It’s a nightmare scenario. After at least seven years of architecture school, the prospect of working in the field now fills you with more dread than joy – so what to do? Start applying for jobs regardless, or have a long, hard rethink?
This dilemma doesn’t only affect new graduates, of course; it may take years for some architects to realize the profession doesn’t suit them. But is it sensible, even possible, to switch track once you’ve begun?
The situation is more common that you might imagine, so this article will consider some alternative careers for architects.
It will examine the reasons people leave the profession, think about the skills they’re able to take with them, and suggest a number of ways to change direction.
So if you’ve lately realized, with some horror, that you mightn’t be the next David Adjaye after all or are even feeling just a bit burnt out by the profession – take a deep breath and read on.
Alternative careers for architects
So you’re not sure about architecture any more. What can you do instead? The following is a list of 20 alternative careers for architects and architecture graduates to consider.
The list is divided into two sections: jobs that are closely related to architecture, and jobs that aren’t directly related but for which you’re likely to have at least some of the requisite skills.
One caveat with the list is that some of the jobs (e.g. urban planner, teacher) require an additional Masters qualification – but definitely NOT years of retraining.
Alternative (but related) jobs for architects
1. Structural engineer
Structural engineering is very closely related to architecture; if you were always more about the technical side of building than the design side, you’ll probably love it.
Structural engineers make sure that new buildings, or adaptations to existing ones, are physically safe, and in the US they tend to make between $30,000 and $95,000, and in the UK between £22,000 and £70,000..
2. BIM technician / coordinator
You spent a long time improving your BIM (Building Information Modelling) skills, so why not put them to good use? BIM technicians / coordinators create digital information about buildings and structures, and can advance their careers to become BIM managers.
This page from Go Construct has an overview of working in the field.
3. Urban planner
Urban planners undertake a variety of tasks including designing public spaces, assessing the impact of roads and railways, and deciding what kinds of housing should be located where. In most instances however, you will need an additional qualification.
4. Landscape architect
Landscape architects design and create open spaces. The job might involve surveying wildlife and plants on a site, researching public opinion and using CAD software, among many other tasks. To practice formally you will again require an additional qualification.
5. Interior designer
Interior designers meet with clients to establish their needs, then produce designs for rooms. They advise on colors, fabrics, furniture and fittings, and are responsible for estimating costs. Although they are paid slightly less than architects, you may not need to take any additional qualifications.
6. Lighting architect or designer
Lighting architects use – unsurprisingly – light to enhance the appearance of a building or room; lighting designers work in TV, movies or theatre (see also ‘production designer’ below).
In both roles, you’ll need to be technically minded and have an intuitive grasp of the effects of light on spaces and objects. In the US you can expect a salary of approximately $45,000, and in the UK just over £30,000 in this career.
7. Industrial designer
In short, industrial designers make objects. They usually specialize in one kind of product, such as furniture or bicycles, though this isn’t always the case.
To be a successful industrial designer, you’ll need to combine creativity with practicality – which should come naturally to any architecture graduate! This page from Truity has an overview of the field.
8. Graphic designer
If you always excelled at the design side of things, why not turn your hand to graphic design? Graphic designers create the 2D images that surround us, whether it’s laying out a magazine or coming up with attention-grabbing product packaging.
It’s a competitive career, and you’ll need to assemble a strong portfolio, but on the plus side you won’t have to go back to school.
9. Production designer
Production designers work in theatres or on the sets of movies and TV programmers. Their job is to create believable worlds for actors to inhabit, so they work closely with people like directors, lighting designers (see above) and costume designers.
This page from Screen Skills tells you all you need to know about working as a production designer.
10. Video game designer
Architecture students are adept at creating digital spaces. Add a few characters, and you have the fundamentals of a video game! Clearly, the job is a little more complicated than that.
For this work you can expect a starting salary of around $30,000 in the US, rising to around $85,000 for senior designers, and £20,000 in the UK, rising to £65,000.
