Saturday, January 7, 2012

From Tax Attorney to Architect

Dr. Architecture: First, thanks for taking time out to help those of us considering careers in architecture.

Let me give you a little bit of my background.  I am 31 years old and currently a practicing tax attorney, now realizing (a bit too late perhaps), that I be much happier pursuing a more creative career.

Like George Costanza from Seinfeld, I've always wanted to (pretend to) be an architect.  But the cosmos led me down a different path.  For reasons that escape me, I never seriously considered a career in architecture, nor any sort of arts.  I went to a local college.  I took the LSAT on a whim, did really well and got into a good law school, thinking it was what I wanted.  However, after practicing for 5 years, I have come to the conclusion that I don't want to be buried in the internal revenue code 20 years from now.

I want to deal with the physical world and design.  What I have been finding is that I am much more passionate about design, particularly as it intersects with function.  I have recently taken a watchmaking course and enjoyed that immensely.  I also enjoy modeling with Google Sketchup. Art and design is in my blood as well.  My grandmother is a relatively well-known artist with her work displayed in museums.  My mother is a graphic designer.  In addition, my wife and her family are very artistic and this has led me to realize that I would love to somehow make a change.  Sooner rather than later.

My question for you is, what would be the best way for me to proceed?  As it stands right now, I cannot afford to take three years off to pursue a master's degree in architecture.  (There is a slight possibility that I will be in a position to do that in a few years time, but that may be more of a dream than a reality).  There also doesn't appear to be any evening programs for a first professional master degree. 

Short of a masters degree, is there any hope?  I spoke with the San Francisco Institute of Architecture, which has an online program, but is not accredited.  They informed me that many people have gone on to become a licensed architects in California, shortening the required experience by 1 year.  But I am skeptical.  I also spoke with the Institute of Construction and Design in Brooklyn, NY (my hometown).  They do have an evening program and appear to have a much more technical focus (as compared to the NAAB accredited schools).  But they only offer an associates degree and none of those credits would be transferable to a master program.  

I do still intend to take some classes to make sure that this is for me before taking the plunge.  I am looking at either taking a few classes at the Institute of Construction and Design or at the Intro to Architecture summer program at Columbia University.  But I am also trying to determine whether there is any other path that you're aware of for people making a career change into architecture.  

The other consideration is whether this would be a foolish move from a financial perspective.  I do earn a good salary now and potential lost earnings would be significant.  How have others that may have made late changes fared in the job market?

First, congrats on your desire to pursue architecture.

As you already know, the formal process of becoming an architecture is 1) education (NAAB accredited degree), 2) experience (IDP), and 3) exam (ARE).  Almost every state and jurisdiction requires a NAAB accredited degree so it is extremely difficult to actually become an architect.

Given that you are not able to pursue the MArch degree right now, I would suggest you consider how you can become involved in the discipline/profession.  You state that you cannot afford it but there is more financial assistance at the graduate level.  Have you inquired with a few architecture programs.

If not architect, how can you transfer your skills as an attorney and translate them to the discipline? 

I recognize that this transition is tough and challenging, but what motivates you.  It may be foolish from a financial perspective, but is it foolish from a career satisfaction perspective.  There have been plenty of individuals the same age as you or older who have transitioned to architecture.  One former student was 51 and had a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering --- he is now an architect.

You stated - "I want to deal with the physical world and design."  Rather than making excuses, figure out what you need to do to make that statement come true.  Maybe as an architect, maybe not.

Just make it happen.

No comments: