What Is Your Dream Architecture Job?

Sara Mandeed
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"I don't know what my dream architecture job is"

Is a surprisingly common statement.

It comes from a great disconnect between the generations in our industry. New graduates speak of the idea of having a “dream job.” But to a 60 year old who has been in the business for most of their career, the idea of having a “dream job” isn’t realistic and the new grad has no idea how practical they are being with their expectations.

Everybody has dreams. But if we are to be realistic, the world doesn't conform to our dreams. It is our dreams that need to conform to the world.

When we graduate from Architecture school, many of us consider ourselves “born to design”. We can’t wait to become “great architects”. But before we can build a world-class skyscraper or an awe-inspiring Art Deco resort, we find ourselves in a thankless job designing rest rooms and banquet halls for a pittance or spending a few years in an entry level position at a reputable firm.

This is the biggest disconnect.

However, the major points that I often see coming to the top of candidates lists are rewarding work, fair pay, sensible hours and flexibility.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed that often when staff are asked what their main gripe is about their current work situation, they usually reply that they want more money. What they’re effectively saying is that money is all they think about when they’re at work.

Quite often, the perception of work – and what it means to be a successful architect – is very different from the reality.

Take the above example. By narrowing down an architect’s job to just designing houses, the architect has taken a set of skills that he/she is use to using, and boiled them down to one project type.

If this architect were to look at all the projects that he/she had worked on, it is more than likely that some of them would be satisfied by the work done on them- while others could be seen as a disappointment.

The disappointment doesn’t have to be associated with either the money or the recognition that the work earned, but can be based on the design solution.

It’s all relative.

Don't forget the simple things

If you want to become a House Plan Architect, you need to present your vision to others. The close relatives of the person who is getting the house, the friends, the neighbors and the general public are going to question you about your plans and you will not be able to have perfect answer for all of them.

The fact that you are an Architect, it does not make you immediately perfect and the ultimate source of knowledge. Being confident is very important but at the same time, you need to learn to take suggestions and criticism positively.

The plan for the house is directly linked to the dream of the person who is getting the house. Sometimes a simple change can make ease the feelings of the person who is going to live in the house.

Knowing the person’s dream is vital and you have to be able to relate to their feelings and talk to them as a friend not as a person who is higher than them.

If your client is a rich person who can afford to implement every detail in your plan, then money is not going to be an issue. However, the majority of the clients you are going to deal with will be middle class. Money is not going to be a problem but since they do not have unlimited source of money, they are not going to be able to implement the full extent of your plan.

What is your dream architecture job?

I get this question often. So I want to tackle it in a new way. I asked many architects (mostly in New York) and I filmed their answer.

The profession of an architect is unique and it’s expected that each architect, or young architect, will have a vision on what their own dream architecture job is.

My goal is to create a place where we express our vision. Expressed in the context of a vision but also as a place where we can describe what the actual architecture job that we’re doing today.

A description of what we want to continue doing and why we are doing a specific architecture job.

That is the first time that I will make such a project like this. So I will use it in several ways. I will use it for my friends, my family, everybody that is interested in the profession, and I will definitely be using it for students to identify which position and which design they really need. What is your dream architecture job? Because like I said, the profession itself is unique, you can’t have an ordinary position. It’s something that you need to be original and special, it’s your own dream architecture job.

I recently asked the question in an architecture forum, "what is your definition of the perfect architecture job?"

The response was overwhelming! I had over 100 responses. And with over 100 responses, I figured there had to be a ton of interesting information to pull out of this. But just for fun, I decided to figure out the average response.

I looked at all the responses and figured out what the average response was for each of the questions. Then I subtracted your average response from the highest possible score of 1. For example, for question 1:

All the square footage, more money, location, and projects for advancement had maximum scores of 1. Subtract your average response from 1 and you get the lowest possible score of -1 for question 1.

Next, I went through and figured out what the average response was for each category. Then I combined those categories to get a final result. The lowest possible total score is -20 and the highest possible total score is 20.

Finally, I ranked the surveys and rounded them so you weren’t getting a score of 9.25.

Here are a few of the responses below:

Vision and aesthetics, and productivity. I love the idea that you can teach someone the technical skills to do the job, but you can’t teach someone to have an architectural vision or to see the world through an architectural lens.

