to be or not to be an architect (actually 7)


Are you considering a career in architecture? Are you a college student – a high school student – one considering returning to college later in life?

I have counseled high school students, spoken at career fairs and had hundreds of students in my studio as a design studio instructor. There are several attitudes and behaviors that continue to appear, yet puzzle me.

I admit I had little counseling prior to entering college, but I started working after my first year of architecture school. That experience with my own pioneering spirit revealed many things to me. Yes, I learned a few lessons the hard way.

An architect is a professional, so one must be professional and think like a professional in order to be successful (or employed no less) as an architect. I believe I can say that as a matter of truth beyond just opinion. I wrote a similar post earlier last year with tips for succeeding in architecture school.

It is never too soon to think like, act like and be a professional. I don’t buy into the cultural shift or cultural norms as an excuse for unprofessional behavior.

pencils 01

I’ve observed that these critical traits go beyond school and can benefit all of us in life – as an architect.

Be self-motivated – One of the best things we can teach our children is to care for their responsibilities without being told. I’m aware our culture has generated ‘helicopter parents’ who do everything for their kids and sadly many kids grow up with miserable family experiences with no parental support. However, if one wishes to be a professional, or even succeed in a professional university program, one needs to be able to get out of bed on their own.

Be pro-active – One cannot survive long on the “tell me what to do next” attitude in a profession. There’s certainly an aspect of not knowing what to do and needing to be trained and guided. It doesn’t take one long to find answers if they begin to know what they don’t know by simply asking questions.

One of the first questions I ask someone who reaches out to me with advice is “what have YOU done to prepare yourself for this moment?” To be honest, I’ve been disappointed in the answers most of the time. How will you move your project forward when the boss or supervisor is not there? Take initiative even if it’s not “your job” to do so.

Be polite and respectful – I’m old fashioned, but to me there’s something timeless (or above our cultural norms) about addressing someone by Mr. or Ms. the first time one contacts them. Once one makes contact, the responding party typically responds with the manner they prefer.

NEVER start an email with “hey” or with NO salutation. No excuse. One can never go wrong with Dear Mr. Calisti or even Mr. Calisti. I’m not one for formality, but if you don’t know me, don’t treat our first encounter like we’re old friends. I credit my Mum for teaching me how to properly address adults.

Be aware – Regardless of where one is on their journey, there is no excuse in today’s technological age for not knowing about the profession of architecture (or whatever profession one is pursuing). I admit Google can lead one astray, but with all of the other traits noted in this post, one can find reasonable answers.

Two questions I ask most young men and women who come to me with an interest in architecture are 1) Can you name an architect – any architect living or dead? 2) Is there a particular building you find exciting or interesting? Too often I get blank stares.

Be a risk taker – Whether it’s in one’s personality or not, architecture demands risk in order to advance it as a profession or to advance a project beyond simply building. This means being exposed, it means being critiqued (or criticized) and it means making mistakes. Just for the record, mistakes do not equal failure.

Be adventurous – In other words, experiment. Perhaps there is risk associated with this, but it’s much more. One has to explore many options, variances, alternatives and ways of looking at a problem in order to find good solutions. There is no formula for solving an architectural problem. Look around at our mediocre building environment and it will be obvious that formulas don’t work. As soon as we stop asking questions, we fall back on what we know and architecture stagnates. Try something, try anything, and keep looking at ways to develop solutions.

Be curious – If you are interested in being an architect, the question to ask is not why, but “why not.” The other question is “what if.” I’ve been around long enough and worked on many types of projects. Even the most mundane or seemingly simple projects deserved someone asking “what if.” It’s why people hire architects. Any technician can solve basic construction issues and can perform drafting tasks. Curiosity will elevate even the most mundane project. The answer might be no, but the question ought to be asked. Search, wonder and pursue. This is one of the most important character traits of an architect.

Architects are ready to mentor you out there. Do your homework before you call.


photo 1 credit: ‘Hamlet’ – RAHS/Osborne Collection c. 1930s via photopin (license)

to be or not to be an architect (actually 7)