10 Reasons why you SHOULD NOT become an Architect.

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The pitfalls of becoming an architect?

Are You Considering Becoming an Architect?

Architecture is rough. It’s definitely not a profession for everyone or more accurately everyone who thinks they should be an Architect.  In fact, architecture can be more of a lifestyle than just a job or a profession. Unfortunately in many situations the cards often aren’t stacked in the Architects favor.

Last week I gave you 10 reasons on why YOU should become an Architect. To keep things balanced, here are 10 wonderful reasons why YOU should not become an Architect.

1. The glass is always half empty.

This is how architecture is taught. There is always more you could do, things you could try, or ways it could be better. Your project will never be done.

Many people learn early on that they pour their heart and soul into a project, and they have a really hard time with the criticism.

One of the keys to getting past this is learning to disassociate from “the work”. It helps to think that the work has its own life. The work is what’s being criticized, not you as a person. It sounds silly, but a lot of architecture students never make it past the first year because of this.

2. You’re overly excited about telling people you’re an Architect.

Thanks to Ayn Rand, many people (outside of the profession) naturally have a love for the image of an Architect.

Sure, saying you’re an Architect can be cool in certain situations every once and while. BUT if this is overly important to you, then you maybe shouldn’t be an architect.

The inglorious moments of working long and hard, being challenged by contractors, plans examiners, and difficult clients, will far outnumber the moments when you look cool for being an Architect.

People who are successful in this profession care more about doing the work, then being recognized for doing it.

Becoming an Architect should only be pursued if you are truly passionate about the work, and not because you want to look cool at a party. You will actually get to go to more parties if you don’t become an Architect.

 3. The money sucks

Architecture compares terribly in a cost benefit analysis with other professions. After college, entry-level salaries have always been very meager, and long hours are required.

Many architects don’t start seeing decent money until after they become somewhat experienced, licensed, and accomplished. This generally takes 5-10 years out of college.

I have watched people in other professions work a lot less, with less education, and still make double an Architect’s salary. Being an Architect is just a different lifestyle.

Being a poor Architect is also very much a mindset. Not every Architect is destined to be broke. There are many ways out of it. Figuring out how not to be a poor Architect may be your greatest design challenge. The place to start is by studying business, entrepreneurship and learning how to sell architectural services.

4. Most architects don’t design

The harsh reality of becoming an architect is that you spend many years in college being your own Starchitect (Star Architect) in your imaginary academic bubble. Student’s design all types of buildings, make all types of executive decisions, and never really face the harsh realities of business, codes, constructability, and the public.

After college, Graduates just carry out the executive decisions of others and work on the production side of the firm, rather than the decision-making side. Most architecture graduates spend their entire careers simply implementing the design decisions of others.

The positive side to this is that a lot of great learning takes place executing others designs. By hacking your way through each annoying detail, and being in the trenches, you are becoming better prepared for being the one to make executive decisions in your future.

5. You stink at math

Architects are constantly doing mental math calculations without a calculator.  For instance:

What is 5’-9” + 6’-4” + the width of (3) 2 x 8’s?

If you already struggle with math and calculations, then you will be greeted with a never-ending supply of calculus, physics, statics, and general structures. After you finish those classes you will then go on to study how to calculate beams, floors, and columns in wood, steel, and concrete.

Architects do quick math all day long. If you’re not comfortable with math, architecture may not be for you.

Oh and its 12’-5 ½” btw.

6. Hustling is rewarded more than talent

Showing up is frequently 75% of the battle.

People who are half as talented as you, will typically work three times as hard just to raise the standard. They will be rewarded, get their buildings built, and frequently outperform you.

Architecture is one of the most competitive professions. It starts the second you apply to design school and it never stops.

Many people have tons of creative energy deep inside of them that can become unlocked in a competitive environment.  Embracing the competition is how many people surprise themselves with what they may be capable of as a designer.

7. Don’t even think about calling yourself an Architect, until you fulfill all the licensing requirements.

Does anyone want unqualified people building our structures?