Stand out from the competition, and create an interview ready portfolio.
Non related architecture jobs for those shifting away from architecture
There is of course an extensive range of non architecture jobs that fall under the alternative careers for architects bracket, but here we’ve aimed to keep them semi relatable.
A year-long Master’s degree will allow you to teach subjects related to architecture, such as art, design and technology, at primary, secondary and post-16 level.
If you’re good at explaining things and inspiring others, this could be a great career for you (and one in which there are many, even international, openings).
Some architecture graduates choose to stay on at university, complete their doctorates and become professional researchers. One thing to consider, however, is that PhD funding is hard to come by and gives you less to live on than a junior architect’s salary.
For several years. While you’d need some practical experience to teach architecture itself at university level, there’s nothing to stop you branching out into architectural history and theory – or planning, heritage and other related fields.
If you’re more of an ideas person, why not write articles or even books about architecture? Websites and magazines pay for contributions for specialists – though you’ll almost certainly be working on a freelance basis and, unfortunately, earning very little indeed as you start out.
Conservators decide how objects (including buildings) should be preserved, and carry out any necessary repair work.
While this is a specialist field, and a certain amount of up skilling will be required, an architecture degree should stand you in good stead. What’s more, a particularly rare and practical skill could see you in international demand.
Unless you’ve always taken photos as a hobby – and this doesn’t mean uploading snaps of your breakfast to Instagram – it might be naïve to think you’ll compete with photography graduates.
However, our appetite for photographic images in the twenty-first century seems almost insatiable, so if you have ‘the eye’ this career you might find this career very satisfying.
16. Events planner
Architecture graduates are expect planners, so why not turn your attention to events rather than buildings? This could mean anything from weddings to conferences to raves – the fun thing about events planning is that you can match your job to your personal interests.
17. Facilities manager
Facilities managers usually work within companies and make sure that the buildings and services used by staff are as efficient and secure as they can be.
Unusually among the jobs on this list, you’ll probably get to work nine to five. So if your home life is especially important to you, facilities management could be a canny choice.
18. Project manager
If you’re one of life’s organizers, you are likely to thrive in a project management career. You’ll need to take a bird’s-eye view of a project (which could be almost anything!) and plan how each part of it will be managed.
One of the advantages of this job is that, on a freelance basis, you can move from sector to sector, which should keep things interesting.
Perhaps you have a head for business, and have always fancied working for yourself. And why not? If you start a small business, you’re answerable to no-one – except, perhaps, your bank manager.
There’s no doubt that being an entrepreneur is risky, but perhaps you’ll become the next Elon Musk.
20. Politician or campaigner
There are lots of controversial issues within architecture (e.g. social housing provision, planning permission, decisions relating to the conservation of heritage sites) – why not speak out? It’s certainly possible for architecture graduates to find work at charities, think tanks and lobby groups.
Or maybe you can see yourself as a civil servant, discussing and driving forward architecture-related policy.
What does Reddit say about alternative careers for architects…
Their is popular discussion on Reddit highlighting the various alternative career paths for individuals with a background in architecture, illustrating the diverse opportunities available beyond traditional roles. The conversation spans several key points:
- Alternative Careers Within Related Fields: Suggestions include facilities planning/management, urban design/planning, and (computer) game design. The choice heavily depends on individual preferences and strengths.
- Transitioning to Software and UI/UX Design: Some participants have successfully moved from architecture to software engineering or UI/UX design. They find parallels in requirements analysis, customer needs assessment, and systems thinking between the fields. The faster pace of seeing results in software development is highlighted as a major advantage.
- Challenges in Architecture: The discussion reflects on the drawbacks of traditional architecture roles, such as low pay, repetitive tasks, and the slow pace of career progression. There’s a call for innovation within the architecture industry, including the development of easier-to-use software for architects and a restructuring of how architects are compensated.
- Real Estate and Construction Management: Real estate development and construction management are suggested as lucrative alternatives. These roles offer a blend of design sensibility and business acumen, with a quicker turnaround on projects and potentially higher earnings.
