Likewise, Johnson in Phoenix feels bound to the area where he owns a house and where his wife's family lives. He has sent out a digital portfolio to more than 40 local offices and been invited to four interviews. "Each [office] said the same thing: They're waiting for a project; when it breaks, they'll get really busy, but they're just waiting for the contract to be signed."
Johnson is staying afloat thanks to side work from friends and from his brother, a contractor in Las Vegas. "I'm optimistic that something will change in the first couple of months of next year," he said in December. He added that his newly independent status has brought one unforeseen benefit—greater confidence in his own abilities. "I don't have enough experience to open my own office right now," Johnson said, "but what I've done in the last month ... is giving me a feeling of how I could start [working] on my own."
Name: Paul Johnson, AIA, LEED AP
Background: Studied architecture at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly); graduated in 2003. Knew he wanted to be an architect from an early age. Spent a year studying in Florence, "an enlightening experience."
Plans: Looking for work both in and outside of the Phoenix area, where he lives with his wife and young daughter.
Credit: Joe Pugliese
By January, though, Johnson had started to look for jobs out of state. "I need to be realistic about it," he says.
Anxiety may be the constant companion of out-of-work architects, but a very different emotion—a sense of excitement at new opportunities?can follow not far behind. Scott Gustafson of Boulder, Colo., has sent out 300 résumés to architecture firms around the world that he might like to work for. Gustafson was let go from a healthcare firm in October. Since graduating from Kansas State University in 1999, he has hopscotched from Tucson, Ariz., to Los Angeles and then to Boulder and "would pretty much go anywhere" now, he says. He has even become a licensed architect in Iceland, partly for fun, and partly because design competitions may require entrants to be licensed somewhere.
With the LEED exam under his belt, Gustafson is devoting some of his newly free time to preparing for the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), which he aims to complete within the next 12 months. Fredlund, who in the past "never needed to be registered—I just never needed it for pay or responsibility," has set himself the same goal as Gustafson. Unless they find new jobs with employers who will off set the cost, both will have to pay fees—$170 for each of the exam's seven sections—out of their own pockets.
Suriano can stamp her own drawings, in addition to being LEED accredited and having an extensive building-industry network to tap into. She sees those assets as the basis of a successful small business. Suriano intends to set up a consulting LLC and become certified as a Minority- and Woman-Owned Business Enterprise through the city of Phoenix. "There's a lot of potential out there if you're lean and mean," she says. "I have a lot of good contacts and am feeling pretty optimistic about it."
Similarly, Tim O'Brien, a Kansas State classmate of Gustafson's, has chosen to view his recent dismissal by a small Colorado firm as a chance to start up a new venture, a real estate investment trust (REIT). O'Brien has long been frustrated by architects being "kind of at the mercy of developers," so instead of looking for another architecture firm job, he would like to start to assemble financing for high-quality projects himself.
Name: Scott Gustafson, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP
Background: Graduated from Kansas State University with a B.Arch. in 1999. Has worked for firms in Arizona, California, and Colorado. Recently started a Facebook group where unemployed architects can network. Plans: "What I'm looking for is firms that do projects I think are handsome or responsive to their environments." Has applied for jobs in Beijing, Dubai, Rotterdam, and London. Is doing a pro bono project for the Lakota tribe in South Dakota.
Credit: Joe Pugliese
O'Brien has been let go a number of times since 2001, and, partly because of these disruptions, he has not completed paperwork for the Intern Development Program (IDP)?a required step of the licensing process in most states. Do laid-off interns face a tough climb to complete the IDP? "It's a point of real concern," says Gordon Mills, president of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). "There's a certain percentage of emerging professionals who could be hit by this." Mills adds that would-be architects can earn some credits outside the workplace, by attending graduate school or even volunteering.
One group that's had to adjust its expectations radically since the downturn began is the class of '09. Last spring, these students watched their older peers get jobs at prestigious firms, sometimes juggling multiple offers. At the University of Notre Dame before the recession, "the only way you couldn't get a job was if you didn't want one," says architect Marianne Cusato, who was a visiting professor at the school last fall. More firms would come to the school's March career fair than there were students graduating. "Firms would take people out to fabulous dinners and try to lure them," Cusato says. "This was the culture."
Needless to say, the culture has changed. Some firms have pulled out of the career fair, and others will be looking to hire one student instead of several. Notre Dame's School of Architecture and the university's career center recently teamed up to give a presentation on job-hunting. Cusato says the students are taking all of it in stride. "They know it's a completely different situation. They're doing things like researching smaller markets. ... There's an openness to exploring other options." And, Cusato adds, "I think that in 10 years' time, they'll be much better for it."