This is why the licensing process exists. The licensing process is long and extensive and highly regulated. It focuses around understanding, and protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

Getting a fancy, expensive architecture degree does not allow you to call yourself an Architect.  Moreover, it does not allow you to solicit architectural services to clients.

It is actually illegal in the United States to call yourself an Architect, until you have met all the requirements and passed the Architect Registration Exam. After college can call yourself a: Designer, Architectural (fill in the blank), anything flies, as long as it is not “Architect”. Architectural staff may practice architecture under the supervision of a licensed Architect, who will be the Architect of record.

If you solicit design services that fall into the realm of architecture, or if you identify yourself an Architect, you could potentially be punished by your state’s board. Some state boards are more aggressive than others, and I highly recommend looking up what the limits of providing design services as an unlicensed Architect are in your state.

There is always a lot of controversy around this topic. After completing the exhaustive process of becoming a licensed architect, my opinion has changed. It is very clear how and why these rules exist. Architects carry a tremendous responsibility for protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public. Identifying yourself as an Architect should be protected similarly to calling yourself a Doctor, Lawyer or a Police Officer.

8. You will spend more time thinking like a Lawyer, than an Architect.

A stamped set of plans of specifications are considered legal documents instructing a Contractor the work to be done. A sloppy set of drawings with errors can become an Architects worst self inflicted nightmare during construction.

I have worked with contractors who are highly skilled at finding small errors (or opportunities to them) in the Architects drawings and turning those into very expensive change orders for the owner.

The drawings and specs will never be perfect. There is also very little room for error. When producing construction drawings (giving directions to a contractor) you will spend a lot of time looking at your drawings and specs trying to avoid your client from being screwed by the contractor.

Very frequently projects go wrong. Things will mess up. If things didn’t go sour no one would ever learn anything. Learning how to avoid these problems and effectively deal with them is learned by living through troubled projects. Good Architects become obsessive, systematic, and methodical with how they craft a set of construction drawings.

9. Your good deeds will frequently be punished.

At times the people you are trying to help will fight you because they don’t care about your project. Your clients will decide not to pay you. Others will take credit for your great ideas. You will bend over backwards for people who do not appreciate it. Contractors will rip off your clients and point the finger at you. You will work very hard on projects and your hard work will go unnoticed. You could work on a project for years that suddenly got shelved, and in the end, never gets built.

This is normal and it happens to everyone. The key is not to take it personally. You will do hundreds of projects in your lifetime. You cannot always be the hero. After enough disasters you start to become numb to them and learn to manage tense moments more effectively.

Luckily the headache projects get quickly replaced with new projects, and looking back, all of the frustrations are usually forgotten in time.

10. The Debbie Downers

A lot of the people in architecture have not had it easy, and they are quick to remind you of their long hard journey. Many may try to dampen your dreams of being an Architect.

It’s easy to get sucked into the narcissism, but try your best not to fall down this slippery slope. Adding more negativity around the subject doesn’t help anyone or anything. I challenge you not to focus on the negative; in fact, I challenge you to do the opposite.

Still want to become an Architect?

I write this, not to be a “wet blanket”, disparage the profession, or discourage anyone from becoming an Architect.  My intention is to share some of the harsh realities that many people experience. By keeping keen awareness of the dark side, you can be 2 steps ahead of what many Architects encounter.

The Architect’s Academy

Not quite sure if Architecture is for you, and want to learn more without the lofty expense of attending architecture school?   My friend Doug Patt has created The Architect’s Academy for people who are interested in learning more about architecture, how to design, build models, write like an architect, and many other architecture related topics. All of the courses are very reasonably priced for the amount of value, entertainment and information they provide. I highly recommend checking the Architect’s Academy as a starting point if your considering pursuing architecture or just generally more interested in learning about architecture and how architects think.

Click here to check out the Architect’s Academy

Other Resources. 

When I was in the process of becoming an architect one resource that I found tremendously helpful was the book Architect? A Candid Guide to the Profession by Roger Lewis. This book paints a very realistic, “this is what you need to know” picture for anyone considering going to architecture school or a career in architecture.

