, 13 3:45 pm

Have you considered an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering or Construction Management? You could always go back and get a Masters in Architecture, or even Landscape Architecture several years on.

Sep 3, 13 4:19 pm

i've put some consideration into your view about rewarding those who work hard.  this is a thought i grew up with too, and i'm pretty sure at some point in the past it was a thing that happened.  i don't know all that much about the other side of the pond, but i expect it's quite similar to what's going on in america with regards to politics and the financial industry.  there has been a movement towards 'trickle down economic,' policy championed by reagan over here and i believe thatcher on your end.  this is policy designed to take money away from the working class and giving it to the wealthy.  along with money, those of us who work for a living essentially lose our opportunity to improve our lot in life.  hard work isn't nearly as useful as being born into a prosperous family.

if that's true, then you will find the same sort of downtrodden back room drones in every profession.  even in the financial industry, i'm pretty sure they're keeping it close to home.  if you want to get rich as a banker, you probably need to know someone to get you an in.  if there is no hope for the lower caste, i think designing buildings is probably one of the better environments to be in with no hope.

Sep 3, 13 5:14 pm

Career advice? Find something productive to do in a deteriorating world. Organic food production, water purification, renewable resources / energy, etc. It's all going to shit and architects are largely obsolete. We're tailors to developers and the rich. If we're really really really lucky we occasionally get a client who allows us to do something responsible and actually appreciates it when we do.

ID is a good field, develop analytical and problem solving skills, lots of possibilities for the creatively minded.

curtkram, it's not trickle down, it's trickle up.

Sep 3, 13 5:22 pm

Volunteer - re your post:

The OP is in the UK.  I don't know how the universities are set up over there.  All the European systems seem different, and the nomenclature is all over the map.  In fact, the Canadian system seems different, too.  When one goes to become an attorney in the Maple Leaf Country, they use the term "articling" for some judge or firm.  In Quebec, they have CEGEPs, which sound like an in-between step between high school and college.

I don't regret doing the M.Arch., so I like the above recommendation of M.Arch. or M.L.A.  As for the field, and it being right or wrong for me, it holds my attention and it's interesting.  The pay would be considered squarely middle class for most people.  The biggest turn-off in architecture is the extremes of the people in the field - those starchitects who have earned their stripes, yet are distasteful human beings, and the generally odd people who have to make a statement of sorts.  The middle of the bell shaped curve, in terms of people, is actually fine.  I do regret studying commerce prior to it, because it was excessively deep for how much I wound up using it, sometimes too broad and conceptual, and with its own set of personality extremes - those who would sell their mother for a dime, and those who were there because they didn't know what they wanted to do, were vapid to begin with, but didn't  want to major in liberal arts.

I think civil engineering or construction management are, per the above post, good suggestions.  If a person went to get the M.Arch. they realistically could still return to these fields, and the switch would be credible.  They are allied fields.  Civil engineering wouldn't work for me, I don't think.  However, I would have chosen gladly construction management, taken some extra courses to get a minor in business (probably about 4, since it has some core b-courses), and taken classes in art as electives, since I was able to draw as a kid, enjoyed it, and wanted to learn techniques from those who were capable in art and design.

If you are in undergraduate or graduate studies, and it feels like you're having teeth pulled or are feeling down, with everything else in your life held constant, it could be a sign that you shouldn't be studying that field.  So, at the very least, "do what you love" - even better when you "love what you do."

Sep 3, 13 5:42 pm

I feel most comfortable with idea of studying architecture, but that may just be the fact that I've been stuck on the idea for so long that I'm now scared to throw that away and pursue something else. 

I have a few people in my college who want to become architects too, most of whom are from rich backgrounds. They all seem very convinced that a Norman Foster-equivalent position will be awaiting them after they graduate; I really wonder if it is passion and love for the subject that drives them, or clear ignorance to the reality of architecture and their future prospects. Or maybe their parents can see them through such a life, I have no idea.

I consider civil engineering a lot; in fact, any type of engineering, maybe even chemical. It's a world apart from designing buildings, though. But on the other hand, it doesn't seem like many architects get to do that job anyway.

Curtkram, I agree with you about every industry holding back room drones. But then again, you have to question whether or not it takes the drones within those industries 7 years to become RIBA accredited (or AIA equivalent). The whole architecture profession just seems completely disproportionate in terms of effort and reward in comparison to every other profession, I wouldn't be surprised if the media studies degree overtook architecture for better prospects.

I know money isn't the end of the world. I really couldn't care less about earning the salary of an investment banker, I doubt I would feel satisfied with my job and place in society. But it does rather annoy me when people say to do what you enjoy; it typically comes from those who are aspiring to be doctors or lawyers, and if not, their parents are normally rich beyond belief.

I have the impression that many architects regret there career choice. I understand this will be amongst all professions, but it seems to be larger amongst architects, and I'm guessing it's also much harder to side step out of architecture given the speciality and as such it's a much bigger commitment than most other degrees. What causes this regret, is it the struggle to put food on the table for a family, the long working hours or? 

