10 Reasons Why You Should NOT Become an Architect

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 Architect's favor.

Last week I gave you 10 Reasons on Why YOU SHOULD become an Architect. To keep things balanced, here are …

10 Reasons Why You Should NOT Become an Architect

1. The glass is always half empty.

This is how architecture is taught. There are 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 this causes them to 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. Architecture Careers generally do not pay very well

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 good 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. Students design all types of buildings, make all types of executive decisions, and never really face the harsh realities of costs, codes, constructability, and dealing with the public.

After finishing architecture school, most Graduates just carry out the executive decisions of others and work on the document production side of the firm, rather than the decision-making side. In the real world, most of time working on the project is spent on executing it versus designing it.

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 architecture 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, a Project Manager,  anything flies, as long as as your title does not have the words “Architect” or “Architectural”. Anyone may work on architecture projects under the supervision of a Licensed Architect, who will be the Architect of record. Meaning they will take responsibility, if a building falls down.

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 Professional Licensing Board.  highly recommend looking up what the limits of providing design services as an Unlicensed Architect 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 of 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 making sure the scope of work is clearly defined for the Contractor.

Every project something will go wrong. Things will mess up. It's the nature of the work.

The silver lining is that 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 just 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 very hard on a project (for years) that suddenly got shelved, and in the end, never gets built.

All of this stuff has happened to me. 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. Over time you start to develop a thicker skin and become numb to this stuff. Most importantly it teaches how to recognize red flags and learning to manage tense moments 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 have not had it easy, and they are quick to remind you of their long hard journey. They may even try to convince you NOT to become 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.

I love architecture and deciding to become a Licensed Architect has been the best decision I could have ever made.

By keeping keen awareness of the dark side, you can be 2 steps ahead of what many Architects encounter.

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.

Lately, I have also been recommending that people check out the CDT Certification from the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) as a way to learn more about architecture, design and the construction process before making huge investments in pursuing an architecture career. Click here to check out my video about what the CDT is and why it will you at ever level in your architecture career.  

Still depressed?

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


Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect, Founder and Head Coach of the ARE Boot Camp Coaching Program & Online Study Group.

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