Media Center

Nov ‘17

7 Things All Aspiring Architects Should Know


khalifa    (Burj Khalifa, Dubai; photo retrieved from Khaleej Times)

A​ ​beautiful,​ ​purposeful​ ​building​ ​can​ ​be​ ​as​ ​striking​ ​and​ ​inspiring​ ​as​ ​any​ ​artistic masterwork.​ ​It’s​ ​easy​ ​to​ ​be​ ​drawn​ ​to​ ​a​ ​field​ ​with​ ​as​ ​much​ ​creative​ ​freedom,​ ​and​ ​ability​ ​to touch​ ​communities,​ ​as​ ​architecture.​ ​But​ ​it​ ​can​ ​be​ ​a​ ​hard-fought​ ​battle​ ​to​ ​become​ ​a successful architect;​ ​it​ ​may​ ​even​ ​take​ ​several​ ​decades.

Architects​ ​tend​ ​to​ ​be​ ​late​ ​bloomers.​ ​It​ ​takes​ ​years​ ​of​ ​practice,​ ​study,​ ​and self-refinement​ ​to​ ​get​ ​accredited,​ ​let​ ​alone​ ​to​ ​distinguish​ ​yourself​ ​from​ ​others​ ​once​ ​you’ve become​ ​an​ ​architect​ ​proper.​ ​If​ ​you​ ​aspire​ ​to​ ​be​ ​an​ ​architect,​ ​it’s​ ​important​ ​to​ ​be​ ​prepared early;​ ​a​ ​little​ ​bit​ ​of​ ​knowledge​ ​goes​ ​a​ ​long​ ​and​ ​powerful​ ​way​ ​in​ ​helping​ ​you​ ​avoid​ ​some​ ​of​ ​the pitfalls​ ​on​ ​this​ ​long,​ ​challenging,​ ​yet​ ​extremely​ ​rewarding​ ​journey.

1. Understand​ ​how​ ​architecture​ ​intersects​ ​with​ ​other​ ​fields.

Architects​ ​are​ ​the​ ​creative​ ​masterminds​ ​behind​ ​some​ ​of​ ​our​ ​biggest​ ​projects. Because​ ​of​ ​the​ ​scope​ ​and​ ​scale​ ​of​ ​these​ ​projects,​ ​they​ ​necessarily​ ​interact​ ​with​ ​many​ ​other groups​ ​of​ ​professionals.​ ​Understanding​ ​how​ ​architecture​ ​intersects​ ​with​ ​other​ ​areas​ ​will unlock​ ​a​ ​deeper​ ​understanding​ ​of​ ​the​ ​architect’s​ ​role.​ ​You’ll​ ​also​ ​better​ ​understand​ ​the desires,​ ​expectations,​ ​and​ ​needs​ ​of​ ​other​ ​stakeholders.

Talent,​ ​creativity,​ ​and​ ​hard​ ​work​ ​are​ ​clearly​ ​important​ ​to​ ​the​ ​architect.​ ​Just​ ​as important​ ​to​ ​completing​ ​any​ ​project​ ​is​ ​the​ ​architect’s​ ​ability​ ​to​ ​have​ ​productive​ ​and meaningful​ ​interactions​ ​with​ ​bureaucrats,​ ​engineers,​ ​industrial​ ​designers​ ​and​ ​planners, lawyers,​ ​investors,​ ​and​ ​many​ ​others​ ​who​ ​have​ ​a​ ​key​ ​role​ ​in​ ​the​ ​planning,​ ​zoning,​ ​and execution​ ​of​ ​a​ ​project.

If​ ​you’re​ ​considering​ ​applying​ ​to​ ​an​ ​architecture​ ​program,​ ​it’s​ ​important​ ​to​ ​remember that​ ​it’s​ ​extremely​ ​common​ ​for​ ​undergraduates​ ​to​ ​change​ ​majors.​ ​If,​ ​like​ ​many,​ ​you​ ​realize that​ ​your​ ​degree​ ​program​ ​is​ ​not​ ​for​ ​you,​ ​a​ ​thorough​ ​understanding​ ​of​ ​the​ ​roles​ ​and professions​ ​that​ ​intersect​ ​with​ ​your​ ​interests​ ​will​ ​help​ ​you​ ​transition​ ​gracefully;​ ​perhaps​ ​you’ll discover​ ​that​ ​you​ ​had​ ​subconsciously​ ​wished​ ​to​ ​be​ ​an​ ​industrial​ ​designer​ ​or​ ​civil​ ​engineer​ ​all along!

