Can Architects Design Anything?

Guest blogging for conferences is a great way to get into the door and be a part of inspiring conversations! I had the opportunity of guest blogging for TYPO San Francisco last week and getting to hear conversations focused on design. Themed CONTRAST, the presentations dealt with design in typography, graphics, photography, A/V production, etc. ranging from advertisement signs to published books to TV commercials and movies. Check out the breadth of conversations in the blog posts at

This was an eye-opening experience for me as an architect. For some reason, I used to be under the impression that there isn’t much to design beyond what architects are exposed to. Beyond buildings, if architects can design furniture, light fixtures, shoes and entire fashion lines, no platform is too far beyond an architect’s capacity. Easier said than done! Design is so vast that not everything can be done by anyone even if we belong to creative fields that branch out from similar backgrounds. I, for one, have the deepest regards for all artists and designers following the TYPO conference that helped me understand that there is a lot more under the surface. My 2 cents… Before you consider branching out to a non-traditional path from architecture, consider your exposure, training and experience in the field of design. It may or may not be the right avenue for you, but follow your passion and let design lead the way!

Non-Traditional Path – for Better or Worse

Many students drop out of architecture school after freshman year. A much larger proportion does so after sophomore year. The ones that are left survive the junior and senior years. A few don’t graduate. A percentage of the graduates stick to architecture and go to grad school, either immediately or after couple years of earning some tuition. Some complete the grad school. I’m just referencing the traditional path; there are multiple ways to fulfill the education requirements. Either way, the next step is the long road of IDP and ARE. Quite a few get through IDP (especially now that NCARB has made it easier); fewer take care of the registration business. Some branch off to other professions at or before this point – MBA, Law school, marketing, or whatever they find to earn relatively bigger bucks. These are the sensible kind.

Those of us who stay in architecture end up working for somebody, with a few stamping their own drawings, and even fewer getting into the academia. As you are still in this profession, hats off to you! For you are the most resilient creams of the crop!

Everybody has their reasons for why they are still around. But one quality that binds us is passion, although some would call it eccentricity. It gets worse with age… The older we get, the more we are caught in this addiction of architecture. A few understand the jubilation architects feel at the successful completion of a project (with little or no profit). Hence the term ‘eccentricity’… Each project brings us a new challenge, new excitement, and an opportunity to do what we dreamt of doing while in architecture school and continue dreaming at the back of our minds. We want to make each project better than the one before it. And there is no end to it.

Although we can blame the economy for losing many of our colleagues lately, quite a few left on their own will and are happy with what they are doing. They have encouraging stories to tell of how they rebuilt their lives from scratch, or began from where they left and improved on their options through education, training or volunteer work. If one keeps at it, the opportunities present themselves eventually. It is up to us to identify the dim light and grab it at the right moment.

Natural disasters, though unfortunate, present an opportunity to architects to do what we are supposed to be doing all along – creating shelters for health, safety and welfare of people. Community projects and volunteer projects for the needy are equally important. I imagine that war struck places need improved architecture as well. And then there are the ideas competitions that often are tailored to similar challenges, and might lead to a commissioned project someday.

The possibilities in ever-changing technology are also endless. One could help in the development of better software for architects, creative architecture-focused websites (or apps for that matter), or improved social virtual media tailored to the profession. Or one could simply engage in the recording of historic or contemporary built work through their love of photography, sketching and traveling. We are dreamers after all. Better yet, we are smart enough problem solvers to figure out ways to pay our bills while enjoying the elation this profession offers us.

It is believed that at the pace we are losing our contemporaries currently might pose a problem in the future. Although the signs of a stabilized economy are being suggested, we are still far from hiring back everybody who got laid off. In the meanwhile, there are ways that they may stay connected to their love for architecture by doing related jobs. Non-architecture work that branches off the roots and yet, is closely knit with architecture may not be such a bad idea, especially if you love what you do.