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21 things you won’t learn in architecture school

Scott Mullins

Anyone about to embark on an architectural education knows one thing for certain – it’ll be at least seven years before you can even call yourself an architect. Surely there must be something someone can tell you about what it’s like to actually be an architect, right?

Luckily21 Things You Won’t Learn in Architecture School, sets out to put an end to that, with a handy list of 21 things that seem obvious, but that most architecture graduates, never actually thought about for the largest part of that gruelling seven-year stint.

1. In architecture, it’s a long road to success

Unlike premiership footballers, rock musicians and reality television show contestants, few architects can achieve a high profile in the early part of their careers.


2. There is more than one type of successful architect

A track record of successful project delivery, deep knowledge of a particular client sector or specialist building type, the development of a particular culture or approach to working with clients and stakeholders, or networking skills can be the keys to opening the doors to work streams.


3. Architectural practices come in many forms

It is good to remember that the protean nature of the architecture profession gives plenty of options for personal growth and career development, and you need not feel constrained by a single model of what practice might be. We are spoilt for choice.


4. Architecture doesn’t exist in a vacuum

‘As an architect you are living in the world of ideas. You need to understand the people; the places; the city’ - Simon Allford

5. You need to develop interests beyond architecture

Of course, the practice of architecture requires both an in-depth understanding of the process of designing and making buildings and also a broad knowledge of the vast array of economic, sociological and environmental factors that influence the context in which the practice of architecture takes place.


6. Architects think differently

It is important to remember that architects do think differently, and this exceptional strength mustn’t be allowed to turn into a weakness.


7. Speak in a language your audience understands

Any standard business textbook will tell you that high-level creative and technical skills and specialist knowledge are essential to achieve progress in the early stages of a professional career, but it is the less tangible soft skills around communication and human relations that are key to unlocking access to join the higher levels of leadership in firms and organisations.


8. Architects always work in teams

Architects work in teams in their own practices, with other consultants in the design team, with client teams, with contractors and specialist sub-contractors … and the list goes on.


9. Teams need leaders

‘You need leaders, but this industry is all about collaboration and so the ego needs to be both expressed and supressed at different times’ - Simon Allford


10. Architecture is a business

‘In the end there has to be a profit motivation if a practice is to survive and thrive, and a comprehension of some basic business skills can be applied in many ways’ - Tim Bailey


11. Architects can learn business skills

As an architect, it is important to learn about business as early as you can in your career, and there is no lack of opportunity to do so.

12. Architects have to sell and negotiate

Effective sales and marketing is a driver for all successful businesses. And yet, architectural practices typically underinvest in this activity, often leaving it to chance or serendipity.


13. Work out what kind of architect you want to be and play to your strengths

There is nothing wrong in recognising that not every aspect of architectural life is of interest to you or where your own personal qualities will best equip you to contribute.


14. Communicate your unique message

What is special about you? What differentiates you from others? What can you offer that can’t be found elsewhere? None of these are easy questions to answer, but answered they must be if you are to define your message.


15. You need to understand fees

When pitching for work and negotiating fees, how best should the architect set out the relationship between the services to be delivered, the resources and expertise required and the value added to the project?


16. Focus on people and process, not product

‘We perhaps don’t talk enough about architecture being a service industry, which after all it is’ - Kay Hyde


17. Keep up to date with new technology and new thinking

‘All industries have to be acutely aware of both threats and opportunities. We can’t afford to be old‑fashioned in our outlook or trapped by tradition’ - Caroline Buckingham

18. Look after your personal brand and networks

Architects are beginning to think much more deeply about what their brands signify to potential clients and what value they carry.


19. Prizes matter – don’t they?

‘Winning awards is very nice, but somehow endorsements from your peers are not quite as personal as reactions from your clients’ - Kay Hyde


20. Construction sometimes involves conflict as well as collaboration

Deal with issues before they become sources of conflict and you may be able to turn adversaries back into partners; but make sure that you keep accurate records of all that you do just in case!


21. There is no architecture without design

The case being made that architects should not cede territory to others and should continue to maintain a broad range of skills and interests is not an argument for neglect of design and commitment to design quality in buildings.


21 Things You Won’t Learn in Architecture School

Author Adrian Dobson is director of practice at the Royal Institute of British Architects

RIBA Publishing, £19.95

Now available from RIBA Bookshops