To work as an architect in a developing country, using locally sourced, inexpensive materials to design, construct, and maintain schools for children.

I think where I see the most opportunity is in collaborative or community-based projects, including mixed-use, mixed-tenure, multi-generational, and sharing economies. Everyone’s needs are so very different, and I think there is potential to create very specific solutions to meet a whole host of highly specific needs.

My dream job is not to be an architect. What I want to be is an adaptive reusedistrict developer/project manager. Using a holistic approach to well-being, and creatively applying adaptive reuse to create high-density, high-quality multi-use communities.

Personally, I think it’s a great time to be an architect, particularly if you want to work on a church. With the numbers of church attendees dwindling in the Western world, there’s a number of architects who are developing and implementing ways to repurpose church buildings for a new purpose. One of our senior architects, Peter, worked on a project that renovated a church in Washington D.

As an example I have applied real jobs to each of the descriptions below that prove any or all of the requirements are possible.

Are you interested in architecture but you don’t know where to start?

Architectural Technicians handle different jobs from measuring, designing, and creating 3D designs for construction projects with the help of different software for example; Autocad.

Would you like to discover the top buildings in the world and become a building expert?

Or become a Doctor of Architecture degree holder and analyze/study different building designs?

To be a structural engineer you have to be fluent in different software like AutoCAD or Revit.

Are you interested in science, math, and engineering?

You may take up a career in Construction Manager where you analyze, plan, administer, and manage the development of construction projects.

Would you like to be a real estate guru?

You may become a Real Estate Consultant managing properties, negotiating prices…etc.

Would you like to be a part of a construction crew?

You may take up a Job as a Construction Laborer. It is a job that is more physically demanding than most as you may carry large pieces of equipment and materials and potentially work outside in all weather conditions.

A designer in a small collaborate design studio:

Why: In a small design studio, the opportunity to do a variety of design work is ideal. Being part of the entire design process is the best, from getting to know the clients to take a project from the initial stages to its completion. You will get to work on a greater variety of projects if the studio is small, compared to larger firms where each designer has a specific area they handle. A small studio will give you the opportunity to be creative and try out new ideas. The studio is also likely to be in a great location, which is a definite bonus.

How: The first step is to find a studio that is hiring. Check out design websites, LinkedIn, Craigslist, and Gumtree to find an opening. Then, make sure that you prepare your portfolio well and reach out to people who work at that studio. Even if there are no openings, make sure to leave your portfolio with someone who might be able to keep it on file. You can also inquire about temporary, freelance work which is a great way to put your portfolio in front of some seasoned designers. Remember, a small design studio is like family, you will need to work hard and be a team player.

An architect in a large international architecture office with billion-dollar projects:

One of the many perks of working in an even slightly large international architecture office with a long portfolio of worldwide projects is that it’s likely you’ll at least get to visit some of the places where they’re building.

As one of the architects in an office with billions of dollars worth of international projects, first you’ll be sent to design and understand the project in a more profound way.

Most likely, the firm you’re working for will have a good idea of where they’re putting the offices of the stakeholders who are funding the project.

So you’ll be in charge of the designing and detailing of the buildings as well as assisting the other architects in the office including your bosses.

But make sure not to work too hard if you’re the junior in the team.

One tip to ensure your personal life isn’t completely sacrificed to your work is to have a family.

Most architects complain that their creativity is depleted after a long stint of work. One of the best solutions is having a family because children are a wonderful form of creativity.

Don’t have children? Consider getting one or adopting a pet.

A designer working on an international airport project:

My favourite parts of the project were the planning stages, when I got to know the architects.

Here, I got to hear their vision, see how they work, and learn why they do things in a certain way. We spent a couple of months just talking about the project … it was fascinating!

The part where I designed the signage, on the other hand, was a lot more challenging. It’s never ideal when you are designing a piece that will be easily seen by the public.

Increasing the font size to an appropriate legibility level makes them bigger than necessary. So scaling back was not easy. This time, I had to work parallel to others. And sometimes, they were not really on the same page as me, so I had to get my point across.