- Experiential Design and Motion Graphics: Leveraging architectural skills in adjacent creative fields like experiential design, motion graphics, and set design for film and TV is another path explored. These roles allow for creative expression without the engineering constraints of traditional architecture.
- Entrepreneurship and Self-Employment: Starting a boutique design service or becoming a developer with a focus on niche markets like historic building conservation or green building design are mentioned as ways to escape the commercial architecture grind.
- Diverse Options Beyond Design: Some commenters have ventured into completely different fields, such as material research for tech companies, highlighting the versatility of skills acquired through architectural training.
- Advice for Young Architects: Experienced professionals encourage persistence within the architecture field, emphasizing the importance of passion for the craft and patience for career advancement. However, they also acknowledge the reality of the profession’s challenges and suggest that those who are truly dissatisfied consider pivoting to roles that better align with their interests and life goals.
In summary, the Reddit conversation showcases a broad spectrum of alternative careers for architects, ranging from closely related fields to entirely different industries.
It underscores the transferability of architectural skills and the importance of aligning career choices with personal interests, values, and desired lifestyle.
What transferable skills do you learn as an architecture student?
One of the best things about an architecture degree is how wide-ranging it is. It equips students with skills that can be used in all sorts of other careers – you just have to prove this to potential employers.
If you’ve graduated in architecture, here is a (non-exhaustive) table of 10 things you can probably do well:
|Analyze Complex Situations
|Architecture graduates excel at analyzing situations with multiple variables, essential in many fields due to their training in realizing complex building projects.
|Architects spend considerable time researching user needs and other factors to ensure their designs meet all requirements, showcasing their thorough research abilities.
|The ability to think through issues and implement solutions is honed through addressing unforeseen problems during the construction process, a skill valuable in various professions.
|Years of practice in drawing equip architecture graduates with skills applicable in various art and design careers.
|Go Through the Design Process
|Mastery of ‘design thinking’ enables architects to approach projects in a structured and iterative manner, useful in diverse project management scenarios.
|Use a Variety of Advanced Software
|Proficiency in software like Photoshop and InDesign, gained during architectural studies, indicates adaptability to new technology and software across different sectors.
|The necessity to present ideas effectively, both verbally and visually, prepares architects for roles requiring clear communication, such as teaching and advertising.
|Work in a Team
|Experience in group projects during education and internships demonstrates architects’ abilities in teamwork, negotiation, and support, vital in collaborative environments.
|Work to Tight Deadlines
|The discipline of meeting deadlines, even under pressure, proves architects’ capability to deliver timely results, a valued trait in many career paths.
|Think Outside the Box
|Creativity and curiosity, developed through solving architectural problems uniquely, make architects appealing candidates for roles requiring innovation.
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To sum up…
There are a number of reasons why people who trained as architects don’t go on to work in the field. Some surveys suggest architects are only averagely happy with their careers, and are less than averagely happy with their pay.
It’s also an open secret that architects struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance compared to their peers, so really it’s a question of where you want to invest your time and energy (which is likely be different at 24 and 44).
You spend a huge percentage of your life at work, so don’t accept a job that makes you miserable. If the idea of giving up on architecture altogether is really too painful, consider applying to smaller firms that will probably allow you greater variety in terms of your day-to-day work.
If you’re agonizing over whether you really want to be an architect, but feeling like you can’t ‘waste’ all those years of training, try to take a step back.
If you were able to disregard the opinions of everyone else, what would you do? In the long term, the most important thing is your happiness, so if architecture doesn’t feel quite right any more there’s no shame in moving in a different direction.
Also, remind yourself that your degree is in no way ‘wasted’. You’ve learned valuable, transferable skills, and remember that many people end up working in fields completely unrelated to their degrees.
With architecture, at least, there are hundreds of jobs that overlap to some extent. Hopefully, this article has provided some insight into the options available – now it’s up to you to choose one!