2.​ ​Start​ ​early​ ​and​ ​develop​ ​successful​ ​habits.

   sketching a house                     (Sketching​ ​a​ ​house;​ ​photo​ ​retrieved​ ​from​ ​​​)

While​ ​this​ ​is​ ​good​ ​advice​ ​for​ ​everyone,​ ​it’s​ ​especially​ ​true​ ​for​ ​architects.​ ​Architecture is​ ​a​ ​field​ ​that​ ​demands​ ​a​ ​great​ ​deal​ ​of​ ​commitment​ ​and​ ​persistence​ ​over​ ​time.​ ​You​ ​must hone​ ​essential​ ​creative​ ​and​ ​technical​ ​skills,​ ​find​ ​the​ ​right​ ​school​ ​​for​ you,​ ​and​ ​gain​ ​essential workplace​ ​experience​ ​before​ ​you​ ​can​ ​think​ ​about​ ​getting​ ​accredited.

It’s​ ​important​ ​to​ ​record​ ​and​ ​express​ ​your​ ​ideas​ ​in​ ​sketches​ ​and​ ​in​ ​written​ ​form;​ ​it’s especially​ ​prudent​ ​to​ ​carry​ ​a​ ​sketchbook.​ ​​Pradeep​ ​Attri​​ ​emphasizes​ ​that​ ​aspiring​ ​architects are​ ​wise​ ​to​ ​master​ ​pencil​ ​and​ ​paper​ ​before​ ​moving​ ​on​ ​to​ ​higher-tech​ ​tools​ ​like​ ​Autocad​ ​or Photoshop.

3.​ ​Find​ ​the​ ​right​ ​program.

If​ ​you​ ​wish​ ​to​ ​study​ ​architecture,​ ​you​ ​must​ ​pick​ ​the​ ​right​ ​accredited​ ​architecture school​ ​for​ ​your​ ​individual​ ​needs​ ​as​ ​a​ ​student.​ ​The​ ​Association​ ​of​ ​Collegiate​ ​Schools​ ​of Architecture​ ​​lists​ ​127​ ​American​ ​and​ ​11​ ​Canadian​​ ​schools​ ​as​ ​having​ ​accredited​ ​architecture programs.​ ​They​ ​likewise​ ​list​ ​800​ ​US​ ​institutions​ ​as​ ​having​ ​programs​ ​either​ ​in​ ​architecture,​ ​or in​ ​related​ ​fields​ ​including​ ​urban​ ​planning​ ​and​ ​real​ ​estate​ ​development.

This​ ​may​ ​sound​ ​like​ ​a​ ​lot,​ ​but​ ​the​ ​​NCES​ ​in​ ​2013-14​ ​listed​​ ​3,039​ ​four-year​ ​colleges​ ​in the​ ​United​ ​States,​ ​and​ ​4,724​ ​total​ ​degree-granting​ ​institutions.​ ​Schools​ ​offering​ ​accredited architecture​ ​programs​ ​thus​ ​only​ ​comprise​ ​a​ ​small​ ​fraction​ ​of​ ​American​ ​colleges.

offic drawing(Laurentian University’s McEwen School of Architecture; photo retrieved from

Research​ ​as​ ​much​ ​as​ ​you​ ​can​ ​about​ ​the​ ​application​ ​process,​ ​and​ ​what​ ​the​ ​programs to​ ​which​ ​you​ ​are​ ​applying​ ​generally​ ​expect​ ​from​ ​applicants.​ ​​Shelley​ ​Little​ ​reminds​ ​us​​ ​that many​ ​programs​ ​prioritize​ ​students​ ​who​ ​have​ ​strong​ ​mathematics​ ​backgrounds,​ ​and​ ​may have​ ​pursued​ ​summer​ ​internships​ ​or​ ​similar​ ​programs​ ​already.