Another excellent resource I love to recommend is the book inside: Architecture and Design: A guide to the practice of architecture (what they don’t teach you in architecture school) By Ryan Hansanuwat. This book is for recent architecture graduates or people trying to find a job in the profession of architecture. It outlines how to find a job in architecture and the inner workings of most architecture firms.  It’s an excellent read for people who are serious about becoming an architect!

Still depressed?

You can go back and read the other blog post: 10 reasons why YOU should be an Architect.


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About the author

Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect who lives in beautiful Portland, Oregon, with his Labrador Retriever. He is passionate about helping Young Architects change the world. In his free time, Michael likes to take very long bicycle rides across America. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In.

    Michael Riscica - April 7, 2014

    HAHA Great advice and I’ll support that because good Designers are a dime a dozen but there can never be enough good Specifiers!!

    Thanks for the comment Paul!
    Have a great week!

Alfredo Medina - June 28, 2014

Excellent article. Please correct a couple of spelling mistakes; one is at the header of point #2: it should be “…you’re an architect, or “…you are an architect” instead of “…your an architect”; the other mistake is at the header of point # 8; it should be “…than an architect”, instead of “…then an architect”.

Architects should have good spelling, too! :)

    Michael Riscica - June 29, 2014

    Thank you for the comment.
    I need all the help I can get when it comes to spelling and grammer.

      Steve Workman - July 19, 2014

      I hope that you were being ironic. ‘Grammer’ was mis-spelled.

Gang Chen - June 30, 2014

Very good article. Thanks for sharing.

Gang Chen, Author, AIA, LEED AP BD+C (http://GeeForums.com/)

Guest - July 2, 2014

This is rubbish! Your last point is so annoying too because you warn about people being negative and they’re being a total downer youself..
Anyway, I just want to make a speech: There are good jobs out there, and they pay well, and you will find satisfaction in your work. If you don’t, ask the boss to sort it out or you will leave. Architecture firms get paid well enough to reward their staff well, and reward them for the long hours that they do (and hopefully those long hours are enjoyable, with free pizza, good tunes and table tennis) I am sick of the myth that architecture is all work and no play because it allows firms to treat graduates like scum, perpetrating the myth. DON’T SETTLE! AIM HIGH. Aim highER. Quit the rubbish job once you have the experience and go find another that’s more fun, fulfilling and well paid, and you look forward to your Mondays, feel inspired to create by working hard etc. Or else why did you waste 5 years studying? There are so many broad and various roles in Architecture that if you get stuck mindlessly drafting you’ve missed the whole point of your education. Be the architect of your own career.

Travers - July 2, 2014

This is rubbish!
Your last point is annoying too because you warn about people being negative while youve just spent 9 points being a total downer yourself..

Anyway, I just want to make a speech: There are good jobs out there, and they pay well, and you will find satisfaction in your work. If you don’t, ask the boss to sort it out or you will leave. Architecture firms get paid well enough to reward their staff well, and reward them for the long hours that they do (and hopefully those long hours are enjoyable, with free pizza, good tunes and table tennis) I am sick of the myth that architecture is all work and no play because it allows firms to treat graduates like scum, perpetrating the myth. DON’T SETTLE! AIM HIGH. Aim highER. Quit the rubbish job once you have the experience and go find another that’s more fun, fulfilling and well paid, and you look forward to your Mondays, feel inspired to create by working hard etc. Or else why did you waste 5 years studying? There are so many broad and various roles in Architecture that if you get stuck mindlessly drafting you’ve missed the whole point of your education. Be the architect of your own career.

    Malcolm Scott - November 24, 2014

    Travers: Please share more of your story… You have some good points, but incorrect in the statistics. For every “good” job, there are 10 that fit the exact description in the article. Same goes for Clients. Free Pizza, good tunes? Your point of view is still that of a college student.

    Wait until you are dealing with liability insurance, health insurance and managing employees while trying to carve out time to design something in an office environment.

