Architecture is a field that is everlasting; rather, it is always changing. The profession is a world unto itself, from the revolutions that have defined and modified its trajectory to the great architects who have shown us how to bend the rules through their magnificent works.
So, deciding to completely change career to become an architect at 30 or 40 years of age, can be an incredibly daunting decision especially whilst juggling everything else that life throws at us at this age.
Understandably many young (sort of) future architects will therefore have fears and worries about whether it is too late to pursue their dream, especially when so many are seeking alternative routes.
So, has it been too late for you to become an architect if you’re 30 or 40 years old?
NO, undoubtedly, is the simplest and most obvious answer. It is never too late to gain new skills or make a career move. However, there will be drawbacks to this decision in the real world.
To help you understand and make the decision that suits you best, here we list the benefits and disadvantages as we see them. These apply to anyone who is picking up back from a graduate-level or anyone willing to take it up from the very beginning.
Let us break it to you, from your wish to become an architect to the journey of pursuing it and then to finally stepping your foot into the industry. It is not going to be easy, but it is undoubtedly achievable.
Firstly, an introduction to university life, that you may have heard or experienced if you are here. It is undoubtedly no less of an adventure.
Whereas the average student spends only three or four years at university, an architecture degree takes at least seven years to finish (five in school and two on placements).
Furthermore, an architectural qualification can be stressful, with presentations and defenses of your work in front of professors and peers being a required component of most programs. As deadlines loom, all-nighters are frequent, and sleepless nights can quickly add up.
If you are planning to take on this challenge, especially in your 30’s or 40’s, with a few exceptions, you’ll almost certainly have to return to school, regardless of your previous occupation.
If you have a bachelor’s degree already, you may be able to enroll in a three-year Master of Architecture program (depending on the subject), but don’t expect it to be easy.
If you’ve been out of school for at least a decade, you may have forgotten about all of your study methods and any materials you don’t use on a daily basis, and you’ve surely blocked out the late-night cram sessions from your mind.
This is a very demanding curriculum, especially if taken on part time..
One of the most difficult aspects of becoming an architect is having to be a jack of all trades. Licensed architects are legally responsible for the safety of their structures, which is a burden that not everyone is willing to carry.
You need to have a thorough understanding of arithmetic and physics, as well as the capacity to undertake focused and solitary work for hours at a time, and the social skills to develop good connections with clients and contractors, in addition to the creative acumen required for building design.
Few people are such amazing all-rounders that they can handle the many and varied demands placed on them.
That being said, it does take a good amount of time to acclimate yourself to the business of architecture.
It is also essential to think of whether you want to start your own firm at this point or you choose to work with a professional, but that is a different thing to discuss. We are talking about the sustenance, and the incentives expected after much hard work and dedication to the projects you get.
Great work and other expertise and skills (along with maturity and life experience, of course), can make you a solid candidate for many firms.
It is however observed that sole proprietors can feel less comfortable working with someone close to their own age/experience level (unless they are in the mentality of seeking for a suitable protege/partner), but not always.)
People do not necessarily get into architecture and design for the money; climbing the ladder takes time, and getting into the sector is a difficult procedure.
People enter these industries because they enjoy working and want to leave a legacy. This does hold true especially if one decides to pursue it in their 30’s and 40’s, when one can possibly be having a family and their needs to look at.
But the concept is changing now.
Architects and designers can communicate the ideas, changes, and work from the comfort of their homes a couple of times a week.
This has benefited employees by providing them with a good work-life balance and feel appreciated by their coworkers are less likely to burn out and keep the love for their jobs that drew them in the first place.
Areas to consider
So let’s talk about the crucial measures you need to take before diving headfirst into the realm of architecture, particularly at the time when other aspects of life can easily get in the way.
Your first homework
Do your complete study to find out what is required to become a licensed architect in your country before you start requesting your academic transcripts and filling out college applications.
