being an architect

My friend Bob Borson of Life of an Architect recently asked a number of us to answer the 11 most comment questions that he receives about being an architect. Due to a scheduling conflict I was unable to post my response with everyone else. I'm a little late, but below is my contribution to ArchiTalks discussion of Being an Architect.

What kind of projects were you doing when you first started as an architect?

When I first started working in an architectural office I was less than a year out of high school. I worked on a variety of projects ranging from a small commercial façade remodel, where I got to crawl into the attic space to take photos of the existing framing, to the glamorous  fence height extension for a junk yard. I also remember drawing many roof drainage plans and details for a commercial roofing company that provided quick and easy “bread and butter” work for the office. I also got to work on some new custom residential homes and plans for a new Wienerschnitzel restaurant in my home town. The cool thing about that project was having the instructor for my Junior College Architectural Design Class choose that site plan for our design project for the quarter.

How many projects can you expect to be working on at once?

Over my career I have often worked on only one project at a time, mainly because I was the only one working on it. Smaller residential projects can be that way. Though when I managed a team, I would often work on multiple projects in the same day. This would not always be strictly drafting, but would include everything from client or consultant interaction on various projects to redlines and answering questions on other projects. Being flexible and focusing on tasks for various projects is what makes every day in an architectural office exciting and fun.

How often did/do you work in a team?

I have always worked on some sort of a team. In every office I have worked for, I am either working for or collaborating with a principal in charge or another project manager in some capacity. Even working for myself, I find myself reaching out to colleagues on social media for thoughts and comments for ongoing projects. The best Architecture is not created in a vacuum.

How important is an innovative mind to the company?

The architectural profession requires many minds. We are all “creative” and that creativity is exhibited in many ways throughout an office from the design, to production, specs and construction administration. How “innovative” does one need to be to be a spec writer? I do not know, but I do know that it takes all types to create a successful project.

What key things do you look for in potential new hires?

In my capacity at one firm I had the responsibility for interviewing prospective employees. The one thing I was looking for was a person that was not afraid to admit they do not know something and had the ability to ask questions. The job applicant that boasted that he or she knew everything or was an expert at something (other then an in-depth knowledge or ability with a particular software) was someone I would be wary of, as none of us know everything. I would also say that the applicant that had done their homework and knew what it was that I was looking for and showed that they were the one that could provide that service was the one most valuable to the firm and the one likely to be hired.

How important is diversity to your company?

As a firm of one, I don’t have much diversity, though at the different firms I have worked at I’ve found that diversity brings much to a firm and the projects it does.

How big of a role does HR play in your company?

Being a sole practitioner, I get to wear many hats and HR is one of them. Though I have not had the workload to justify hiring someone, I have observed at firms that I have worked for that HR plays an important role though mostly in getting all of the legalities of employment filed. In my experience the interviewing and hiring decisions have been made by the principal or general manager of the firm with HR in a supporting role.

Would you say Architecture is a field for everyone?

Like any other profession or “job” the field of Architecture is work. That said, there is room for many within the profession. As I stated earlier, someone needs to write the specs, design and or draw the construction drawings. It takes many different types of personalities to fill all of these roles, so I would say that Architecture is for everyone. You just need to find your niche.

What is the best asset in your company?

As a small firm, my best asset is my ability to communicate with my clients. To help them understand the process and be there for them when questions arise. In firms that I have worked for, each had their strengths, weaknesses and project types that they specialize in. It is often a challenge in any firm to break out of those perceptions of what they can and cannot do. It can be through a personal connection to a client that a firm known for only one product type or style  be given a chance to change that narrative.

Describe your best employee in one word?

Passionate

What style architecture do you love most?

Throughout college I was very much a fan of modern architecture. Upon graduation, during a previous recession, the only job I was able to get was doing high end production or custom homes. The styles that these homes often took were ones that would appeal to the most people and be cost effective to construct. Not all have been award winning, but some have been well received. Being from California the styles that appeal to many here in the Bay Area tend to be Spanish, Mediterranean or Monterey styles, for which I have gained a respect and fondness.

Those are my answers. Check out some of the others that participated, which I have listed below. If I missed anyone, please let me know on my Contact page.