Career Story: Residential Architect In A Privare Practice

Residential Architect In A Privare Practice

Job Title: Architect

Type of Company: My practice delivers traditional architectural services, primarily for homeowners. I am shifting to consulting on sustainability and sustainable design for institutions and cities.

Education: BA, History, Harvard College •• MA, Architecture, Harvard University

Previous Experience: I worked as an intern in architecture offices for four years. I also worked briefly for a real estate developer/property manager. After I got my architecture license I worked for a furniture manufacturer and started my own practice. Other than two short part-time stints with firms I have been on my own for about 20 years.

Job Tasks: I design additions and renovations for houses, produce the drawings and specifications and see the construction through. After meeting a client I present my services, sign a contract and begin. We sit down and talk about what they want and need, their budget and what they like. I look at the local zoning requirements, and see what can be built on their site in terms of size and location.

I make several sketches for them showing floor plans and "elevations" -- a kind of photo view of the design -- and give them several options. We pick one, start designing it in more detail and refine it at each step. We also start to talk to contractors about budget and construction costs, and we explore choices of materials. There are many considerations when it comes to materials: aesthetics, climate, "greenness", longevity and cost.

Once the design is set, I make drawings (on the computer) which will show the contractor where all the materials go and how they go together, and the floor plans and elevations. I also make structural framing drawings, though I usually hire a consulting structural engineer to work with me on that.

I write a book calling out all the materials called "specifications." The specs and drawings make the construction documents, which then go to the builder (contractor) who we've selected by interview and bid process.

During construction I meet with the contractor and owners to be sure that the project is being built as designed. I represent the client's interests.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: Best parts: There are many different jobs within one project and as a sole-practitioner I get to do all of them. So my day and my job are both varied. I get to look at materials, design things, think about a lot of different aspects of the work. The job is also one long problem-solving exercise, which can be very challenging and fun. And it's in an aesthetic framework.

Worst: Some parts are boring. The drawings get tedious to produce but you can hire someone to help with that. It can be very hard to get clients and interesting projects. Nor does architecture pay well. (see below)

Job Tips:
1.) Make sure you really like architecture well enough for the economic trade-offs.

2.) Get an internship and summer jobs in firms before you attend school.

3.) Talk to a lot of architects before you decide to go to school.

4.) School programs and courses are not like real life practice. They're much more fun!

5.) Work for smaller firms where you get to do more varied tasks.

6.) See if you like architects. Your peer group is very important in your choice of profession.

Additional Thoughts: Architecture doesn't pay well and, working alone, you can go long periods under-employed. Even working for a firm, you can expect to be laid off at least once or twice. In economic downturns, architects are the first to go, so it's a hard business to rely on financially. After a while, when you see peers who have much less education and more predictable work hours, you start to mind the low pay.

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