Discrepancy between business and university focus

Aspiring architects get schooled thoroughly in the design process, history and technicalities of architecture. However, unlike for example future artists, architects do not get educated in the business side of architecture. Practice shows us that the most famous and successful architects are often as brilliant managers and businessmen as they are designers. Getting your design commissioned requires a lot of interpersonal skills, finding opportunities and combining contradictory viewpoints.

However, let us try to look into what we have learned—we could use much of it already. According to Hans de Jonge, a TU Delft alumnus who is currently running his own company Oculus Film, the university teaches you how “to think on different levels of abstraction and scale, how to approach a problem, cut it down into manageable pieces, work on them and integrate them.” Critical thinking, analytical skills and the ability to solve problems acquired during our studies are invaluable assets, which are universally valued. Additionally, architecture encourages to develop multi-faceted interests, which broadens horizons and makes you open for and aware of new possibilities. Ruben Bergambagt, also TU graduate, the founder of a Dutch-Chinese architectural office Superimpose, highly values that the University gave him the motivation “to push the boundaries of architecture, question conventions and find innovative solutions to existing and emerging problem statements”.Creative, innovative, how come we - architecture graduates - are not the perfect employees?

Ruben’s advice for future architects is to find a balance between conceptual thinking and the exploration of practical matters. There’s only one way to acquire that: take on an internship and find out how architecture practices run projects in real life. Often young people who just obtained their diploma have no understanding of how differently architectural ventures are run compared to what they have imagined based on how the university projects were structured. The problem is growing, since internships are not a part of formal education anymore. If you want to get a grasp of real life in an office, you still need to pay a tuition fee at the university while receiving almost symbolic salaries from the employer. It creates a challenging situation in which it is problematic for young architects to fulfil the requirements set by the employers. Having not enough experience means that they have to agree to very low salaries, which subsequently encourages a significant part of them to pursue other careers where the entry threshold is not that high.


Low efficiency, low salary, draining lifestyles

We often ask ourselves why architects are not as well-paid as employees in other disciplines. According to some calculations, comparing the amount of working hours and the amount of work architects are commissioned, the calculated hourly rate evens out to the one of a supermarket cashier. It all seems a lot of hard work with little reward, so why do we, as a community, put our mental and physical health at such a disadvantage? Sportsmen keep health their priority, and in most other professions, overnight and weekend hours get rewarded double the hourly rate. After all, our profession requires comprehensive conceptual, technical, interpersonal and business skills. However, it turns out that the construction industry is being outpaced by the general development ratio of the economy and brings back not enough revenue.

One of the problems of architecture, as formulated by Rem Koolhaas, is the fact it is not fast enough to keep up with the constantly developing and fast-paced world. “Architecture is a profession that takes an enormous amount of time. The least architectural effort takes at least four or five or six years, and that speed is really too slow for the revolutions that are taking place.”1 Architecture means months of designing on such a complex level that it results in a low capacity to react to swift changes.

What adds up to that is the long period of construction, which requires architects to think not about the world of today, but the world of tomorrow, which in turn calls for knowledge of society, culture, politics, etc. In order to excel at this challenging task, both students and architects in the field of architecture endure draining lifestyles with lots of overwork However, nothing can ensure that such sacrifice will pay off. After a lot of sleepless nights, a different competitor might get the commission for the projects instead.

Survival of the most adaptable

Architects perceive themselves as generalists: designers, politicians, sociologists, psychologists, etc. at once, however, that is not a future-proof attitude. “In this world there’s a tendency to specialism,” – Hans reflects – “specialising in a particular field could improve the quality of the work delivered”. The understanding of a concept of job changes - there’s no certainty of having one job for a lifetime. Quite the opposite, the fast pace of development will require workers to think of themselves as specialists, not employees. In order to be ready for that change and not lose the race in the future, we must now assess our strengths and weaknesses, which will eventually make us able to define what we should specialise in and how to make ourselves fit within a very complex process of creating architecture.

The Guardian called the job market “the survival of the most adaptable”2, where the idea of a job for life ceases to exist. The worker of the future freelances, takes part-time jobs, manoeuvres between different employers and modes of employment. It requires constant rethinking of your preferences and redefining your professional status. According to the “Future of Jobs” report published by World Economic Forum in 2016, 65% of primary school children of today will end up working in completely new, not yet existent job types.3 Such changes come about with the necessity of clearly defining your strengths and skills and being highly aware of what you can offer to your potential employer.

Tunnel vision

Although in the first year of the Bachelors, everyone gets the warning that only a few freshmen will end up working as architects after graduation, the message individual tutors deliver in design studios goes the opposite way. It is often said architecture is a calling rather than a profession. Or a passion, which doesn’t allow another one to exist. You dedicate your life and being to architecture or you fail at it. It is, after all, not a hobby. So now you’ve made your choice for architecture, there’s no way back. Sounds like a deal with the devil?

Especially at the beginning of your way, ending up being an architect seems to be the obvious option. You have a curriculum that you have to follow, which is a bit double-edged. On the one hand it gives you a sense of security; after all the stress you went through before deciding on your field of study, for the next few years you can just go along with the curriculum of your track. Those years fly past you faster than you expect, and suddenly you have to think again about questions like “why am I doing this?”, “what impact do I want to make in the world?”, “what do I want to spend the rest of my life doing?”

It might seem that those who’ve chosen Master Track in Architecture already answered these questions and decided to pursue the track. Are you among these? Or maybe you already know your path will diverge? Have you ever questioned your choices and wondered about what would really make you happy?

Future paths

Ruben decided to run his own office, but he definitely sees the architecture graduate as someone who can excel at diverse professions. For him studying architecture is profitable to anyone “who is curious enough to investigate, creative enough to provide new solutions, critical enough to reflect on their own work and passionate enough to appreciate input of any kind”. Hans, despite taking on a job that departs from the traditional professional trajectory, admits that his education as an architect has taught him to “structure thought and to be able to abstract”, which is a transferable and universal skill. Architecture education is beautiful, but it is just the beginning. If your ambitions remain within the field of architecture, be sure to balance concept and practice. When you dread the thought of working in an architecture office, you surely have tools to come up with an alternative.