If you have ever seen Seinfeld, you know that George Costanza is constantly lying about being an Architect. And why not? It seems to impress the ladies and gives George a sense of reputability and esteem that his normal character lacks. Having spent the last 17 years of my life in either Architecture School or the profession of Architecture, I can say that the public's perception of the profession is fairly consistent with the response George usually gets. Unfortunately, it's also not true. Below are some of the biggest myths about the Architecture (and Design) Industry and note that they are listed in no particular order.
Myth No. 1 - You need to be good at math to be an Architect.
I suppose in the 'old days' Architects had to do all sorts of calculations as it related to simple structures. As buildings got larger and more complicated, Architects handed all liability for computation off to Structural Engineers. If you are a small shop working on small projects, you can likely have the manufacturer's engineers help you with anything more difficult than reading a chart. And although you may get drilled with formulas in a college structures course, the real world value of that experience is zero.
Myth No. 2 - Architects get paid well.
I don't know where this one comes from. On my first day of school our critics told us that if we were going into Architecture to make money, quit now. Of course, there are famous Architects that make alot of money. And there are famous actors that make $20 Million per film. But for every box office breadwinner, there are 10,000 wannabe actors filling in as extras for $100 per day. That's kind of how architecture is too. When you graduate, most people will spend the first 3-5 years doing construction documents until you are deemed knowledgeable enough to talk to a client. Once this happens, you might go from draftsperson to 'job captain' or something like that. In a recent survey, starting salaries for Intern Architects averaged between $35K-$45K per year. It is also worthy to note that a Bachelor of Architecture is usually a 5 year degree. Between the schooling and the Internship, it will take you a minimum of 8 years just to be eligible to start taking your licensing exams. You find me a doctor or lawyer that starts at $35K per year.
Myth No. 3- You have to be able to draw well to be an Architect.
Having worked with many young graduates, I can tell you that this absolutely is not true. With computers taking over as the default production method, I don't know why you would even need to draw by hand. Computers can generate 3D models faster and more accurately than any human. You can also forget about Penmanship. What is often referred to as 'Architectural Lettering' is now found only in your font menu as 'City Blueprint'. Now don't be confused by my tone. I am not happy about it. It's just the reality of the world we live in. I was probably in one of the last graduating classes that had to stay up for weeks on end inking my final drawings on mylar. Those days are gone.
Myth No. 4- It must be great to Design things all day.
Prior to starting my own firm, I had about 10 years of experience working in various Architectural Offices and I had never really designed anything. This happens for a number of reasons, any of which may apply. It could be that the office you work in has a 'Design Director' who spends all day handing off sketches to junior grunts who put it in the computer. It could also be that the project you are working on is all about budget and the client is dictating every decision based on how much things cost. Or it could be that you were only hired to produce a set of filing documents because it is required by the municipality that an Architect be involved and no one really wants your opinion about anything (this is most common in retail work where you are just cranking out a prototype established by the Client by their 'in house design team'). In my experience, one of those three scenarios accounts for over 90% of the work.
Myth No. 5 - You need to be licensed to practice Architecture.
I find this one to be the most false. I have found that there are two types of Architecture firms: Service Providers and Design Firms. Service firms are crank out work. Design firms focus on problem solving using Design as a medium. Most firms in existence focus on providing a service, not providing Architecture. Look around your town at what gets built. In my town, most of what gets built are retails stores and houses. I would not call a Best Buy a work of Architecture, no matter how big the pointy sign is. In 20 years, it will not be there.
Now in contrast, look at Brad Pitt. Not an Architect. However, he has been largely responsible for the construction of more Architecture in New Orleans than most large firms that I know and he didn't even do the Design. Brad Pitt has essentially opened a Design Firm (by way of a not for profit organization) and brought together a staff of talented young Designers to conceive and execute thoughtful new housing. I don't know any big firms that have done that. So if you want to pursue Architecture, pursue Architecture. If you want to sign and seal drawings for demanding clients, pursue a license. Either way, make sure you are doing what you want to do for the right reasons.
Finally, don't mistake my intentions for writing this article. I love the profession. And that's why I started a development company.