Before​ ​you​ ​apply​ ​to​ ​your​ ​school​ ​of​ ​choice,​ ​know​ ​the​ ​time​ ​commitment​ ​you​ ​are making!​ ​Michael​ ​Bunch,​ ​in​ ​his​ ​​1993​ ​dissertation​,​ ​estimated​ ​that​ ​one​ ​should​ ​expect​ ​to​ ​take​ ​at least​ ​thirteen​ ​years​ ​to​ ​become​ ​a successful​​ ​architect.​ ​This​ ​includes​ ​an​ ​estimated​ ​five​ ​or​ ​six​ ​years​ ​in school,​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​at​ ​least​ ​three​ ​years​ ​in​ ​professional​ ​placement​ ​programs​ ​and​ ​internships. Internships​ ​are​ ​key​ ​to​ ​aspiring​ ​architects;​ ​this​ ​​cannot​ be​ overstated.

Aspiring​ ​architects​ ​would​ ​also​ ​be​ ​well​ ​wise​ ​to​ ​prepare​ ​for​ ​jury​ ​reviews,​ ​both intellectually​ ​and​ ​psychologically.​ ​Having​ ​your​ ​work​ ​evaluated,​ ​probed,​ ​even​ ​attacked​ ​by peers​ ​and​ ​mentors​ ​can​ ​be​ ​difficult,​ ​but​ ​architect​ ​​Bob​ ​Borson​​ ​offers​ ​some​ ​practical​ ​advice​ ​for stressed​ ​students:​ ​understand​ ​the​ ​big​ ​concept​ ​behind​ ​your​ ​project;​ ​differentiate​ ​between reasons​ ​and​ ​excuses​ ​(prepare​ ​the​ ​former,​ ​not​ ​the​ ​latter!);​ ​remember​ ​that​ ​critiques​ ​are professional,​ ​rather​ ​than​ ​personal​ ​-​ ​you​ ​are​ ​not​ ​your​ ​work!;​ ​keep​ ​in​ ​mind​ ​that​ ​jurors​ ​are fallible,​ ​too.

4.​ ​Understand​ ​key​ ​movements

(Rome’s Trevi Fountain; photo retrieved from

Earlier,​ ​you​ ​read​ ​about​ ​the​ ​other​ ​professionals​ ​that​ ​architects​ ​interact​ ​with​ ​throughout the​ ​course​ ​of​ ​a​ ​project.​ ​Art​ ​and​ ​art​ ​history​ ​are​ ​no​ ​exception;​ ​an​ ​architectural​ ​project​ ​is​ ​a reflection​ ​of​ ​the​ ​artistic​ ​paradigm​ ​in​ ​which​ ​it​ ​was​ ​conceived.

Thus,​ ​it’s​ ​important​ ​to​ ​learn​ ​about​ ​everything​ ​from​ ​the​ ​classical​ ​architecture​ ​that inspired​ ​Romanesque​ ​architecture​ ​at​ ​the​ ​turn​ ​of​ ​the​ ​millennia​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Gothic​ ​architecture​ ​that still​ ​typifies​ ​our​ ​vision​ ​of​ ​the​ ​medieval​ ​aesthetic​ ​today.​ ​Renaissance​ ​architecture,​ ​in​ ​the​ ​same way,​ ​gave​ ​way​ ​to​ ​Baroque​ ​and​ ​eventually​ ​the​ ​flamboyant​ ​rococo​ ​movement.​ ​Gothic revivalism​ ​was​ ​similarly​ ​a​ ​cornerstone​ ​of​ ​Victorian​ ​architecture.

Today,​ ​architects​ ​and​ ​artists​ ​alike​ ​experiment​ ​with​ ​modernism,​ ​postmodernism, structuralism,​ ​and​ ​other​ ​distinctive​ ​contemporary​ ​styles,​ ​while​ ​still​ ​drawing​ ​inspiration​ ​from the​ ​rich​ ​European​ ​tradition.

These​ ​movements​ ​in​ ​architecture​ ​not​ ​only​ ​corresponded​ ​with​ ​shifting​ ​artistic​ ​tastes, but​ ​also​ ​social​ ​changes,​ ​like​ ​the​ ​shift​ ​away​ ​from​ ​religious​ ​architecture​ ​as​ ​the​ ​necessarily dominant​ ​form.​ ​Material​ ​considerations​ ​are​ ​similarly​ ​important;​ ​historically,​ ​architects​ ​had​ ​to work​ ​with​ ​whichever​ ​natural​ ​materials​ ​were​ ​at​ ​hand.​ ​Today,​ ​steel​ ​construction​ ​and​ ​glass facades​ ​are​ ​ubiquitous.

