Need a break from design? Good news: Architects can change jobs relatively easily because skills such as creative problem solving, iterative thinking, information synthesizing, and project management translate well into other professions. While the building industry itself offers myriad career options, such as in real estate development or interior design, the eight industries below are a snapshot of the many fields that architects can successfully enter with their training—and we found former designers who have made the leap to prove it.
Designer: Megan Padalecki, children’s book author and self-publisher, Padalecki Studio
Degree: B.Arch., University of Texas at Austin
Architecture experience: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, San Francisco, six years
Crossover skills: CAD and Adobe software, drawing, project phasing, and scheduling. The six-month process to write, illustrate, and publish her first book, Big Mo (2015), was “eerily similar to that for designing a building,” Padalecki says. Her book recently won a National Indie Excellence Award for best picture book.
Skills to acquire: Small-business management, accounting, financing, intellectual property law, product distribution and marketing, the last of which she does through her website and by visiting bookstores, contacting bloggers and book reviewers, and speaking to classrooms and libraries.
Advice: Be patient, proactive, and persistent, and solicit input from others. Writing and publishing a book is like “a slow building process,” she says.
Designer: Jay Wickersham, FAIA, attorney specializing in environmental and land-use law, Noble, Wickersham & Heart
Degrees: M.Arch., Harvard University; J.D., Harvard University
Architecture experience: Various Boston firms, five years
Crossover skills: Understanding the architectural profession and its jargon. As general counsel for several high-profile design firms, Wickersham regularly draws from his architectural background. “I can read the plans and understand what the different parties are trying to do,” he says.
Skills to acquire: Advanced negotiation skills—even more than what architecture requires—and the ability “to read very, very carefully and write very, very precisely,” Wickersham says.
Advice: If you’re seeking a career change but aren't sure in what, learn what your design clients and other project stakeholders do professionally, he suggests. This knowledge may guide you in a new direction.
Designer: Jackie Wong, management consultant, McKinsey & Co.
Degrees: M.Arch., University of Pennsylvania; MBA, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
Architecture experience: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, New York, six years; lecturer at University of Pennsylvania, five years
Crossover skills: Project phasing and collaboration, and learning and thinking on the spot. Wong sums up much of what he does now as design thinking, an empathetic, open-ended, and iterative approach to problem solving—not unlike that used in architecture—to help clients improve business growth or performance.
Skills to acquire: Team-management strategies, relationship building, accounting, Microsoft PowerPoint, and “Business 101,” Wong says. Despite an affinity for numbers in architecture, he had no experience dealing with digits in a business sense.
Advice: Be prepared to explain to potential employers how your architectural skills make you a good hire.
Designer: Alyce Tzue, director and animator, Smule
Degrees: B.A. in Architecture, Princeton University; M.F.A. in 3D Animation, Academy of Art University
Architecture experience: Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, New York, one year
Crossover skills: 3D modeling and animation programs, and visualization. The ability to place yourself in an imaginary space is critical to animated films, which often depict worlds that do not exist in real life. These worlds, Tzue notes, are “often why a story needs to be animated.”
Skills to acquire: Collaboration. For her thesis project, Soar, a Student Academy Award–winning 3D animated short, Tzue, a self-proclaimed introvert, managed a team of 100 peers. “It’s impossible to be a director without loving the process of bringing those people together,” she says.
Advice: Hone your animation skills at an art school that offers a collaborative environment. For a more affordable option, try an online school, such as Animation Mentor or AnimSchool.
5. CULINARY ARTS
Designer: Francesco Crocenzi, personal chef, Frankie’s Table
Degrees: M.Arch., Syracuse University; Culinary Arts Degree, Seattle Culinary Academy and Quillisascut School of the Domestic Arts
Architecture experience: Various firms on the West Coast, 16 years
Crossover skills: Concept development, project phasing, and scheduling. Creating a new dish is an iterative process involving continuous analysis and fine-tuning, Crocenzi says, while cooking efficiently requires a methodical, hierarchical approach. “What am I going to cook first versus what do I need to do last?” he asks. “What takes the most time on the stove?”
Skills to acquire: Small-business management skills and advanced cooking techniques such as pressure cooking, cooking efficiency, and food safety.
Advice: “Be prepared for a slow year of ramping up,” says Crocenzi, who gradually garnered a repeat client base after 18 months of online marketing, social media, and mailings. “By the time I had a couple of dinner parties under my belt, my Yelp reviews started helping a lot with web traffic,” he says.
6. MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS
Designer: Berna Fo, marketing communications director, National Host Committee for the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress Hawaii 2016
Degree: M.Arch., Columbia University
Crossover skills: Concept development, programming, salesmanship, people skills, visual design, and community engagement. The ability to think in scale and “oscillate between the macro and micro” has also helped Fo plan marketing strategies for an organization, a campaign, or a project, she says, as does the ability to think broadly and look for alternative solutions to a problem.
Skills to acquire: Clear, targeted verbal communication skills as well as the ability to convey information visually, such as through infographics and advertisements.
Advice: Architects are “natural communicators of large, abstract ideas,” Fo says. Focus on that skill set and get real work experience.
Designer: Christian D. Bruun, director, screenwriter, and producer, Light Cone Pictures
Degree: M.Arch., Aarhus School of Architecture, Denmark
Crossover skills: Taking an idea from conceptual development to execution, visualization, drawing, and project management. “You have to think about the structure of the film and about what you want to say,” Bruun notes.
Skills to acquire: Technical aspects of filmmaking, such as how to use different lenses to create specific effects, how to light a scene for film, and how to secure financing.
Advice: Apply for a position that exposes you to pre- and post-production and gives you time on set during filming.
Designer: Emmanuelle Bourlier, CEO, Panelite
Degree: M.Arch. Columbia University
Architecture experience: Various firms, 2 years
Crossover skills: Research, experimentation, and designing within constraints. As a graduate student, Bourlier and then-classmate, now–business partner Christian Mitman invented a lightweight, translucent panel with a honeycomb core. Intended for a pool house that was never built, it debuted in a loft project that landed on the cover of Spanish interior design magazine Diseño Interior.
Skills to acquire: How to run a business and lead marketing campaigns. Bourlier recommends reading The Personal MBA (Portfolio, 2010).
Advice: Don’t take "No" for an answer. “We were told that translucent honeycomb panels just didn’t exist,” Bourlier says. “We said, 'They should, so let’s make one.’ ”