    Most of the points in the article are on target. A word to the wise: If you’re going to take Travers advice and be the Architect of your own career….make sure you have a slug of cash or an alternate source of income when you start your own business. Rich wives, a developer uncle, trust fund or workaholic spouse that can help you cut the overhead in half are all good starting points. Rental property or real estate should be on every young architects agenda.

    After 25 years in the profession, I would say the average graduate has a 10% chance of falling into the category earning a good living and having the satisfaction commensurate with the work and study required. And what will surprise you is that they are NOT necessarily the best students or designers.

      Michael Riscica - November 25, 2014

      I agree. An architect’s career is much more complicated. I have friends in the IT industry who have that exact (Travers) mindset and it works for them… Thanks for the comment

John Edmund - April 4, 2015

This is such a pessimistic and restricted look at the subject of being an architect… You seem to take some form of glee and happiness from outlining and over stating what negative things could be found in this profession whilst failing to remind readers that every profession has its down sides. For those who really want to study architecture and have a passion for designing new and innovative ways that we can live, please do not take a word of this blog on board, instead follow your dreams.

    Chris Lindholm - May 29, 2015

    First off, I have been a licensed architect in California for over 5 years. I have been in this profession for over 15 years. Yes, that matters, I t matters because I know what the hell I’m talking about. I have worked for three different firms including one I started. I did not get my degree in architecture, I got my degree in Bus Admin. and apprenticed the additional required time. Yes, you can do that in California. Architecture is tough. I make a decent living but it is just shy of six figures so I’m comfortable but I’m not rich. I work on average 50 hours a week but I’ve had my share of 70-80 hour work weeks. I once worked over 100 days straight. Yes, that includes weekends. Almost 4 months of continuous work. Follow your dream? Bull****. At least out of college. Everyone wants to be a designer. Think you’re an awesome designer? Maybe you are, but until you climb the ladder higher than me you will be stuck doing my door schedule redlines and calling AHJs to determine the submittal requirements for a facade remodel. Guess what, the guys like me that have 15 plus years experience want to design too. Its why we got into this profession. And we either start our own firms and end up being salesmen or we work for larger firms and actually get to design. But you don’t get to. I’m talking to people with less than 5 years experience out of college. After that, if you demonstrate your ability you will eventually get more responsibility. You will get to do more fun stuff. Eventually you will actually get to design. People will respect your opinions because you’ve done this stuff hundreds if not thousands of times in the real world. But make no mistake this is a time in service profession. It can be fun, it can be rewarding. You can make a decent living and enjoy going to work every day, but it is not easy and 99% of people will not become rich. 6 months ago I nearly froze my fingers off while on a roof in Minnesota taking field notes on existing rooftop HVAC units. My left index finger was numb for a week. That is reality. Most of architecture is not glamorous. But it can be rewarding both intellectually and financially. I like my job. Love it? Mmm, maybe? Would I do my job for free? Mmm, in moderation. Definitely not 50 hours a week for free. So if you like architecture, I say go for it. I you love architecture and would work doing architecture for free 50 hours a week I say definitely go for it. But if you think you’re going to impress everyone in your first few years and get to design the next hotel in Abu Dhabi, stop. Right now. There are much easier ways to make a living with much less heartache.

Vincent Naud - October 21, 2015

“architecture can be more of a lifestyle than just a job or a profession”

I’m not an architect, but a recent fan of that subject (my specialty is structural stuff). And yet I’m getting crazy about that topic; each time I walk near a construction site, I notice the structural components… and now more and more the architectural work on buildings (want to go to Chicago… never been there but my father recently visit that city and said that architecture is pretty cool)!

I’m curious: are you guys also getting fan of the structural parts too?

