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Career suggestions for burnt-out Architect?
May 3, 2014 7:06 PM   Subscribe

Posting for Mr. Chocotaco: Licensed architect burned out on architectural practice. After 10 years in the field working for high profile firms, I have concluded that architecture is not for me. Although the low pay, high stress aspects of the job are contributing factors, the primary reasons for deciding to pursue other career options are lack of fulfillment, clear purpose, opportunity for growth, and healthy work/life balance.

I enjoy the problem-solving and creative aspects of the job, but find it frustrating that so much time and energy is spent trying to impress other architects and considerably less time to further the health, safety and welfare of the end user. I would love to find a career that would satisfy both my creative and pragmatic sides, but currently cannot think of alternatives that would fulfill these criteria.

I know how to put a building set together, am LEED accredited, and use virtually every modeling/ drawing program under the sun (Autocad, Vectorworks, Microstation, Revit, Rhino, 3d max, Illustator, Sketchup, etc); but have limited exposure to project management. Surely some of these skills are transferable?

Any thoughts would be appreciated.
posted by chocotaco to Work & Money (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
I recently finished a Masters in urban planning, which was chock full of mid-career architects changing path for exactly the reasons you're describing. If you enjoy looking at the built environment in the macro level, have a think about planning.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:11 PM on May 3


oh geez. i think about this almost every day. fellow architect here, 8 years into the workforce after grad school. some factors that may help the discussion: what type of architecture do you do? what size firm have you worked at before and where are you now? how many different places have you experienced? what did you do before architecture, what were you good at in school, and what other interests do you have outside architecture (related and unrelated)?

it's a hard thing to give up on the industry after you've done all that work to get licensed! but i totally hear you. (my personal joke is that after i get licensed i'm going to become a heroin addict.) it may be worth considering that it's not necessarily the career that doesn't work for you so much as the type of firm. personally i have found more reach in developing my career by working for small firms - these have a lot of ground to cover and few employees to do it, so you get to wear many hats throughout the day. i've been at ones that were both high and low profile, and the high profile ones seem to require more song and dance which for me was exhausting. the lower profile ones seem to understand that this is a career, but at the end of the day it's just a job and you have a life outside work, and there is flexibility there. to me, bragging rights about what i'm working on and who for are not as important.

i think project management is a hard barrier to break though. you may get bits and pieces, but people in control like to stay that way. there's a sort of trust build up that needs to happen before that control is released, and sometimes it just isn't there. little errors and omissions can become the reason why one is not chosen or relied upon for management. it's difficult, when we are expected to juggle 10 different things at once and get it all right without dropping any balls. no wonder it's stressful!

as far as other careers... there is a book that they made us read waaaaaaaaaaay back in undergrad (that i still have right here!) called Architect? A Candid Guide to the Profession. I remember there is a chapter called Work in Related Fields and another called Abandoning Architecture. The related fields part discusses other alternatives - landscape architecture, urban planning, interior design, construction, real estate development, engineering, government service (IF you can get a government job the benefits are amazing and you can get your federal loans waived after 10 years!), plan examiners or building inspectors. As far as the Abandoning Architecture chapter, it just briefly discusses how "the benefits of architecture seem insufficient to justify the burdens" to those that left and "those who completely leave architecture do so with mixed feelings and a great sense of loss.... The intellectual and emotional payoffs of design invention, the fun of building, the delights of visual composition and form, these are the potential rewards left behind. They are rewards few other careers can provide."

one thing i've had in the back burner of my mind was 3d modeling for movies - i learned so much maya in grad school and after i graduated i almost considered going into the movie industry and trying to make something out of that skill. so many years later i am still wondering what if... maybe take yourself into what if mode and explore what you set aside all those years while getting licensed. try not to focus on any of the negatives of switching careers just yet - those are just logistics you need to work your way through once you figure out what it is you really want to do. architects can sort of be the jack-of-all-trades type people, and we tend to pick up a lot from all different skill sets to do what we need to show our ideas - so whatever you may be lacking you'll fill that gap quickly.

anyway that was a wall of text and i still have more i could write... if you have any questions or just want someone to chat with, send me a memail!
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 8:23 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]


I work in videogames, and some of my colleagues who work as environment artists trained as architects. It's a great blend of creative and technical. It's higher paid, but not sure if the hour are better. Feel free to memail me if you are interested enough to have questions.
posted by Joh at 8:48 PM on May 3


Have you considered teaching?
posted by ouke at 12:57 AM on May 4


Teaching.
posted by gnutron at 6:26 AM on May 4


Would you be more fulfilled in a different setting? I don't know if you're in commercial or health care or whatever, but maybe there are other opportunities that could change your perspective.

I know that being on a university campus means CONSTANT planning for new and renovated facilities. Even though most of the actual design is done through the firms we hire, there are several planning analysts, etc. who work on campus in various divisions. Maybe something like that might be good.
posted by Madamina at 6:43 AM on May 4


Although the low pay, high stress aspects of the job are contributing factors, the primary reasons for deciding to pursue other career options are lack of fulfillment, clear purpose, opportunity for growth, and healthy work/life balance.

For what it's worth, all the teachers I know could write this sentence - even those who are very happy with their work, let alone those who are actively trying to get out of the classroom. Additionally, if you were to pursue teaching at the K-12 level and in public schools, you'd need to get certified (and how long this takes depends on if your state does lateral entry) (private schools often have more leeway on certification, so that may be something to look at). Teaching skills-based stuff (like, say, high school drafting classes) might well be more enjoyable than academic classes, but one frying pan is not necessarily better than the other. How good a job teaching is depends on the kids, parents, and administration in your district, and you can't really know that until you're already teaching. Some folks love teaching! But approach a career change into teaching with your eyes open. Talk to teachers in your district and see how the work environment is.

On the other hand, teaching college is awesome in a lot of ways (though with some of the same BS as K-12 teaching); however, you'd need more degrees (you don't mention having graduate work) and getting a tenure track job would likely put you on a national job search (along with the fact that TT jobs are drying up). A non-TT job... some schools treat you very well indeed (I'm lucky that my department does), but many schools don't.

The sweet spot, if you are interested in teaching, may be in a vo-tech program (architectural drafting, construction management, that kind of thing) at a community college. Many vo-tech programs don't require their instructors to have advanced degrees (it depends on the field, state, and accreditation system), and you'd be up and doing things and (mostly) working with folks who want to be there. Jobs like this don't grow on trees, but...
posted by joycehealy at 8:21 AM on May 4


I got a job with municipal government as essentially an owner's rep, and love it. The pay is fine from what I can tell, the hours are excellent, and the work I am doing is very satisfying for the most part. It can be frustrating, since I deal a lot with low-bid contractors and all the joy that entails. I don't know how other municipalities work, but we do hire pretty much only at entry level. That said we have a very flat hierarchy so people with extensive experience have been able to transition in quite well.

I don't know much about other owner's rep positions in private practice but they presumably have similar positives.
posted by sepviva at 2:08 PM on May 4


Similar to sepviva's response, are there any non-profit organizations or local goverments you can work with? Rotary clubs or boosters that could use your help? Would your local United Way have suggestions or know of organizations that could use your skills but not require the "prestige" part that's burning you out?

My cousin was an architect and she gave it up to become a pediatric nurse. Complete career change for her.
posted by jillithd at 7:16 AM on May 5


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