So you Wanted to be an Architect?

In any given social situation, the most frequently asked question is “What do you do?” Whether it’s a networking event, at a baseball game or Lyft Ride you can almost guarantee that you will be asked this question. I think all architects can agree, the most heard response is “Oh, I wanted to be an architect!”

I haven’t conducted professional data collection on this, but my informal surveying says that 50% of people thought about being an architect at one point in their lives. According to NCARB, in 2013 there were 105,847 licensed architects in the United States. This is less than .03% of the population that are architects.

We often discuss a perception issue we have within architecture. Whether it’s the perceived value of hiring an architect, or being seen as only designing high-end residential homes, it has made me ponder this statement even more so than usual. If so many people thought about being an architect, what is the disconnect here?

I have changed my approach in how I respond to this question. Instead of commenting, “Yes, so has everyone else.” I have started asking, “What changed your mind?” To this, most respond that they were inadequate at art and/or math in school. While both of these are important qualities and personally drove me to pursue a career in architecture, it seems funny that a middle school or high school student had to make a decision that they could never learn these skills in order to pursue a career that highly interested them.

Most people have a fear of being inadequate and this in turn directs their personal career choice or path through school. As a freshman in college, I struggled with my Physics course (which was required by my Architecture curriculum) and more than once a week thought “I am going to have to quit architecture”.  However, since working professionally, I have not needed to use F = MxA or any derivative.

The architecture profession is facing a shift, both technologically and in our labor force. As a country, we are facing large infrastructural issues and will need architects to help find the solutions for the cities we care about. We are working more collaboratively with experts to produce highly complex solutions to these problems.  We need a diverse body of architects that come from a variety of backgrounds, skill sets, and interests.

Having now worked in firms of various sizes and project types, I have found that there is not one way to be an architect. Each person has a very specific set of skills and this makes for well-rounded teams to complete the best projects.

Last night, I had an opportunity to share a Lyft Line with a guy who responded to my most frequently asked question with “Oh, I wanted to be an architect”. To this, I asked him “Why didn’t you pursue it?” And he responded that his school counselor told him his math skills weren’t strong enough. We shouldn’t blame our school counselors for turning this student away from architecture. But as architects, we should work with our school counselors and instructors to share with them what qualities an architect might possess.

After all, if it turns out that a student who might have been interested in architecture doesn’t ultimately pursue it, haven’t we just created a more educated and accepting client who understands the importance of architecture?

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