Do You Want to be an Architect?

Well, do you? Do you have grand dreams of designing a notable project that graces the front of Architectural Record? Are you ready to spend 60 hours a week checking drawings done by someone else, visiting sites for construction administration, dealing with difficult clients, paying yearly fees, spending time on continuing education requirement, etc.? If not, maybe you should reassess becoming an architect…

Now, this post isn’t a list of reasons why you don’t have the drive, or you need something ‘special’ to become an architect. Actually, it’s quite the contrary. Just like I don’t believe everyone needs to be on certain diets, or own a home, or work out a certain amount of hours in a week, I don’t believe everyone who graduates from an architecture school needs to become a licensed architect. I think I just felt the collective gasps from all you aspiring architects out there; hear me out though!

Practicing architecture, just like many other things in life, should be a decision you make wholeheartedly and that becomes part of who you are. Personally, I take part in competitions, moonlight design work, and (obviously) am involved with AIA New Hampshire. I have embraced the architectural world as something that is part of who I am, not just something I do. That being said, I have had reservations about actually wanting to become licensed, and I think it is an idea that every aspiring architect should at least explore. I have put together some ideas on why you should not become a licensed architect.
Many students of architecture think there is one path to a successful career: college; internship; working and taking the AREs; licensure. I would say yes, this is the most efficient and effective path to becoming an architect. But, sometimes life just isn’t that simple. A more realistic path might look something more like this: college, first architecture job; laid off due to a recession; unrelated job; graduate school; significant other; homeownership; second architecture job; finish IDP; third architecture job; mull over taking AREs; marriage; take AREs; fail some AREs; take some time off from taking AREs; promotion/more of a manager role in job; finish AREs; become licensed. If life is not allowing you the time to become licensed, don’t force it.

I know what you may be thinking; not becoming licensed is a waste of an education, and essentially a failure. I couldn’t disagree more. Your education provided you with the tools to enter the field of architecture. Your hard work got you to the position you may hold at the moment, and any position you may hold in the future. A piece of paper provided by the State does not dictate what has made you successful.

Furthermore, being a project architect or an owner of your own firm means you have to spend the majority of your time on many different areas. You may not have the luxury of spending hours designing, sketching, or conceptualizing a building. You most likely won’t be spending full weeks drafting up CD’s. The point is, maybe there are just a few things in the architectural world you really enjoy doing, whether it be drafting, renderings, project managing, etc. You may be best utilized in the profession for a skill for which licensure doesn’t really even matter.

Finally, I do believe the line of architecture opens so many doors in all sorts of professions. Again, I am not trying to question the ‘classic’ architecture license. But, if you are questioning what you’re doing, there is nothing wrong with seeing where the field of architecture can take you. At one point in my life, I thought about moving out west and trying to land a job designing movie sets. Many young architects these days are very skilled on computers and could probably easily transition to graphic design. Being trained in the field could translate into a job as a realtor, or a construction manager. When you’re trained to be an architect, you’re ultimately trained to be a fantastic problem solver. The career possibilities are endless.

I know this is a strange view to take, but I do believe being the ‘classic’ licensed architect is not only not for everyone, but there are so many possibilities as a trained architect, that licensure shouldn’t be viewed as the only conclusion to the profession, but rather one of many.