jump to navigation

8 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming An Architect January 16, 2014

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
5 comments

emergingDear Emerging Professional,

I am so excited to be able to participate with you in the 2014 Emerging Professionals Summit in Albuquerque next week.

If for some reason I am not able to attend, there are a few things I would want you know – a few things I learned along the way to becoming and being an architect.

1. If you want to design buildings, design buildings

I actually learned this about writing. The best way to be a writer is to write. If you want to write, put butt in seat and write.

The same holds true for designing buildings.

I was fortunate to be given the opportunity early in my career to design buildings.

A large firm I was working for at the time made me an associate of the firm.

But there were only so many design positions. If I were to continue working at the firm, I would be a technical architect.

So I said thank you and left the firm to work at a firm that had a strong design reputation.

Then I left that firm and thereafter, associated with that strong design boutique, was given the opportunity to design buildings for a living.

I have been a designer ever since.

The world today gives you so many opportunities to design.

So, if you want to design, design.

2. You can reinvent yourself at any time

There’s nothing wrong with being a project architect or project manager. These are worthy career tracks, and in the case of being a PM, has a greater career longevity than being a designer.

But I asked myself, at the end of my life how would I feel knowing that I hadn’t designed buildings?

While acknowledging that everyone is different, this thought made me feel empty.

I knew then I would not be following the dictates of my personality if I decided to spend a career in architecture as anything but a designer.

So I chose design. And by that I mean I dedicated myself to designing buildings.

I took a cut in salary at the design boutique, and worked way too many hours.

But I saw it as an opportunity to reinvent myself.

Like going back to school, this short commitment to a professional transformation has paid off for nearly two decades.

And I can see now, looking back, that my life would have turned out very differently had I not taken this less trodden path.

3. Anyone can be a designer

As with anything worth doing, you just have to really want it.

It isn’t so much about talent as it is about listening.

Knowing what it is that your client – or your manager or you boss – is looking for.

And then using the resources you have available to you – including tools, processes, consultants and teammates – to help you deliver the results.

All the talent in the world will get you nowhere if you can’t discern what it is others are looking for.

When you present your designs, what you’re saying is, look: I heard you.

And that’s all people really want: to be heard.

The greatest gift you can give others is to show them that they’ve been heard. That you’ve listened.

Then, once they’ve been heard, if you have a better idea – show them.

They are much more likely to see what you see if you first show them that you heard what they said.

I grew up in a cookie-cutter split-level home in the suburbs outside of Chicago. We didn’t know any architects. If I can be a designer, anyone can.

4. You can see your designs built

For the longest time, the most important thing for me – besides my family and my health – was to wake up each day and design.

Design, but not build.

If you want to see your designs built, then you will spend time designing your buildings in such a way that they are buildable.

You will make the ability to put buildings together on equal terms with the ability to design.

Otherwise, you’ll be a paper or digital architect.

But not an architect who builds.

If you want to see your designs built, you have to be excited about discovering cost-saving, value-adding, waste-reducing ways to see your designs built.

If you can be as excited about putting buildings together as you are about designing buildings, you have it. You have what it takes.

5. You can make a killing in architecture

This is probably the greatest myth in our profession.

That you can’t get rich being an architect.

It probably helps if money isn’t important to you.

Money was never important to me. It is part of the reason I went into architecture.

People – your boss, co-workers, clients – recognize when you’re not in it for the money.

You do what you do because you love it.

If you don’t love it, get out.

Or take a vacation, take a break, and see if the feeling has passed.

If you can’t wait to get out of bed because you have the opportunity – the privilege – for one more day to be an architect, then money probably isn’t your first concern.

Which is good.

Because the universe will recognize this and make you bloody rich.

I will never forget the time, years ago, when I was first offered $100,000 to design buildings – to do the thing I loved – for a living.

I showed my wife the email with the job offer and said “watch this.”

And before she could stop me from doing something stupid, I replied to the email asking for $10,000 more.

