The Evolution of an Architect

The work an architect does evolves over time. This work often defies expectation. It also involves new skills that must often be learnt.

An architect is not made in 6 days. An architect is not even made in 6 years of study. Architects evolve over decades of hard work and experience. They’re not born flying, but over time they may learn to soar.

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

Upon graduation an architect’s office responsibilities are pretty limited. They’re just beginning to walk and it’s likely that most of their time will be spent drawing. They might be required to look after incoming phone calls, rep’s, taking notes at meetings, and the like, but mostly they’ll be calling upon their design and drawing skills. Some specialised knowledge they may have picked up about the relevant Codes and Controls may also be required.

They might move up to be more responsible for coordinating with consultants and liaising with clients. To be more directly involved in the coordination and incorporation of external advice and/or requirements into the design drawings. Still predominantly utilising their design and drawing skills alongside specialist knowledge.

The next step may take then into more unchartered territory, responsibility for other staff, leading meetings. Their responsibilities become broader and take them into ares they may not necessarily have the skills to do. Skills that are not taught in an architecture degree such as leadership, decision making, building trust, empathy, communication, giving and receiving feedback (feedback may be a part of university, but it’s certainly not taught), to name just a few of the main ones.

The higher up an architect moves in a practice the less time they spend on drawing and design, and more time on the leadership and business responsibilities less well covered in university degrees. This is not a criticism of architectural education, it’s more a meditation on the expectations that are set up as a result of the education. The central part (rightly) of any architecture degree is the design subject(s). Most architect’s passion also understandably lie in the design and design realisation parts of practice and many consider the other stuff of practice at best a necessary inconvenience. It’s an unrealistic expectation of practice. As I’ve previously written, Architects, Not Just a Matter of Good Design, practice involves far more than design and the profession should not blanch at the idea. To be better at practice involves being better at these other skills too.

We need to acknowledge that skills not learnt at university – the human skills mentioned earlier such as leadership, decision making, building trust, empathy, communication, giving and receiving feedback – are immensely important in architectural practice. These human skills and practice skills are involved in all the work outside of design. Many architects possess these skills to some degree or other through experience on the job, often less than adequately. It makes me curious how we might change this. I’m not so interested in changing university education as much as expectation and workplace education. How might office cultures be changed such that these skills are actively acknowledged, taught and embraced?

These are the skills that are going to buffer the profession from the changes that will occur over the coming decades. These are the skills that are going to keep the profession human, relevant and agile. These are the skills that will allow the recognised value of the profession and the value that it can deliver, to be maintained and grown. Architecture is more than design and it takes more than design skills. If the profession is to fly and to soar it needs to become more better at human skills and in some cases learn some new ones.

Image by Julia Volk on Pexels

Hi! I’m Michael

I’m an architect and coach. I help architects rethink their practice and support them as they uncover better ways to work. I’ve worked in architecture for over 25 years, and I ran my own practice for 14 years. I understand architectural practice from the inside out. Fun Fact: my NSW architect’s registration is #10 007 and I have a license to skill.

I believe improving practice takes asking hard questions and deep listening.

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