July 28, 2021

“What do you do for a living?”

Stick figure conversation

“What do you do for a living?”

It’s an age-old question that seems to come up whenever you’re meeting new people. Whether you’re at a networking event, a family reunion, or on a date, I’d bet that you’ve been asked this question before. We’ve all been on the receiving end of this query and if we’re being honest, when we need an icebreaker, we ask it too.

My answer, which I say proudly, is that I’m an Architect-in-Training. My job title isn’t exactly clear, but it means that I’ve finished architecture school and am now working on obtaining my licensure. This stage of my career is comparable to a medical residency, it just doesn’t have the fancy title.

This icebreaker is typically meant to lead to deeper conversations, but I find it can be very insightful into how people perceive the architecture industry as a whole. What I’ve most frequently encountered is people either; don’t think they have a reason to hire an Architect, or don’t know what services we provide and how it benefits them. I’ve come to this conclusion by analyzing their follow-up questions. This is when I’m able to get a deeper understanding of generalizations and misconceptions about the architecture industry.

“Oh, so you do drawings every day?”

I get it, drawing is one of the more widely understood pieces of architecture. So, it’s no wonder people think I get to spend the majority of my day drawing. From the outside, every day can appear the same, but in reality, there’s quite a bit of variety in what I do. One of the reasons I enjoy Architecture is that there is always something new to learn and there is never just one right answer to any question. Most days I do work on drawings on some level, but that is only a small part of what I do.

On any “normal” day I could be…

  • Having meetings with clients.
  • Checking to make sure our designs meet codes for ADA accessibility, International Building Codes, and Energy Codes.
  • Coordinating with consultants in electrical, mechanical, civil, structural, and landscaping for different aspects of the building.
  • Talking with building officials in the different jurisdictions and submitting all required documentation for obtaining building and occasionally, health permits.
  • Working through construction with the contractor, answering questions not covered in the drawings, client changes, and material approval before ordering.
  • Doing site visits to inspect the building’s progress during construction.

The list really goes on and on, but the point is my job is not just doing drawing every day.

“To save on costs, why can’t I just go hire a contractor?”

The best reply I can give this question is that you CAN, in some instances, just go and hire a contractor, but that does not guarantee you will save money. During a project, there are a lot of moving parts. From design, submitting for permits, construction, all the way up to the final product of a finished building. An Architect is trained to look at all these aspects of a project and help prevent major issues from happening and making sure the client is heard throughout the process. Let’s be real, no one can prevent all construction problems, but it helps to have a team that can work together to figure out the best solution when unavoidable or unforeseen problems arise. I’m not saying that contractors cause or do not know how to handle problems, but an Architect is there to be your advocate. This means that as a third party we can help correct unintentional mistakes without you having to discuss them with the contractor or consultant directly. Architects will help create a cohesive team and facilitate working together to provide cost-effective ideas that will blend with the original design intent.

“Are clients pushed into the same design style as the Architect?”

The short and sweet answer is no. This isn’t the same at every firm, but at CWG we meet with the clients from the very beginning of a project to get to know them, learn what they find most important, and how the space should function. After the initial meeting, we go to the drawing board and produce a few different ideas that meet the client’s needs and suit their style. We spend a lot of time collaborating with our clients and providing suggestions for different elements that will enhance their ideas. It’s our job to provide solutions and alternatives that they might not have thought of because of our training, we can often see things through a different set of lenses than our clients.

Throughout this process, we are active listeners and understand that every client is different. The most important goal is translating a client’s unique ideas into a finished building. We do this in a way that is safe and buildable with guidance through codes and education on how each space can be best utilized.  The end objective is to have a finished building that the client is proud to call home, or in the case of a commercial building, proud to open the doors to the public. In the end, the client is the one who will use the space every day, and the Architect will begin the next project. So, I could also answer this question by saying, the client is the one who ultimately holds the power over the design.

“If I don’t want to design a million-dollar home, how can I afford Architectural fees?”

At CWG, we work on everything from custom homes to remodels and renovations. Our firm designs each project to meet realistic budget goals. The fees are dependent on the type of contract that is agreed upon before the beginning of the project. Some of these fees are based on total construction cost and some are hourly, depending on the contract and scope of work. The best way to save on cost is to have all major design changes and additions done toward the beginning of a project, before the construction documents are fully developed and ready for building review. If you have hired a good Architect, they will meet with you regularly to talk about the plans, make sure that all your needs are being met, and see if you have had more ideas on how you plan to use the space. Our goal is not to break the bank but to bring your dreams to life in the most cost-effective way possible.

Some people would argue that it’s time to eliminate the “What do you do for a living” question from social events altogether. I’d prefer to think of it as an opportunity to connect with new people and learn about how they view my career. Taking the time to explain portions of this vast industry helps me become a better architect because once I know what the common misconceptions are I can help address them with my future clients. I hope that giving detailed answers increases people’s curiosity about the profession of architecture and conveys my passion for the job. Do you have more follow-up questions? Let’s connect! If you’re thinking about starting a project, whether it’s a commercial building, custom home, or a remodel, then consider working with an Architect that will help bring your designs to life and make your project successful.

Liz Rae

Liz Rae, CWG Architect-In-Training