Friday, August 20, 2010

Staying in Architecture

I am 27 years old. I obtained my BS in Architecture in 2005 from a NAAB accredited school. After graduation I started work as an intern at a respected small/ mid-sized residential architecture firm know best for traditional custom homes. Although traditional and classical styles are not my forte or particular passion, I thought of it as a great opportunity to learn more about them and get practical experience at a design-oriented firm. I always had good reviews about my work, but knew that to advance further I needed more education. So after working full-time for two years I returned to school in 2007 and continued working part-time at the same company. Since I was juggling a very tight schedule I thought that staying with the same company where I already knew the ropes would be the best thing to do at the time. Unfortunately the housing bubble burst and after asking all of the full-time employees to reduce their hours for six months the company had to start laying people off, including myself in February 2009. I then graduated with my Master of Architecture in May 2009.

Since then I have been looking for work and found few opportunities. I have been trying to stay in Atlanta because my significant other's career is taking off here and he has been getting a part time MBA. I truly believe that I belong in the design field in one respect or another, but I am beginning to wonder if I'm the only person that feels that way. I know that lots of people are out of work, but it's at an important point for me where I feel like I may have to leave to field. Can you recommend related careers that might not be so obvious? (I applied to be an architectural graphic designer -- sign design). Is it possible to get back to architecture after a departure from the field?

First, I am sorry to hear that you lost your architectural position; as you recognize, the architectural profession has been hit very hard by the economic situation.

At this point, I suggest you consider yourself as a set of skills that are marketable to employers rather than a career title. Instead of using the title of architect as your goal in the short term, analysis what skills you have developed through your architectural education and position. What did you learn?

Perhaps, most importantly, you learned how to design and the design process which can be transferred to a number of other disciplines. I always joke that all you need to do is place a word in front of designer and you have a career, i.e., interior designer, furniture designer, exhibit designer, graphic designer, industrial designer. As well, graduates now have superb digital skills compared to graduates from the previous generation -- this particular skill can relate to web design, graphic design and the like. One of my former students actually designs wedding invitations as a side business.

Architects are problem solvers and every employment sector needs that skill. Architects learn how to be creative, communicate graphically and orally, participate in a team environment and construct models. All of these skills are transferable to other positions in the short term until the profession rebounds.

The following link on has a list of related disciplines to consider:

Also, consider becoming an architect within employers other than traditional firms. Corporations, governments at all levels, educational institutions (teach CAD or drafting at a community college), developers, engineering and design firms all hire architects on staff or for contract work. Sometimes you have to think outside of the box.

Ultimately, you can reenter the profession, but the key is to stay engaged through reading, connecting with other architects (join the AIA or another professional association, maintaining or improving your skills, and set career goals that move you towards licensure; have your started your NCARB Council Record? In some states, you can actually begin to take portions of the ARE or you can gain credit towards IDP through community service or reviewing the EPC - Emerging Professionals Companion.

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