The other architectural skills

Architects possess an extraordinary array of skills. Many, but not all, are either taught at uni or on the job. There are some that escape attention.

The skills required of an architect, at face value, are seemingly obvious. It’s probable that most architects would describe similar skillsets necessary for practice. There’s some variation possible across a spectrum of skills. At one end, there’s the architects who draw as if they had trained in the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Whilst some architects are able to quickly hone in on the key moves on a site, designing a strategy on the back of a postage stamp. Others whose detailing and assembly of a building makes a builder cry with joy. Through to archi-nerds who can write award winning specifications, if there’s such a thing. Ultimately, by and large, there’s unequivocal agreement on skillset.

We can identify strengths and deficiencies in skillsets we know we need. Those skills we see we can continue to learn, practice and improve. It’s the skills in our blindspot or outside of our vision that need more attention.

It’s likely many pain points architects experience are the result of a skills deficit. It might be a deficit is on the business and management side, but in most cases the skills needing work are human skills* (ie soft skills). Skills required for dealing with humans, as well as doing your work better. Even challenges such as Councils or clients can be mitigated with better human skills. Skills including: leadership, time management, communications, listening, feedback, empathy, decision making, adaptability and many more.

In some cases architectural skills can also be repurposed, utilised for more than the realisation of a building. These skills include designing, critical thinking, iterative thinking, secondary thinking, researching, brief assimilation, and so on. Yet their value isn’t always recognised and utilised for more than base architectural work. Do architects, for example, utilise a design decision making process in more than the design of a building?

You might be sitting here saying, thank you captain obvious. If you are, I wonder if you’re working on these skills already. If so, bravo. If not, then perhaps it’s not so obvious. And these are the areas of your practice you can make significant change, taking it to the next level. How effectively you work with people matters and it’s impossible to avoid. It’s important for architects to work on their human skills and to work more effectively with people. Working with empathy, developing leadership, improving communication, and so on.

It’s not just human relationships important to human skills developments. After speaking to nearly 100 architects about the challenges they face, the universal obstacle the majority face is having enough time. Managing time matters. It especially matters in architectural practice where critical timeframes govern so much of the work. It matters because, at a simplistic level, time is money and most architects don’t think they earn enough of either. Take note, time management is a human skill.

As designers know, there’s always more than one answer and eventually you have to choose. Even when constraints are tight, there’s a choice. Yet architects will bemoan the lack of choice they have around their practice, but seldom the lack of choice they have within a design project. When making decisions, any decisions, having choices matters. Knowing how to design more choices, make one choice, and making a good decisions matters. And that’s a human skill.

There’s many more examples I could use here of the human skills valuable to the practice of architecture. My point isn’t list them exhaustively, instead to bring a greater level of mindfulness and awareness to these beneficial skills. We’re all have these skills to some degree. Some people are good at them, others less so. Most of us can do better. We therefore need to bring a level of intention to our practice. To be mindful, commit to practicing and doing better at our human skills.

They’re intrinsic to architectural practice yet seldom taught. If you want to get better at your human skills, leadership, decision making, empathy, and so on, please get in touch. It’s one of the things I do.


* Human Skills: aka Soft Skills. Soft skills are freakin’ hard and poorly named. Curiously named by the US Army, according to Wikipedia, and they refer to any skills not requiring heavy machinery! Mind blown. It recognised that there were important skills required in the army extending beyond making things go bang. I prefer the term human skills, it’s a more suitable term than “soft skills” (btw: human skill is a term I’ve stolen). I like the expression human skills because they’re intrinsic to being a good human. They’re required in your life, relationships, playtime and work. I’ve separated them here but to me it’s all just life. Life uncompartmentalised. We need these mad skills for life. Being empathetic is important in all circumstances. Making good decisions worthwhile no matter the context. Good leadership is valued by all. You get the idea. Being a good human is hard. Human skills are hard, there’s nothing soft about them. They require practice. And if you practice, you will get better. Keep going.

Photo by Huie Dinwiddie [cropped]

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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