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Architecture/Architectural Practice & Competency


Hello Mr. Burton, given your very knowledgeable and detailed answer recently (Mechanical/Utility Room sizing rules-of-thumb ex. 1700 sf) I wish to follow with another non-design based question.
Background:  2005 Graduate, BArch, 4 years experience.  
Worked for a large firm and have had hands on experience with nearly every aspect of commercial based projects (IDP credits nearly complete) yet have never seen a project through from beginning to end. Out of the profession since 2009.  Because of these things I feel as though key elements of my growth/knowledge are missing and I do not know from who or where to achieve the level I desire.

I don't know if I have enough of a working knowledge to complete a whole project from scratch (though I might) and have been considering doing freelance work until I can get back to professional practice.

Question: I wished to know what are the best avenues or suggestions for becoming COMPETENT and thus confident in the profession I have chosen? To increase my understanding for a more well rounded WORKING knowledge of the process and surrounding parts given the extensiveness of a project. (design considerations, CDs, budgeting, compensation, time estimates, coordination with other disciplines, codes, permits, legal aspects, etc.)

I noticed you've answered a similar question so I hope this does not go beyond what you prefer to answer. Since this question involves what I "don't know" it is hard to phrase in a more accurate way. So my apologies for any lack of clarity I hope your years of experience can flesh out this former intern's concerns So I may be able to give answers like the one you so graciously provided me.  In either case, thanks again!


Those are two good questions because becoming competent does not automatically make you confident.  And we see plenty of people calling themselves professionals who do not know what they are doing.  But they will do it with confidence.

You have the right education and four years of experience.  If you had six years years of experience, then I would say that you would be ready to start your own business designing and drafting custom homes.  

When I survey those architects who have started large firms, they started in their basements or garages working for builders and residential developers.  Within a few years, they graduated into nursing homes, maybe a small grocery store, local restaurant, and eventually larger commercial projects.  Somewhere along the line, they gained confidence, an office with a large conference room, and an office manager who kept everything organized.

You could start an account with who will then send you referrals related to folks who are looking for a draftsman and/or architect.  They have sent me over 129 leads and I would guess that 30 of those have resulted in a written agreement for architectural services.  That would give you the experience of working on a new house or addition from start to finish.

But my best advice would be to find an opportunity to work in a SMALL architectural firm.  In doing so, you are less likely to get pigeon-holed into doing whatever it is that you do best.  Rather you will have more opportunity to become a well-rounded architect who can do everything included in the comprehensive IDP experience.  As you know, the intern development program includes seventeen (17) categories of experience required to become an architect.  The number of hours spent in each category is proportional to the effort you would need to put forth to take personal responsibility for only one project worth $14 million dollars in cost of construction.

With 15 years of experience, my focus is learning about client relations and developing those soft salesman skills that are critical for survival.  I would recommend that in lieu of finding an interim job as a drafter, then you start your own business that will allow you to build up your confidence while convincing customers that you can provide the services that they are looking for.  But if you already have that figured out, then please let me know.  As I am fully competent in technical areas but not very convincing while talking in person.

This economy has provided a lot of interesting opportunities while developers and builders are looking to cut corners.  Mainly but hiring people like yourself who are almost-architects and willing to work for half price.  It is a very sad case for our profession, but the best clients are now looking for someone who is "competent" and view the architectural seal as nothing more than a 1-5/8" diameter circle of credibility that cost too much (average architectural fees being equal to 4% of the cost of construction).  Although I would argue against such foolish thinking, that is what I hear developers saying to me at my local Building and Safety Department.  Sure, the developers want to comply with code and protect public health and safety.  Unless... they need to pay for the "extra" seals and signatures.

Advertise the skills that you have and develop those skills that are lacking.  The State of New Jersey probably allows non-architects to design a wide variety of small buildings.  Above all, don't lose hope.  Keep working towards getting your license for the sake of having the certified "credibility" that many consumers are still looking for.

Richard Burton, AIA
Registered Architect
ICC Certified Plan Reviewer


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Richard Burton AIA


A combined total of 25 years experience with construction, architecture, and building code enforcement. Ask me about residential and commercial design. Ask me about design aesthetics, structural methods, and building something that will withstand severe weather conditions. Ask me my opinion about YOUR design ideas and I will tell you the merits of good design and challenge your thinking about practical issues. Ask me how to best find and work with your local architect and approach general contractors to get the most value for the least amount of headaches. You can ask me about improving your energy efficiency and things that are both green and practical. But don't ask me about solar panels and wind turbines unless you are currently paying your utility company 35 cents per Kilowatt. Otherwise the math does not justify the initial cost and return on investment. Ask me any building code question and how to get a building permit from the most difficult enforcement agencies.


Here in the midwest, we design and build "green" in ways that make sense. My construction methods prioritize weather resistance, ease of maintenance and durability. While a graduate student in San Diego, I taught drafting and history of architecture. After working ten years for other architecture firms, I have started my firm Arrow Architecture in 2008. More than half of my work involves commercial office buildings. But my portfolio of work also includes custom homes, residential additions, home remodels, and second story additions.

President-Elect of American Institute of Architects - Lincoln, NE

B.S. Architecture - (Interior Design) University of Nebraska Lincoln 1997 Master of Architecture - (Urban Design and Professional Practice) NewSchool of Architecture - San Diego 2004 Graduated Summa Cum Laude ICC Certified Building Plans Examiner

Awards and Honors
AIA Henry Adams Medal and Certificate

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