Architecture is constantly part of our daily life. The built environment encompasses spaces we inhabit for living, working, and playing. The motivation to create inspiring architecture may have begun at a young age and enhanced during your architectural education. While the urge to create inspiring work continues in your professional practice of architecture in the real world, the motivations and intentions of space-making are different. While there is much debate over the fundamental differences between architectural education and professional practice, here is some advice and guidance for newly graduated architecture students or young architectural designers on a smooth transition into the professional architecture firm environment.  

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Photo by Timon Studler © Unsplash

Create an Agile Mind and Spirit

Although architectural school training may vary, most architectural education consists of an architecture studio, where students develop architectural ideas and concepts following a single brief under the supervision of a professor. Ultimately, students have just one “client,” their professor. Unfortunately, in the real world, the design of buildings is affected by many things. A project may have more than one person representing the client or may involve many stakeholders. Buildings are also affected by building code regulations, budgets, project schedules, etc. Expect a project to change over time as it is shaped by the changing whims of the client, local jurisdiction regulations, requirements requested by your engineering consultants, etc. Therefore, keep an open mind and agile spirit, especially in the early stage of your career. Do not get too attached to what you produce at work. For example, you may spend many days designing a beautiful canopy for a building entrance, only to find out weeks later the client made it smaller or completely removed to reduce the budget on a project. 

Architecture is a complex profession that involves continuous changes in our industry such as new building technology, innovative sustainability strategies, and updates to building codes and regulations. Developing an agile mind and spirit early in your career will set you up for success.

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Develop Management Skills

A common misconception architectural students have is that the architectural profession needs only good design skills. While being a good designer is ideal, management skills are essential to becoming a true professional. 

In architecture school, you might have spent endless hours late at night creating multiple design iterations. However, running an architectural firm is a business and requires guaranteed revenue from projects. This often translates in the workplace to the expectation to see the physical production of work (in the form of drawings, renderings, etc.) efficiently or predictably. Generating drawings and other essential tasks promptly is of utmost importance. 

Management in the workplace requires two essential skills: self-management and project management. Self-management involves setting up good time management habits, such as keeping track of how many hours it takes to complete specific tasks. Not only will you be able to communicate to your project manager or superiors the amount of time you expect to complete tasks, but understand your productivity level, especially if you want to take on additional tasks. Meeting deadlines is an utmost priority. Producing more than expected, such as proposing alternate solutions to design problems, is even better.

Consider ways to adhere to best practices in your workplace. A big firm might have a Revit library or a drawing standards guide. Also, understand how folders and files are saved and labeled a certain way. Follow good workflow habits utilizing the various software used at your firm. Your superiors are generally very appreciative if you ask them their opinion on best practice habits. If there are not many best practice standards within your firm, likely, that they have not thought about it deeply. Consider volunteering your efforts to help create new best practices and think of ways to make production work at your office smoother and more efficient. 

Project management skills are also essential to the architecture profession. Even if you do not decide to become a project manager, it is ideal to understand the fundamental needs of the project and the goals the firm or client wants to achieve. As designing a building is complex, it is essential to discern what challenges or issues a project needs to resolve at each stage (i.e. SD, DD, CD, CA). Just like you would not put your earrings on before your socks, a building’s programmatic layout must be resolved before detailing the window mullion. Ask your firm to see good examples of drawing sets at each project stage to understand what is documented at each stage. In addition to the project timeline and important milestones, it is also important to understand different constraints on a project. This may include but is not limited to the client’s desires, the firm’s design philosophy, the functional requirements of the program, etc. 

Find Inspiration

As you begin developing an agile mind and improve your managerial skills, you might feel that the architecture spark you had keenly developed in architecture school starts to fade. 

Just as a musician needs to practice musical scales regularly to maintain their technique, architects similarly need to maintain a keen awareness of scale and understand the proportional relationship between spaces and their surroundings. This can include comparing areas of different projects or programs and measuring distances of doors, corridors, and heights of spaces you regularly inhabit. Try to guess or estimate the size of a room and then measure to see how close you are. Going to site visits of projects you are currently working on will also help you understand how your drawings turn into actual built work. Also, do not hesitate to ask your colleagues or more experienced professionals questions. Be curious. The more you ask and get feedback from your peers, the more you can progress in your career. 

What you do with your free time can also bring inspiration and can even influence the way you think about architecture practice. Walking in nature or viewing a new art piece can bring new inspiration. Although some may believe architects are devoted to their industry 24/7, it is necessary to remove yourself periodically to obtain fresh viewpoints.

Photo by Ian Schneider © Unsplash

In conclusion, architecture is a complex profession that requires constant learning. Be prepared to continue to learn beyond what you have learned in school, such as building codes, building construction technology, sustainability, etc. Professionals with even 20+ years of architecture experience can still learn new things about their industry. 



Lisa Awazu Wellman has 10+ years of architecture and interior design experience in Japan, China and the United States. Eastern and Western culture is deeply rooted in her cultural background as a biracial Japanese American. During her spare time, she translates Japanese and Chinese architecture articles into English.