Architecture: a paragon profession?

Architecture is a great career option for those who love to work with the technical and the creative: it balances mathematics with design and drawing. Not only that, it pays well too, with the possibility of $150,000 per year. But although architecture is a great job to consider, is it really as creative as one might hope? Does it require too much work? Idealistic views about architecture need a reality check.

Embed from Getty Images

When I was younger, I imagined that daily work as an architect would be designing exotic mansions and museums for my clients. As the years progressed, however, I began to suspect that many architects may just be sitting in an office designing parking garages and development houses. I heard of an architect that went through years of the required rigorous training, and upon getting a job as an architect, was assigned to document windows for six months. In many cases, architects won’t do much designing at all. A day in the life for some consists of converting designs into a format that is usable for contractors. 

I had a conversation with architect Mr. Robert Shuman about this issue; he confirmed that architecture can be tedious at some points. After all, somebody has to design the development home and the parking garage. However, he assured me that the monotonous work is just the stepping stone to developing more unique and artistic projects. Shuman works in a firm that handles many custom orders for housing, so they essentially design the homes of people’s dreams. Shuman related that his favorite part of his job is designing a building’s schematics from the ground up, with all the creativity and problem solving that comes with it. The creative and puzzle-like aspects make all the monotonous groundwork worth it.

 Also, being an architect requires a lot of time. Malcolm Gladwell once suggested that to become proficient and successful in a skill, one needs to practice for at least 10,000 hours over one’s lifetime. An architect gets 10,000 hours out of the way very quickly. This means that being an architect can be a very demanding and intense profession. The schooling for architecture includes a “weed-out” program with about a 50% drop-out rate. This is to prepare students for the real world. Architects don’t work by hours, but by hard deadlines, making 60 hour weeks not only common, but sometimes a minimum as deadlines approach. Shuman recounts how someone in his architecture class who, although he was brilliant, cracked under the demands of the college class and dropped out.

Embed from Getty Images

Unfortunately, this extreme time commitment can adversely impact other areas of an architect’s life. Sustaining a healthy marriage, committing to active friendships, and being a good parent can be a problem due to the potential excessive demands on one’s time. I talked with someone whose father was an architect, and she said that her parents divorced when she was younger, and she felt disconnected from her father. She said these two problems came from how she felt her father often put his work above family priorities. To balance work and family lives, the architect must be very intentional about their priorities.

I don’t mean to deter anyone from pursuing the profession. In fact, I think that someone who loves to be creative but still loves the sciences should seriously consider becoming one. Shuman said, “Designing buildings is an art form.” The profession can be gratifying, not only with the design aspect, but also with the puzzle-like problem solving that comes with it. Perhaps architecture deviates from my 7th grade ideal, because after all, being an architect requires quite some resilience. But for many, the ending satisfaction makes all the hard hours worth it.

Thomas Scharbach is a sophomore member of the Multimedia Journalism class