Ask the Architect

Our son wants to do what you do


Q. My son wants to be an architect, and has spent most of his childhood drawing and is very artistic. He lacks confidence in his math skills, and we were wondering if you could tell us whether this could prevent him from becoming an architect. He understands basic ideas about building and has taken drafting in school, and we think he should pursue being as architect, so we got him a math tutor. It’s a real struggle for him, so we wonder how much this is really emphasized in architecture school, and whether he could get around this obstacle. What do you think?

A. I was once called on to do the home of a dean of an architecture school. I told him I was flattered, and asked why, considering the fact that I wasn’t a graduate of his school, he chose me. He told me that he had started out with one of his former graduates and was completely dissatisfied with the results. The former student, he said, did eventually become an architect, but lacked basic skills like engineering, math and the sensitivity to bring the dean’s ideas to fruition.
Then I asked why the dean wasn’t designing his own home, especially being the figurehead of an architecture school, and supposedly well versed enough to have such a prestigious job. He told me he barely passed the licensing exams after his third try, and was actually a graduate in architectural history, even though he managed to get through an architecture school.
That really made me wonder, since I had worked with over 40 of his students at my firm over the years, but none who lasted, most going on to pursue related work, like construction management or as draftspersons in other firms. In other words, there are areas of the field that do not include being the “conductor of the orchestra” but consider that not everyone in the field eventually becomes an architect, but instead many play supporting rather than lead roles at a firm. Also consider that most leave school with little understanding that, like most fields, architecture is a business.
The art part is one facet that makes the presentation aspect seem romantic, and is probably most represented in films and TV shows, but really constitutes about 2 percent of the big picture. I chuckle when I see a TV show on which there are lots of models and pretty renderings of buildings, because the nuts and bolts are what makes the engine run, and the government reviews and approvals, at some point, dominates the process until we get to the act of making a building real, in the construction phase.
Math, at every part of the process, is important, whether it’s the engineering, the assembly of parts, the communication with all the members of the team or getting the building approved for construction. If your son would be satisfied being a team member and not a team leader, then he should pursue this career. Otherwise, good luck!

© 2024 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.