What we didn’t learn in architecture school

headdeskGetting through the sleepless nights of studio to earn your architecture degree was tough. Sending out stacks of resumes, slapping on a cheerful smile for lame networking events, and finally scoring an interview for an honest-to-gawd real job (no more internships, woohoo!) was even harder. Guess what? Your education still isn’t over. Unless you got an MBA and a certificate in psychiatry along with that architecture degree, chances are you’re still learning just as much on the job as you did while at university. We posed the question to our staff: “What really important thing did you not learn in architecture school?”

Neil Chace
Neil Chace

Neil Chace, Architect

Architecture is a service based profession, Architecture is a business. The school’s philosophy at that time was to teach you to think critically and problem solve. Although it was probably covered in Professional Practice, I never picked up on the fact that ultimately you have to be a good business person in order to be a good architect (or maybe I missed that day because I stayed up all night working on my studio project, who knows). This is something many architects, including myself, struggle with and should be reinforced during education.

 

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Elizabeth Kohl

Elizabeth Kohl, Architect

Sometimes I feel like a psychologist trying to manage the people relationships within the organizations we serve. I definitely didn’t learn about that in school!

 

 

Tom Niemeier
Tom Niemeier

Tom Niemeier, Architect

They did not teach me how to manage a project with a certain number of hours, which in the real world equates to money. It was always just “work till you get it done.” They also did not teach anything about how to design cost-effectively to stay within a client’s budget. They also taught us very little about the importance of finding clients, winning clients, or keeping clients, which is probably the single most important aspect of work.

 

Steve Hunsicker
Steve Hunsicker

Steve Hunsicker, Architect

That my worth as an architect would mostly be measured by my ability to develop meaningful project opportunities. That means the design and production training would be worth less than my ability to listen, communicate complex ideas, and efficiently develop a relationship based on confidence, trust and integrity. Managing other people quickly becomes the next problem. If you are working on a project larger than a house you absolutely need to understand how to manage and focus a team of people to create a coordinated result. People and task management skills are very different and have a unique blend in the business of architecture. Finally, the challenge of managing a very low volume, low margin business in a highly competitive environment. During my education, I spent no time learning about these topics, and these are the challenges that dominate my working life.

 

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Ben Zunkeler

Ben Zünkeler, Architectural Designer

In school we were encouraged to branch out from “pure architecture” classes and explore other interests. This may have been more noticeable at a four year program like WashU, but in general, I think that the goal of teaching design thinking opposed to technical expertise actually pays off. Being largely unprepared for the more “real-life” aspects of working in the field eg. field verification, keynoting, billable hours… forces us recent graduates to rely on the flexibility and independent thinking that we were expected to champion during the long hours and late nights of studio. As a result of not learning the brass tacks in school, the early years of professional experience become a crass course, trial-by-fire, opportunity to develop confidence in decision making.

 

Juan Devia
Juan Devia

Juan Devia, Architectural Designer

I think instead of not learning something at school it was more like it wasn’t specific about a lot of things. Things were very general and they didn’t go too far into detail. Also there was never a budget and everything seemed possible. Sure, they mentioned how a set of drawings is structured but not how to write extensive notes and assign responsibilities to other people.

And here are a couple of perspectives from professionals who aren’t architects, but they work alongside them every day:

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Emina Huskic

Emina Huskic, Office Manager

When I told my friends that I started working for an architecture company, they said “Oh you will not fit in! Architects have personalities of their own. They are different!” Just after a few weeks of working with the architects at Space, I learned it was total stereotyping. I enjoy working with my architecture crew at Space. They are caring, fun, very involved in the community, and try to make our city a better place.

 

Hannah Burtness
Hannah Burtness

Hannah Burtness, Graphic Designer

The hardest part of the job is communication with clients and managing your own ability to work quickly, not to mention figuring out how to balance asking for enough payment while attracting new clients. Designers and architects are alike in that boring business struggle; we’re a service industry that’s not strictly necessary to human life, but we make the world a more beautiful and intentional place. And so we advocate for ourselves.

 

Working at SPACE, I’ve been making up for the things I didn’t learn in architecture school. Good thing they were right about what they did teach me: that my design education was just a jumping off point, and when I actually got out there in the world and worked for my living, I would learn more than they could ever cover in a college course.

 

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