Always a pleasure reading your blog ;)


Murphy - February 25, 2016

Good list – though I wish it hadn’t included ‘You Stink at Math’. I always wanted to be an architect as a kid. When I told my high school guidance counselor this, he advised against it as my math grades weren’t stellar (I was a B math student and A student in everything else). I listened, and went to journalism school for 2 years. And guess what? After 2 years I transferred to a B.Arch program and graduated with honors and the thesis design award. And guess what? I got through the math. Most of the kids who were really great at math were the engineering kids, and to be honest, not all the math whiz kids were great designers. I’ve been out of school for seven years now and work at a great Boston-based firm. The type of math you need to know on a day-to-day basis (outside of licensing exam stuff) is the math you presented above — simple fractions, addition and subtraction. Not having a buddy-buddy relationship with math is no reason to forgo studying architecture. Sure — there are plenty of OTHER reasons not to, but don’t let your math handicap hold you back.

g - April 14, 2016

I try to warn people before they make the stupidest career decisions of their lives. Don’t do it. If you like spending years in college wasting your time on art projects instead of taking significant classes gaining, transferable, and sought after skills (STEM); do it. I was much smarter going into the program than when I came out of it. There are so many opportunities outside of architecture that requires your skillset; don’t get sucked into something you aren’t even interested in the first place because the teachers and architects love talking about their work because they all want to be Frank Gehry and be a “STAR ACHITECT!”. There are so many other professions out there. Don’t get trapped into the dream of the people born in the 1940s. I fell for it. Your skills are not really transferable. Once you spend 5 – 10 years devoting yourself to this ridiculous outdated industry; you will have a hard time transitioning to anything else.

I can’t say this enough. Don’t waste your time with this if you are smart. I never understood the mindset of the talented designers. I just got caught up in the hype. Because they love hype. They fall for all the hype and competition. Its stupid. You will not be successful because look at the facts. Do some research on the field outside of the stupid hype by the stupid architects who just need the PR and to market themselves to future employers.

I could have been so much more successful in other fields that required my skillset . Instead, I wasted my youth in this ridiculous outdated industry.

    Leticia - May 19, 2016

    I agree with you!! I wasted my youthful years in Architecture and it just left such a bad taste in my mouth because of the time wasted and jumping from one firm to another due to the economy and blah blah! I spent all of my 20’s in this field and now that I’m 33 I am interested in a different field. At first I was so depressed since it wasn’t working out for me. I mean all of my friends are well off economically in different fields and I am still stuck trying to figure out what to do. I kept thinking of one word that would describe this industry and that is “outdated.” You are totally right on the spot. To top it off I have let down so many people because they thought I was so cool and if they just knew about this “outdated industry”, oh my gosh what a waste! I am interested in Business now and I really wished I would have studied this since the beginning. I would have had accomplished so many things by now. Now I feel old and depressed.

      Benjamin - June 7, 2016

      I couldn’t say it better myself. Honestly, I regret going to University at all. A friend of mine is a contractor, he builds houses, gets to make design decisions, makes more money than me and gets to work outside with his own two hands and run his own business, and didn’t have to sacrifice years of his life to a stressful and expensive “education” to do it. Sounds so much more fun than sitting at a desk doing CAD all day, but I need the next paycheck so I can’t afford any kind of transition out of this profession at the moment. It’s a trap!

Shakib Mohammad - December 14, 2016

As a student of Architectural Diplomat, Still I didn’t completed my 6 months course with in this 2 years. Class is not continuing daily. Only 3 students we are now and more 2 new students never came back till now.

Jaya Cluny - December 18, 2016

What a nasty career!

It is a complete waste of time and does not even belong in a legitimate university. After getting a license to practice architecture you are still either a glorified draftsman or cut throat layoff artist, should you become part of the 1% (yes, only 1 in a hundred, no kidding) that rises into firm management.

Architectural managers’ real job is hiring and firing…. connoisseurs in “the art of the big layoff without blow-back and or lawsuits”. Professional architecture is a blood sport for those who enjoy destroying the lives of others.

If you are still in College, change your major immediately. If you are young in the profession in deep architecture school debt, you are in deep, deep trouble. Don’t be afraid to sue, sue, and sue when you get laid off.

You will never work again in architecture, but you may help to force changes in the toxic workplace culture of architects. If you are in a firm with too many fun “events” for millennials, too much comradery, you know that a major layoff is about to happen. Sue, you will probably lose, but sue anyway and do something else afterwards!

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