Sep 3, 13 6:21 pm

The real issue with this profession -- and one that you should weigh very carefully -- is that over the past 30-40 years many -- and I really do mean "many" -- people have decided that Architecture might be a cool way to earn a living and have pursued a degree in Architecture. That trend created what can only be characterized as an oversupply of architects, which oversupply has absolutely destroyed the economics of the profession.

The long-term imbalance between graduation rates and the demand for architectural services is the real reason that fees (and wages) are so low and working conditions are so bad. There are simply too many architectural firms chasing too few projects. There are simply too many graduate architects chasing too few employment opportunities. Consequently, the economics of the profession tend to suck for the vast majority of firms.

These poor economic conditions are not likely to change for the vast majority of firms in the foreseeable future. I don't necessarily write this to discourage you from a career direction that you otherwise might truly love. I just think you need to fully understand the 'macro-economic' reality before you commit yourself to a career decision that you may later regret -- and may later find very difficult to change. It's much easier to get into this profession than it is to get out.

Now, having said that, I still know many practicing architects who earn reasonable livings and enjoy going to the office every day. They may not be working in Norman Foster like offices, but they mostly achieve decent results, derive meaningful professional satisfaction, have happy clients, marry (at least once), manage to educate their children and retire at a reasonable age (if that is their wish.)

Good luck with what is, I am sure, a difficult decision.

Sep 3, 13 7:15 pm

I have the impression that many architects regret there career choice. I understand this will be amongst all professions, but it seems to be larger amongst architects, and I'm guessing it's also much harder to side step out of architecture given the speciality and as such it's a much bigger commitment than most other degrees. What causes this regret, is it the struggle to put food on the table for a family, the long working hours or?

You are perceptive.  The rate of pay, especially early on, is an embarrassment compared to what one's peers may be making in another field.  After some good experience and/or licensing, it goes up.  For most, this is an issue early on more so than later.  As for the long hours, I've never worked in a sweat shop.  I've had some spikes (45 to 50 hours a week) and only a few "all nighters," and you can count on them every year in a normal economy.  I think the glitzy firms are those that work their staff to death, because they can.  However, such crazy hours are also seen by doctors, lawyers, and accountants. 

The problem is the profession itself.  It starts in school.  When a person is training to be an attorney, a doctor, or even a MBA (technically not a profession), they make you feel like a professional in the making and like they are polishing you up, or attempting to.  (Now if you the polish doesn't stick, that's another story).  In architecture school, very little of it feels professional.  You feel like you are closer to being a bohemian sculptor, guitarist, or public rights activist than you do to being a professional like your friends who have elected to something else.  There is little collegiality in school, with almost too much diversity and petty jealousies.  The diversity can be theatrical, but the petty jealousies and cattiness certainly is not. There is little collegiality in the workforce, with segmentation of architects by alumni club (where they went to school), geographic origin, demographics, personal and practice style, and even breeding (*silver spoon and wealth in the family of origin*).  Granted, all this can be ignored and a person can still be a (successful) architect, but it's next to impossible to be oblivious to it.

Sep 3, 13 7:29 pm

Santiago Calatrava did it backwards; he got an architecture degree then got a graduate degree in civil engineering. He certainly seems to have combined the two disciplines in an engaging, unique way. In today's market having the civil engineering undergraduate degree gives you a better chance of being employed after your undergraduate studies. As you are acutely aware the current economy is a train-wreck. Civil engineering experience would directly translate to architectural skills while chemical engineering would not.

Sep 3, 13 8:32 pm
boy in a well

the lawyers I've known were humiliated and worked to the bone for the reward of a big paycheck and a nice car to drive you home on Christmas Eve for continuing to work hours that would make an arch student blush for clients they despised and who treated them like servants. What do you want your life to look like Alex? There's a lot to be had for smiling and swallowing.

Cheers Mate!

Sep 4, 13 6:23 am

Alex, Alex, Alex...

How many semesters of ARCH studio have you survived, to date?

By the end of studio 2 you ought to live, breathe, dream, love and hate design, especially architecture, every morning as you awake, bleary eyed, for another day of this beautiful hell.  

If you don't love it by this point- NEED it, really- then the answer is simple: RUN FOR YOUR LIFE. An unhappy designer is a miserable person indeed.

If you're looking for money, prestige, recognition, a really decent living ect, you should bail. If you really, really love it however, I truly hope you stick with it, and make it. We could certainly use another architect of just intention.

Research the life and death of Antoni Gaudi, Alex. A beautiful example of the archetypical architectural martyr. Study his brilliance and his downfall. How you interpret this story may give you an answer.

Best of luck, and take care.


Sep 4, 13 8:31 am

It seems like you value lifestyle and security over other things. If that's the case then architecture is definitely the wrong career. 

If you have a little talent, Alex, and somewhat enjoy the things you're working on, I would think about sticking through it. You can always pivot your career into another field with a different graduate degree or by getting a dual major in business or real estate dev.

Sep 4, 13 9:26 am

No, no, no.  Don't fall for this "beautiful hell" nonsense.  If Gaudi was a martyr,  he was a martyr in the service of his own design and self-expression.  Martyrdom in the service of doing working drawings for another strip center or cheesy condo project out on the Interstate is not in the least bit "beautiful' or glamorous.  This suffering artist romanticism is just the mindset that has fucked this profession up.