We sat in silence watching my computer monitor for what seemed like an eternity.

It was thirty seconds.

When the reply said “sure. OK.” Deal.

Rule of thumb: If someone is willing and able to offer you a $100,000 salary they probably don’t care if it’s $110,000.

You don’t make over $100,000 in architecture because it matters to you.

You will make over $100,000 in architecture only when it stops mattering to you.

Money is still not important to me. But it is important to my family.

And so, like going to the dentist twice a year, I make sure it’s covered.

Check.

Don’t give it any more attention or energy than that.

6. You can open an office without any clients

One of the gifts of being an emerging professional is that you don’t know enough – haven’t been around enough – to be scared away from doing unwise things.

Like opening an office with no clients.

I remember when I announced to my colleagues that I was opening a firm, one took me aside and asked: “Aren’t you scared?”

At the time, it seemed like such an odd question. Scared of what?

OK, I learned soon enough. Who knows, perhaps had I known what I was getting into, I might not have made the leap.

But call it naïve or fearless, I opened my firm without any clients.

And by the end of day one I had three.

How? By putting myself out there.

Before launch, I hired a graphic designer and designed professional looking letterhead and an announcement.

And sent the announcement out to everyone I knew.

I got out of my office and, wouldn’t you know, while putting gas in my car, I heard a voice – a former client who, having received one of my announcements, asked if I would be interested in doing some work for him?

It’s all about putting yourself out there. You’ll find if you put yourself out there, people will meet you halfway.

Make it easy on others to find you .

7. You can teach and practice architecture

Before I graduated grad school, I went into the dean’s office and said there was something weighing on me:

Will I be able to practice architecture and write plays?

At the time, I couldn’t imagine being an architect without also being a playwright, and I wanted to know if there was a precedent for this, if this was possible?

The dean said: “If you want to do both, you’ll do both.”

And so, for the next dozen years, I was a playwright writing plays (some won awards and got produced) while being an architect.

I took that same thinking – if you want it badly enough – and applied it to teaching architecture.

And so, for half a dozen years, without any teaching experience, I taught in Chicago while running my own practice.

So, how do you get your first teaching position if you haven’t taught?

8. You can do anything if you have a sponsor

Join the local component of the AIA.

Participate in committees, attend events.

You not only benefit from exposure to interesting subjects, but as importantly – others see that you are someone who gets involved.

If you volunteer and serve, you’ll do so because you care about the profession; about the environment; about giving back.

The thing is, someone will notice you. It may not happen right away.

But one day, you’ll get a call to serve on a board, to organize an important event, to rise within an organization; to teach at their university.

Someone has been watching you.

When this happens, turn off your iPod and take off your earbuds.

You’ve been sponsored.

People will see that you have time – you are the sort of person who can create time – to do something outside of the office.

And they will push you a little, by presenting you with opportunities.

This person is your champion. They may not be your mentor, but they’re no doubt your sponsor.

Most emerging professionals don’t want to make decisions because they feel it limits their options, and in doing so, closes doors.

But in one’s career only so many doors will open for you in the first place.

You need to be there – and recognize – when it happens.

And when it does, ask yourself if you are truly interested in where it might take you.

If you are, well, go through the door.

I have seen it many times – and have experienced it myself.

The way you get your first teaching gig is to show up and get involved in the AIA or another worthwhile organization like Architecture for Humanity.

And care.

It won’t be long before you feel that hand on your shoulder.

Or you get that email or the phone rings.

And if you care about something, don’t be afraid of showing your enthusiasm. Enthusiasm helps. There’s not enough of it.

Being an architect is the best job in the world

Think of it like this. You are given so many days on this planet.

How do you want to go about spending them?

Being an architect is like the spacesuit you are given.

Only you get to choose which spacesuit to wear while you’re here.

I can think of no greater way to live on our planet than to have a position where you can act on it, change it, grow it, improve it.

But this is something I suspected all along. I hope you come to find this is true for you, too.

Wear your spacesuit well.