One key thing to remember about the architecture industry is that it is much broader than most people may think. First of all, you don’t need to be an architect to work at an architecture firm.
It’s true. As long as your skillset fills a need in the firm, you can get a job in architecture. And if your aspiration is to become a licensed architect, working at a firm can set you on the little-known path of licensure through experience, bypassing the grueling architecture school (note: I’m only speaking for California, licensing requirements vary by state).
There are many roles in an architecture office that might best suits you. Among other things, these are many architectural roles that you may consider:
- project management
- writing specifications
- 3D modeling
- site planning
- figuring out how many square feet your client needs for their needs and which rooms should be next to each other (that’s called “programming”)
In addition, architecture firms often look for employees to provide administrative support, IT, marketing and business development, bookkeeping and accounting, graphic design and even motion graphics. Smaller firms tend to outsource these “overhead” jobs, but larger firms might have them in-house. This could be your foot-in-the-door on the way to becoming an architect or it could be exactly the job you want to stick with. In either case, a job in an architecture office will give you a taste of what the field is like on the inside.
While architecture is a highly specialized field, there are many skills that can be transferred. Maybe you have great communication skills and have a talent for keeping other people on task to meet the project schedule. These skills are priceless for coordinating a design team of consulting engineers involved in a project run by an architecture firm. Or maybe you have a background in construction and have a good understanding on how things get put together on the construction site. Your experience and insight will be very much appreciated when it comes to designing building details and construction administration.
So, a few tips to help with your mission of getting a job in architecture:
Talk to a couple of people who are working in architecture. Other than tapping into your network, the easiest way to do this is to attend one of the events architects go to. In Sacramento, these events are organized by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Central Valley), Sacramento Regional Builder’s Exchange (SRBX), IIDA (Commercial Interior Design Association) and others. Once you have the architect’s attention, ask them what it’s like to work in the industry, what kind of projects they work on, and what they need help with. Offer information about your background and ask for their feedback on how it could be applied in architecture. Architects are excellent problem-solvers and most will welcome an opportunity to try to figure out how to achieve your goal of getting a job in architecture.
Know what you want to do in architecture. Where do you fall on the spectrum between artist and engineer? Architects are all different people and some are better at design while others excel at technical development of the project. Which one do you want to be?
Know the software. This is a baseline for anyone who wants to work in an architectural role. In general, current popular software is Revit and AutoCAD. This will vary by firm but fluency in at least one of these is a must and will make it easier for you to learn other design software as needed.
Know what you have to offer and then negotiate. Let’s say you want to be an architect and what you do now is graphic design. There is some overlap in the skillsets but you will need to acquire a lot more industry-specific knowledge and experience to become an architect. Your job in an architecture office can help you with that and it’s likely to be some kind of a trade-off. Maybe your primary role in an office at first will be marketing and designing presentation boards, with 15% of your time spent slowly dipping your toes into tasks like drafting or interior finish selection. As you get better at it, you can ask for more architectural assignments and decrease your graphic design-related workload.
If your ultimate goal is to become a licensed architect, start now. There are many steps to obtaining a license in architecture. It is up to you to learn about them and start working on them. First step is a visit to https://www.ncarb.org/. In many states, you are required to earn experience in specific areas of the profession. Getting informed about them will help you formulate your own job strategy.
Architecture is a fun and rewarding field with room for all kinds of personalities and life journeys. It is more complex than the stereotype image of the inevitably white man wearing glasses and looking at the blueprints. People who work at architecture firms are more and more diverse, and that diversity includes their professional background. It is these unique perspectives and expertise that enrich the architectural office environment. You can, too!