Sep 4, 13 9:27 am

agreed with quiz -


I'd also like to add that those I've seen obtain some success in this field are either great "collectors of people" or extremely gifted in some design/technical/management area of the profession and have paired up with a people collector.  I've seen far too many people in this field who are either completely deluded about their own abilities in certain areas (usually design and management) or think that a bad office environment is endemic of the entire field.


I try to avoid people who are negative all the time about everything - unfortunately there are an awful lot of these people in this profession (I call them the frustrated howard roark wannabes).  If you're drawn to this field because you see bad design everywhere and you want to show the world what "good design really is" - you are going to be really unhappy.

Sep 4, 13 10:30 am
Erik Evens (EKE)

I get up every morning and go to the studio because I want to help make people's lives better, and I love what I do.  That's the bottom line.  It's taken me a long time to start making a decent living at it, but if you are talented and keep going it will happen.  in my opinion, the only way you will make it there is if you love it, and know that you really aren't interested in doing anything else.  Architecture is too hard and too labor-intensive for people to dabble in for too long.  I think you either dive in deep because you have no choice, or you find something else.

Sep 4, 13 10:52 am

No, no, no.  Don't fall for this "beautiful hell" nonsense.

I agree.  This is what perpetuates the mercenary attitude in architecture.  It's not anything other than a more time-consuming and complex curriculum in school, and a very detailed, all encompassing type of work after leaving school.  As for all this high-drama bullshit and "architorture" while in school, that's the cultish aspect of it.  If you're there to get an education and are not partying, it's simply a curriculum that takes up most ,or all, of your time and design studio is simply a hands-on course or lab that takes up the lion's share of the time in relation to other courses.  A few "all nighters" can be expected.  School was not unpleasant nor insurmountable.  The only thing that was unpleasant was being a grad student around hordes of college students, many annoying, after having worked for a handful of years.  Some real douche bags, I tell you.

Sep 4, 13 1:05 pm

Thanks everyone, I've searched around other professions such as civil engineering, chemical engineering etc and they seem a whole world apart from architecture, I honestly doubt I would succeed with such limited enthusiasm for them. It's kind of unfortunate that the one thing I really would enjoy for a career seems to be complete doom and gloom.

If I followed my parent's advice, I would wind up in investment banking having been told to stay clear of architecture. I think I'll have to go against that, I'd rather not be the richest man in the grave. 

Once again, thanks for the advice, I wasn't expecting so much response! Certainly better than equivalent UK forums who seem full of internet 'trolls'. I understand that architecture is a big commitment, and it may be ignorant, but I think I'll just follow my heart and think about the consequences after :)

Sep 4, 13 4:01 pm
boy in a well

which UK forums?


sounds like fun . . .

Sep 4, 13 5:18 pm

I try to avoid people who are negative all the time about everything - unfortunately there are an awful lot of these people in this profession (I call them the frustrated howard roark wannabes).  If you're drawn to this field because you see bad design everywhere and you want to show the world what "good design really is" - you are going to be really unhappy.

I disagree with the Howard Roark comment, to some extent.  There are people who train to be architects who do not want to be Howard Roarks and are content, and even prefer, to work on everyday stuff - strip malls, car dealerships, small medical clinics, shelters, and all that stuff, either alone or with 1, 2 or 3 other people.  This would be analogous to saying that all MDs from a hoyty-toyty medical school want to be Park Avenue psychiatrists or plastic surgeons, when some went into the field expressly to practice rural family medicine.  It's the presence of the Howard Roarks, and Howard Roark wannabees, that makes the field somewhat unpleasant at times.

Sep 4, 13 6:46 pm

Alex965, Good luck with your decision!

Sep 4, 13 9:10 pm

Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary.

This question is one that only a very old man asks. Does this path have a heart? All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush, or into the bush. In my own life I could say I have traversed long long paths, but I am not anywhere. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.

Before you embark on any path ask the question: Does this path have a heart? If the answer is no, you will know it, and then you must choose another path. The trouble is nobody asks the question; and when a man finally realizes that he has taken a path without a heart, the path is ready to kill him. At that point very few men can stop to deliberate, and leave the path. A path without a heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy; it does not make you work at liking it.

Sep 4, 13 11:02 pm
Erik Evens (EKE)

true dat.

Sep 5, 13 12:36 am

Hi everyone, 

Am I right in thinking the route to being successful in Architecture is, as with many lines of work, getting your name out there and meeting the right kinds of people to help you along your way to doing that?

Obviously the right qualifications are necessary, but is it not more about your design portfolio and what you have the potential to achieve through your designs? 

Sep 5, 13 7:49 am

@observant - I'm using "howard roark" as an example of "the individual against the world" - a self-righteous attitude that everyone else is WRONG and only you are right (and the goal is to get everyone else to follow you).  This is different than someone who is interested in pursuing their own individual design agenda and establishing themselves as a brand - through force of their own personality and influence.   Going around believing that there are universal architectural Truths will just make you really frustrated and angry.

Sep 5, 13 11:18 am

Block this user

Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

  • ×Search in: