Ask the Architect

On becoming an architect


Q. I’ve always had an excitement for architecture that can’t be disillusioned. Despite continual protest from my parents regarding my career choice, I’m passionately starting continuing my sophomore year at a prestigious university, majoring in architecture. It’s a five-year program that I’m thoroughly enjoying and am intensely committed to. I realize that in this economy, all professional careers are speculative, and it seems that architecture as a profession in New York may be unattainable. My grades are excellent, but I’m trying to find every edge that I can. As I make my schedule for next semester, can you could offer insight into which areas I should focus on in my studies? Should I sign up for more technology-based elective courses, design and hand-drawing, or maybe focus on the environmental aspects of building? I’d appreciate your advice.

A. Tough question to answer, based on the current economy and not knowing what your real interests are. Technical avenues probably hold the most promise for landing a job and keeping it, since most people take to the art and drawing end of the field. Sadly, most architecture schools emphasize design from the presentation point of view and leave graduates to flounder with getting up to speed on engineering and technical matters in the workplace. This leads to frustration for the professional who needs expertise and instead has to train the new employee.

Keep in mind that only about 2 percent of architectural graduates ever get to be a real “designer,” building models, sketching ideas and guiding that big firm to its vision. Especially in the large-firm atmosphere, which I grew to abhor because of office politics, low pay for long hours without sleep, and the general taking advantage of the love and passion that a starry-eyed graduate has, there’s a slim chance that you’ll be the survivor despite all your hard work. That is, unless you have some technical acumen that a firm can’t do without.

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