A survey carried out by the Architects’ Journal found that a quarter of architecture students had sought treatment for mental health issues. Not exactly a positive start to a career, and stress is apt to increase, rather than decrease, in the workplace.
Long hours, red tape, awkward clients – why would anyone choose a career in the built environment? Though we love architecture, sometimes the profession drives us kind of crazy; this article articulates just some of the ways it has us tearing our hair out.
Why is architecture a stressful career?
While it might be argued that lots of other professions are stressful, too – nobody would dare to suggest that nursing or policing were a walk in the park! – architects are responsible for the safety of the buildings they design, and by extension the lives of hundreds or thousands of people.
Add this to the constant and competing demands on architects’ time, and you find a profession riddled with anxiety and burnout.
Top ten things that stress architects out
We’ve put together a list of ten things that happen to architects all too often, and cause our heart to stop beating for a few seconds. How many have you nodding you head in recognition?
1. “Hmm, but have you thought about . . .”
You need a thick skin to be an architect.
It starts with crits at architecture school, in which your tutors and peers see what you were trying to do there, yeah, but maybe you could do it again completely differently, and continues in the workplace with clients, who don’t exactly know what they want but it isn’t what you just presented.
Taking and acting on feedback is a skill for life, not just for architecture, but it’s one of the hardest to learn – especially when you’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears into a project.
2. Gremlins in the machine
Laptops that crash, software that lags and printers that don’t print – when you’re working to a tight deadline, as architects so often are, these things can feel like the end of the world.
Technology has been a blessing for the profession, making drawing and modelling quicker and more precise, but hell hath no fury like an architect scorned by AutoCAD.
3. Clients who want the impossible, yesterday
Some clients are a dream to work with, giving you a clear idea of their needs and then letting you do your thing. Others are . . . different.
One of the main problems when working with clients is that they’re (duh) not architects, so they’re not sure what’s possible and what’s entirely unrealistic.
They also have no concept of how long those designs took you to produce, and how long it’ll take you to change what seems to them a small and insignificant detail. Unfortunately, without clients there’s no work, so take a deep breath, smile, and make ‘em happy.
4. Argh! It’s the PUBLIC!
Though clients can cause architects grief, they’re nowhere near as scary as the general public! Consultation is an essential part of many building projects, and people are going to have all kinds of opinions you don’t want to hear.
They’ll explain in great detail why you can’t do the thing you want to do, and not always in a way that spares your feelings. It’s good to remember, then, who you’re building for – nope, it’s not you! – and why listening to the public’s views is so essential.
If sometimes painful.
5. You’d better have a competitive streak
If you’re the kind of person who prefers to hide your light under a bushel and get on quietly with your work, architecture is hell.
The profession is all about putting yourself forward: to win a place on an oversubscribed degree course; to get your foot in the door at a firm you respect; to deliver a successful pitch to those lucrative clients.
Natural introverts have no choice but to play a role that makes them uncomfortable, though this certainly gets easier with time.
6. Work-life balance? What work-life balance?
Architecture notoriously involves early starts, late finishes, evening and weekend work, and when you’re just starting out it can feel hard to say no when you’re asked to come in on a third Saturday in a row.
Luckily, there’s greater awareness than there ever was of the need for downtime, and today some architectural firms are even – whisper it – quite progressive in terms of flexible working.
One of the few blessings of the pandemic was that it helped employers to see that certain tasks could be done at home, and that frazzled workers are not productive workers.
7. Lifelong learning isn’t just an expression
After seven years in school, you’d think your training was over – but no. As an architect, you can never rest on your laurels. Software packages are endlessly updated and new ones are released.
Each new project brings surprising challenges, and regulations change from place to place. As you move through your career, you’ll probably also find yourself specializing in different sub-fields that require a whole lot of reading and observing.
This need to keep learning is something many architects enjoy, but others find they just want to get off the wheel for a few minutes.
8. About those regulations . . .
Bureaucracy is an unavoidable aspect of working as an architect. There are rules about everything related to building, and while they’re clearly necessary to keep everyone safe, they eat into time that could be spend on more enjoyable, creative work.
If you fancy the idea of working globally, regulations become an even greater headache, as they have no respect whatsoever for the notion of border-crossing. Step into another country (or US state) and you may find your license is effectively null and void.
9. Carrying the weight of a building on your shoulders
If you’re a fully licensed architect, the buck stops with you when it comes to the safety of buildings you’ve designed.
If anything should go wrong, and – heaven forbid – someone is injured or killed while using your building, you bear the legal responsibility. That’s enough to keep any sane person up at night, so architecture can be a career of perpetual anxiety.
10. There’s never, ever a pen when you need one
It doesn’t matter how many pens you buy; when inspiration strikes, there will be none to hand. Nobody understands the reason for this phenomenon or how to get around it, but it indisputably exists. And it’s more stressful than items 1-9 put together.
Seeing one of your buildings in use in the real world is a glorious feeling – but the road to that point is littered with stresses. Whether it’s indecisive clients or seemingly insurmountable building regulations, it can feel like the world is conspiring to stop you doing your job.
Of course, if you find your work is affecting your mental health, it’s always right to take a step back. Long hours and too much responsibility can drive anyone to the brink, and no job is worth sacrificing your well-being for.
But the Stress of the Absent Sharpie can generally be managed, and when you walk through the door of a home that was once just a twinkle in your eye, you might just think it was all worth it.