Of course, there are ways to do things better. But when you’re a newbie, you make mistakes. You’re incapable of seeing the flaws in your own work. You might’ve already seen this, but my challenges would’ve been way easier if I had a mentor who would guide me.

So, if you don’t have a mentor or nobody to give you that push at work, it’s important that you figure out ways to push yourself.

A project manager on a large commercial project in a major metro area:

My dream job is not that different from what I’m currently doing … probably the only difference is in terms of the scale of the project and the geographic location. I like the fact that I currently work for a midsize firm that works with large international firms. The variety of projects that we get to work on and the people that we get to work with makes the job exciting. We certainly have our share of big commercial projects … hotels, museums, performance centers, and corporate headquarters … as well as creative smaller design firms. So far we’ve had the opportunity to work in a number of different cities across the eastern seaboard, and I think sometime in the future I’d like to live in another city outside of the mid-Atlantic region. A project manager in a major metro area would be great because I’d be working for one of the big firms that would do stuff in other metro areas. I’d like to have the chance to work with folks in different cities and on projects that span multiple pieces of land and/or multiple buildings.

A freelance architect working part-time from home or in an office:

Most architects work for large companies or government organizations. As part of a larger company, architects tend to have a broader view of more aspects of the team’s works and responsibilities. Working with a large organization is also beneficial in that you have a range of career paths to choose from … not just the specialized design” path.

Although working for a large company means you get some sense of security, it can occasionally be difficult for individuals to advance their careers.

However, there are also many architects who want to set up their own businesses, to better determine their salaries and working hours. To set up your own business, you need to find clients willing to pay for your time and expertise. Having a wide variety of clients from the outset is always a good idea.

Some architects love to design, but would prefer to be in their own home or office and control their schedule. Other architects would like to focus their attention on commercial work (or other specializations), yet have enough freedom to determine, within a very wide range, when and where they want to work.

An architecture model builder as part of a large practice or in a dedicated model studio:

If you build or 3D print actual architecture models for real-world clients, then you need to have the general skills necessary to create most building elements- from walls and doors to exterior features and infill panels. More advanced versions of this career require knowledge of advanced ceramic architectural modeling, the special techniques used to create roof tiles and edge details, and the art of creating stone masonry features.

The skills that will increase your employability in this field will be to widen your repertoire of scale, the range of building types you work with, and to update your knowledge of building materials and techniques.

An added benefit of building models is that you spend all day working on scales similar to 1:50 and 1:25, and in doing so get extremely proficient at drawing, and using the overhead projector to transfer those drawings. Those skills will prove essential for your future as an architect (and are also a highly marketable skill in other professions, such as the toy industry, where you will be transforming drawings into physical models).

Architectural model maker:

An architectural model maker would have a similar employment history but is working on architectural models in 1:10 scale – this means they are even more detailed, more elaborate, and detailed than a 1:50 scale model. These models are used to sell the construction of specific buildings to clients and also to show other associated aspects, such as an overview of the surrounding areas.

"Give and take"

To be an architect, you have to learn to give and take.

You give up a lot of control over how and when things get done, and in return you might get a lot of redlines from your boss or your clients.

You will have to listen to how they envision their project, and learn to take feedback graciously.

You give up a high degree of long-term flexibility and stability, and in return you get to work on some cool projects.

You have to learn to give and take directions, and sometimes you have to give up your preferred approaches to get the right result.

That’s How It Is to Be an Architect …

You might not always like all the decisions that are made, but you have to be able to be flexible enough to see the bigger picture, and know when to compromise.

Put it on paper

You may spend a lot of time imagining your ideal job, but how often do you put it in writing? You can’t expect to get (and keep) the job you want if you live in a dream world (which, by the way, becomes a nightmare if you’re not careful) where you haven’t really thought through the realities of the position. The problem is that we often don’t want to think about the job we’re in because if we do, we’ll realize we’re in the wrong one.

The reason for this is that we can’t always see the negative aspects of the job. Sure, you’re sick of your current position, but you still have your good days.

That’s why before you decide whether to stay in your current job or not, put down on paper the reasons you want to stay and the reasons you want to leave.

Consider the following questions:

Picture the perfect day. What does it look like?

How much is enough money for you to feel secure?

What level of responsibility can you handle?

How often do you want to travel?

What type of work environment can you tolerate?