5.​ ​Work​ ​on​ ​your​ ​soft​ ​skills.

(Young architects collaborating; photo retrieved from

You​ ​can​ ​probably​ ​name​ ​at​ ​least​ ​a​ ​half-dozen​ ​technical​ ​skills​ ​that​ ​architects​ ​depend on,​ ​like​ ​sketching,​ ​logic​ ​and​ ​problem​ ​solving,​ ​and​ ​mathematics.​ ​Just​ ​as​ ​important​ ​are​ ​soft skills,​ ​like​ ​being​ ​able​ ​to​ ​pitch​ ​ideas​ ​to​ ​others,​ ​explain​ ​intricate​ ​ideas​ ​in​ ​simple​ ​and​ ​concise terms,​ ​and​ ​being​ ​able​ ​to​ ​share​ ​cramped​ ​co-working​ ​spaces​ ​without​ ​issues.

Hajira​ ​Qazi​ ​stresses​​ ​the​ ​importance​ ​of​ ​bonding​ ​with​ ​teachers​ ​and​ ​mentors;​ ​not​ ​only will​ ​this​ ​help​ ​you​ ​get​ ​references​ ​later​ ​on,​ ​but​ ​by​ ​having​ ​a​ ​good​ ​working​ ​relationship,​ ​you’ll​ ​get the​ ​most​ ​out​ ​of​ ​their​ ​feedback.

6.​ ​Travel​ ​widely,​ ​and​ ​with​ ​open​ ​eyes.

kolner dom    (Kölner​ ​Dom​ ​in​ ​Cologne,​ ​Germany;​ ​photo​ ​retrieved​ ​from​ ​​​)

Architects​ ​have​ ​come​ ​up​ ​with​ ​some​ ​very​ ​creative​ ​solutions​ ​to​ ​both​ ​uniquely​ ​local​ ​and more​ ​universal​ ​design​ ​problems.​ ​Traveling​ ​offers​ ​new​ ​insight​ ​about​ ​how​ ​things​ ​can​ ​be​ ​done; you’ll​ ​invariably​ ​be​ ​exposed​ ​to​ ​something​ ​you’ve​ ​never​ ​seen​ ​before.​ ​It​ ​doesn’t​ ​matter​ ​if you’re​ ​sketching​ ​the​ ​skylines​ ​of​ ​iconic​ ​metropoles​ ​like​ ​New​ ​York​ ​or​ ​Chicago,​ ​or​ ​are awestruck​ ​by​ ​the​ ​living​ ​history​ ​of​ ​the​ ​​Kölner​ ​Dom​​ ​or​ ​the​ ​​Bibi-Khanyim​ ​Mosque​.​ ​Traveling allows​ ​you​ ​to​ ​discover​ ​new​ ​approaches​ ​and​ ​ideas​ ​while​ ​immersing​ ​yourself​ ​in​ ​the​ ​culture they​ ​originate​ ​from.

    (Bibi-Khanym Mosque, Samarkand, Uzbekistan; photo retrieved from

7.​ ​Stand​ ​on​ ​the​ ​shoulders​ ​of​ ​giants

  (Frank Gehry, photographed by Jonas Fredwall Karlsson; photo retrieved from Vanity Fair)

Architects​ ​have​ ​an​ ​opportunity​ ​to​ ​leave​ ​an​ ​indelible​ ​mark​ ​on​ ​the​ ​world​ ​around​ ​them. Some​ ​architects​ ​build​ ​a​ ​sufficiently​ ​notable​ ​legacy​ ​to​ ​become​ ​icons​ ​in​ ​their​ ​own​ ​right. Architects​ ​from​ ​Frank​ ​Gehry​ ​to​ ​Phil Kean​ ​have​ ​built​ ​loyal​ ​followings​ ​both​ ​within their​ ​discipline​ ​and​ ​within​ ​their​ ​communities​ ​at​ ​large.​ ​Every​ ​master​ ​architect​ ​has​ ​his​ ​or​ ​her own​ ​set​ ​of​ ​lessons​ ​to​ ​impart​ ​to​ ​the​ ​next​ ​generation.

(Phil Kean, Architect, AR95091)


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