Architecture as a Career Opportunity

By Billes, Gerald W. | Diversity Employers, January-February 1993 | Go to article overview

Architecture as a Career Opportunity


Billes, Gerald W., Diversity Employers


Perhaps no other field is more directly tied to the condition of the economy than is the field of architecture. When business is booming and revenues are healthy, construction projects are plentiful, translating into a plethora of work opportunities for architects. Conversely, during recessionary times, when profits are down and money is tight, architects are finding jobs scarce, competition stiff, unemployment on the rise, and prospects for relief in the immediate future dismal.

However, despite such forecasts, industry observers agree that those who have prepared themselves properly can survive the present downturn and eventually flourish in this often volatile field. Provided, that is, they're willing to make certain sacrifices early in their careers (especially lower entry-level salaries), pursue an area of specialization, and develop their skills on a variety of fronts.

There are many different areas of specialization within the field of architecture. And while the major focus of any practitioner is still on design, the successful architect will develop specialized skills within a particular segment of the industry. Some for instance, will gravitate toward designing certain building types. Everything from public facilities like convention centers, police stations, aquariums and schools, to private structures such as high-rise office complexes, performance arenas, shopping malls, and condominiums. Others concentrate on certain aspects of the building, like interior, exterior, or landscape architecture.

This trend toward specialization has fragmented the field and places an even higher premium on the value of a graduate degree. Students will most likely only receive generalized, generic architectural training at most universities and colleges at the undergraduate level. More and more of the graduate programs, though, are introducing specialties. In years past, similar experience could only be garnered on the job, working for a firm that was hired to handle such specialized projects.

Students should align themselves with a school that offers flexibility for such courses as civil engineering, concrete, structural steel, etc. They should also take courses in landscape architecture and city planning. If they have the talent and enjoy interior design, and it's available, they should take that, too. Architecture students ought to be grounded in what is real, what they're actually going to confront in the workplace. Also, college students now might consider a great deal more training in computer applications in design. It's much more important now than it was some 15-20 years ago. It's going to become almost a requirement in another five to 10 years.

Donna V. Robertson, dean of the Tulane University School of Architecture, advises, "Mechanical drawing and drafting skills can easily be taught in college architectural courses. In this respect, pursuits which stimulate creative thought, such as writing, poetry, sculpture, or product design, should be emphasized in pre-college years. Knowledge of artistic or construction crafts and the translation of sensory experience into visual expressions by use of freehand drawings or other non-mechanical means are good skills to have when considering architecture as a major. Visual awareness and creative drive are components which are difficult to develop in school and so need to be pursued as an interest or made evident prior to college."

African-American architect Lonnie Hewitt Jr., principal, Hewitt-Washington and Associates, Inc. in New Orleans, Louisiana, says, "Anyone interested in pursuing architecture as a profession ought to understand that this is a business in addition to the artistic and design aspects which we all know. I would recommend that a student take business and law courses so that there is a clear understanding of the two disciplines directing the architectural practice today. A good architect in today's world is well rounded. …

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