Research architectural programs in your area or in the city where you want to live. Find out about the curriculum, also reach out and connect with scholars or alma-mater to get an insight into the course and the teaching methods.
Post this, search for the criteria and entrance tests you need to study for, also the scores that are required by your desired.
Maintain your curiosity
You can still work on honing your abilities as a future architect while researching programs, saving money for tuition and books, applying for scholarships, and writing essays.
Develop an interest in architecture, houses, and public areas. Examine the architectural history, green construction technology, and the work of today’s architects.
Keep a sketchbook on you at all times and draw what you see; with practice, sketching can even earn you some extra cash!
Use you experience to your benefit
Remember that as an older student, you’ll approach your studies with a much broader life perspective. You’ll be more mature than the other pupils and have previously dealt with the stresses of everyday life.
You’re also more inclined to spend your nighttime hours studying rather than attending late-night social gatherings, parties, or other activities. Instead, you’ll be looking to advance your career.
You’re already a multi-tasker if you’re a full-time parent balancing kids, home, and job. Plan your classes to fit in with your family’s current routine.
Start with one or two lessons until you find your stride, then gradually add more as your children grow older. While it is preferred to take design studio classes in person, some may be accessible online.
Connect, connect, connect
This can’t be stressed enough. The field of architecture and design throws you into the deep end of opportunities to connect.
Being an older student has the added benefit of being more compatible with your teachers (as opposed to students fresh out of high school) because you will be closer to their age.
You can talk to them about real-life situations like balancing family, house, and education.
Recognize and accept the reality that you are not the only older student who has gone through this. Find older architectural students to network with through your college’s architectural groups, social media, or community groups.
The PRACTICE of architecture is an important aspect of becoming an architect. Follow the works and workstyles of architects you admire in order to get a holistic and broad perspective on how the real work happens.
Look for internship opportunities that can really shape your perspective towards the field if they can be managed with your time schedule and do not interfere with your college or life outside of architecture.
Lastly, life outside architecture
With your maturity and expertise, you must be aware of how important a work-life balance is, so when the architecture life strikes you, you must be prepared.
You may want to set firm boundaries for how late you want to work and how many days you’ll be absent from work. These firm boundaries must not be breached. Assuring this entails declining work when you are unable to do so.
Say no to more work that you know you won’t be able to finish by the deadline if you’re already overburdened. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a break and slow down. In other words, only bite when you’re sure you’ll be able to chew.
Famous Architects Who Started Late
Again, we have seen exemplary architects and designers who rose to fame in the charming age of 30s and 40s.
Frank Lloyd Wright – The American Institute of Architects named him “the greatest American architect of all time” in 1991, 31 years after his death, despite the fact that he did not have an architectural degree. Wright gave us the architectural marvel ‘Falling Water’ at the age of 67!
Zaha Hadid – Although the lady herself started her own practice at the age of 29, her career trajectory is no less than exciting! Her groundbreaking design style led her to the well deserved fame across the globe, and she ultimately went on to win the Pritzker Prize, being the first woman to achieve the feat.
B.V Doshi – One of the greatest Indian Architects, is the mastermind behind the beautiful institution buildings like IIM Bangalore and CEPT University to name a few.
Doshi has worked closely with Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn; established his own firm that is still one of the prestigious one to work with today, and has received not only one of the gallantry awards in India but also the Pritzker Prize in 2018.
Giorgio Armani – Before becoming enamoured with fashion, Giorgio Armani was pursuing a career in medicine.
He took a position at a department shop in Milan where he aided the photographer and designed the window displays while finishing his mandatory military service, he then pursued a career in fashion, working in department stores before becoming a designer.
The two did not become business partners until Sergio Galeotti pushed Armani to seek freelance design work. Giorgio Armani S.P.A. was founded when Armani was 42 years old, the firm launched its first collection, a men’s apparel line.
