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What do you do for a living?General Architect

I practice general architecture.

How would you describe what you do?

Architects are responsible for anything to do with designing a building or structure.

What does your work entail as an architect?

What I do normally do is I start the design and the project from the very beginning to where I hand it off to one of the other architects in the office where they actually do the working drawings and specifications. I do a lot of preliminary design where I’ll meet with the client, determine what their program is, analyze the site, determine what can be built on site, how big of a building it is, and the preliminary budget.

The greatest thing that I like about it is simply walking into a building after you’ve designed it…and realize that this was a figment of your imagination…Then when you’re done, you’ve got a building standing there. The old saying is, “Doctors bury their mistakes, architects get to drive by them every day.”

I then I do some preliminary building arrangements, or floor plans and elevations and sections so that you can actually see what the building will look like, how big it will be and how it’s arranged and how well it suits their program. It’s mostly done in the office, but of course we’ll meet with clients and go out to sites and I’ll also sit in front of the computer a lot and draw. But, as you get higher up in the hierarchy of an office, you do more client contact and marketing for things outside the office, where a young architect will probably sit there most of the day and draw.

How did you get started?

I actually got started in high school. My parents built a house and I got interested in construction and then I took architectural drawing in high school. And then, right after high school, I started working for an architect. I worked for an architect for six summers before I actually graduated from college. Then when I graduated I started practicing full time.

What do you like about what you do?

The greatest thing that I like about it is simply walking into a building after you’ve designed it. Turn the key over to the owner and realize that this was a figment of your imagination, it was just putting lines on paper when you started. Then when you’re done, you’ve got a building standing there. The old saying is, “Doctors bury their mistakes, architects get to drive by them every day.”

What do you dislike?

If you’re owning a firm, every two weeks, you’ve got to come up with a lot of money to pay your people and there’s a lot of peaks and valleys.

It’s a challenge to solve problems and to create something where there was nothing. I have been licensed 34 years yet every project is a new, exciting project, because you’re problem solving, and creating something from nothing, that’s the exciting part.

Sometimes you’re covered up in work and there’s sometimes when you’re scrounging for work. Just getting work, that’s the hard part. Once you get the work, it’s all fun from there on.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

Well, the owners are paying you to design their buildings and they can pay you a number of ways. They can do either a fixed fee, they can pay you hourly, or they can pay you a percentage of the construction costs. But, you get paid at the end of each phase of the work, you would bill them for whatever the percentage of the work that you’ve done to that point. If the project doesn’t ever turn into a building, then you estimate how much of the fee you would have gotten.

How much money do you make?

My salary right now is $150,000. That’s not what your employees would be making. Starting salary right now is probably $32,000 to $33,000. Then, licensed architects, usually licensed architects are making around $50,000. It varies between all of their capabilities .

Would you say there are any perks to this career?

I would say that being an architect or an accountant, or a doctor, or a lawyer, it’s just the respect you get when people think an architect. Most of the time, you’re treated like professionals.

What education or skills are needed to be an architect?

To practice as a licensed architect, you have to have 5 years of college to get a professional degree. After that, you’ve got 3 years of the IDP, which is the Intern Development Program, you’ve got to work under a licensed architect for 700 units and each unit is equivalent to one day. There’s 14 different categories of work that you have to get before you can take your exam. Once you complete IDP, then you can take the licensing exam.

What is most challenging about what you do?

I’d say that our challenge is to get good work. I mean there’s a lot of work, but a lot of it is not real rewarding as far as being good architecture. I think it’s real challenging to find good clients who want to do good architecture, that want to spend the money to do good architecture, that’s a challenge. Everybody architect wants to do good architecture and but you have to take less challenging work along the way so that you’re in business when the good projects come along.

What is most rewarding?

I think it’s just the creative process. It’s a challenge to solve problems and to create something where there was nothing. I have been licensed 34 years yet every project is a new, exciting project, because you’re problem solving, and creating something from nothing, that’s the exciting part.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Be willing to work hard, it takes a long time to get to the point where you can own your own firm. Never be satisfied with any solution. You have to be inquisitive, you have to be tenacious, you have to be pugnacious. You have to be willing to go through 5 years of an intense architecture school. It’s a hard profession, but it’s a rewarding profession.

How much time off do you get/take?

I only take off about three weeks. Now, anytime I need to go somewhere I can. I’m my own boss so I can take off anytime I want to. But, I don’t. I’ve got 10 weeks of vacation that I haven’t used in 5 years or so. The employees get off 2 weeks a year. Once they’ve been here 10 years, they can take off 3.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

Mostly the misconception I get is that architects are rich. They’re not, they work hard. We don’t live in ivory towers. We’re concerned about making money for our clients. It’s a business and it’s an art. We have to be good businessmen or businesswomen, because if you’re not, you’re not going to be in business. It’s also a very scientific process, adapting changing technologies to the building, to make them better. Then, the art of it, we have to be artistic, because of the product that we produce. I guess people maybe don’t understand that: the science, the art and the business.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

Of course, I’m at the end of my profession, so I guess I’m looking more towards retirement than I am anything else. But, if I was not looking for retirement, I think my goals would be to continue to do good architecture, have a positive impact on the built environment, keep some people employed, and make this a good place to work.

What else would you like people to know about what you do?

I’d say that it is a very rewarding profession, if you’re willing to put out the effort, if you’re willing to stick with it. Just the joy of being able to see your work, it’s a real joy to walk by a good building or to drive by a good building and know that you did that.

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