How I Chose Architecture
Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions I have received regarding how chose architecture as a career and what I had to do to become an architect.
What lead you to want to become an architect?
I wanted to work in a creative field. I couldn't conceive of a credible route to another creative career (i.e. musician, actor, filmmaker, etc.). Even if I had, I’m sure my high school "guidance" counselor would have steered me clear of it. Architecture was different. It had a level of respect with teachers, councilors, and parents. My high school math and drafting classes naturally lead towards it as well. To that end, the path was a 5-year accredited university program, followed by a minimum 3-year internship. Once that was completed, I was eligible to sit for the exams - which I took in late 1999 and was officially licensed as an architect in the state of Oregon in early January 2000.
What school did you go to?
I applied for and was accepted to Willamette University, the University of Washington, and the University Of Oregon. I chose the U of O because it was in-state (which meant lower tuition) and it also had a 5-year architecture program (which Willamette didn't).
You mentioned math. Is that something you have to be good at?
Yes and no. The college math requirement at the time meant that I had to have three semesters of calculus. Thanks to high school AP calculus, I had the equivalent of the first semester already. I took and passed the remaining two semesters my freshman year, but I wouldn't say I excelled at it or enjoyed it. Calculus was and remains a foreign language to me. But as an architect, you don’t really need it. I have always worked with consulting engineers (structural, electrical, mechanical, etc.) who do the necessary calculations for their disciplines. The math I've found that most benefits me is geometry - and even that is fairly basic. I’m not proving theorems. I am dealing with proportions, shapes, and relationships. If you can do basic math (addition, subtraction, division, multiplication and … fractions!) and apply it to the design process, then you are good enough at math to be an architect. Now, if you want to be the next Santiago Calatrava, then I would recommend not only taking, but excelling at those higher math classes (note: Calatrava is both an architect and an engineer).
Five years is longer than what most undergraduate degrees require. Was it worth it to graduate as an architect?
A five year program is one year longer than a typical four year degree, but it doesn't result in graduating as an architect. Attaining the degree (from an accredited architectural school) is only the first step. After I graduated, I was required to complete an internship period. At the time, it was estimated to take a minimum of three years to complete. It took me five years to acquire the hours needed to satisfy each area of training. I don't know anyone who has managed to attain all of the required hours within a three-year period. That would require a high level of monitoring and efficiency between employee and employer that is very hard to find in the "real world" of projects and deadlines.
Only after I had completed my internship (known in the profession as IDP or Intern Development Program) was I was eligible to sit for the licensing exams. At the time I took them, there were nine separate exams that tested me in the various aspects of the architectural profession. I studied like mad and took them one at a time over a nine week period, passing them each in succession. Once I had passed all of them, I was allowed to take a final exam regarding the Oregon statues (specific laws governing the practice of architecture in the State of Oregon). Only after I had passing that, was I allowed to call myself an architect.
All in all, the entire process took a little over a decade from the time I entered school in September, 1989 to the moment I became licensed on January 15, 2000.
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