Tadao Ando – One of the world’s most renowned architects, Ando couldn’t afford an official architectural school, so he began reading books to educate himself. As a result, his art is both unique and masterful.
He was a boxer and a fighter before becoming the great architect we know today, and has designed some of the best buildings and residences in Japan and the world.
Pros and Cons To Starting Architecture Late
To sum up, here are some of the pro’s and con’s of pursuing architecture in the 30s and 40s.
An edge – Whatever you previously studied or been employed as will be extremely useful in your architectural career.
If you worked in IT, retail or hospitality background, you’d have a distinct edge over other architecture graduates, because your technical skills and customer service abilities will be quite useful in most practices and will help you advance in your career.
However it’s important to remember not to compare yourself to individuals your age, but to others who have had similar experiences.
Architecture school may seem easy?!? – If you’re a little older, chances are you’ve already had a stable employment at some point, that taught you the discipline of working a whole day, which can work wonders in your architecture degree if you apply it.
Additionally, having actually worked in the ‘real world,’ you’ll have a better understanding of how what you’re learning can be applied. Architecture degrees are challenging to obtain.
They demand zeal, dedication, and hard effort — there is no way around it. Many students, however, suffer in university because they do not manage their time well and expect it to be like college, where lecturers still tell you what to do.
Easier to connect and expand – Having spent many years on an alternate career, you may already know or are aware of other professionals that can help you and your business grow.
You might want to start practicing as soon as you graduate – and here is a bonus! You already have connections with professionals of other fields that might need your services.
You’re doing BEYOND Norm – In general, people pursue a single career throughout their life. Hence, opting for a brand-new career at the age of 30 or 40 is bringing you closer to excellence.
Yes! You can be called a multi-talented person who’s had majors in maybe 2 or more subjects. In a way, you are also multiplying your income and streamlining it into different sources.
Transform your dreams into reality – Yes! It’s never too late to start architecture. And especially if you have been always dreaming of that idea that never got constructed – it’s time to do so!
Let your architecture experience build you a notable milestone that you always feel proud of. They say, an architect always leaves his footprints on Earth – well, it’s time to make that true, for centuries to come.
Time – Assuming 7 years to qualify (most people take longer), you could be working for minimum wage initially while attempting to start a family. Also, don’t forget – you’re not an architect until you fulfill all the licensing requirements.
To become a full-fledged designer, you need a few more years (7+) to gain experience and be able to handle a project on your own. Thus,
Family time – For those that have a (often young) family at home, becoming an architecture student can heavily impact upon the time you will have available to enjoy this.
The field requires many dedicated hours on a daily basis, and you might not be able to give them the time they require …at least in the short term.
Unfortunately, architecture does not currently pay well at the graduate level. If you’re thinking about starting a family, think about whether you’ll be able to support them during the early years of your new profession.
And keep in mind that you might have to wait to be able to afford mortgages, savings, or pension payments if you plan ahead. There are however many ways around this!
Not a techie? Think twice!
Competition – Sometimes, getting that perfect job can be quite a challenge. Younger firms tend to hire younger professionals who are like-minded and extremely enthusiastic.
Even though this doesn’t apply to all the architecture firms, in some places, your competition against an architect in his 20’s can be fierce!
When Coldplay said’ You are never too old, to do something new, to follow where your heart leads to’, they most likely wanted us to feel that age is only a concept, and that it should not be a barrier to following the paths that you pick for yourself.
We’d want to offer you a boost of motivation with that!
To add to that, there is an endless list of architects who created the best marvels of their lifetime at such an age, Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster, B.V Doshi, Isuzaki to name a few.
While this article may be leaving the choice up to you, many architects spend their entire lives devoted to their profession and cannot imagine doing anything else.
If you have the motivation to be an architect in the first place — the desire to create, the never-ending curiosity with the built environment – you’ll probably be able to handle the challenges of the job, Architecture will offer you a different paradigm for life and way of living, as long as you keep pushing yourself, it will all be worth it.