Academia and architects have a close relationship. Never mind the nearly decade-long curriculum a designer must complete before attaining licensure: The formal approach of studying a problem to identify and then evaluate potential solutions is also key to architectural practice. That architects would want to teach is no surprise. Whether they should is a more nuanced question. Here are a few considerations to make before heading for a classroom.
Teaching Is Not for Everyone
One way to find out if your personality is suited for pedagogy is to participate in studio juries and critiques. “Start to embed yourself,” says Jennifer Park, AIA, a lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and founding principal of architecture and design firm Jurassic Studio. After graduate school, Park wanted to stay involved in architecture education. She began offering crits in a former employer’s classes. “Go to reviews and see if you even like the conversation that’s going on, if you’re engaged and feel like you can contribute,” she says. The midterm design review can be a sort of gateway drug to teaching—or a quick turn-off.
“You also need to consider if you are in a supportive environment where teaching is something that will be accepted while you’re still employed,” Park says. That is, being in the classroom means not being in the office. Park recommends having a discussion with firm leaders before accepting a teaching role to ensure any class-related absence won’t be a problem.
It Will Impact Your Practice
To teach and practice simultaneously can be a logistical and mental challenge. “It is a commitment to try to do both,” says Nonya Grenader, FAIA, who runs her two-person eponymous practice in Houston and has taught at the Rice University, School of Architecture since 1994. “You can’t do both at 100 percent all the time, so if you’re really passionate about it, you need to find a way of practicing that accounts for the balance.”
Grenader has purposely kept her firm small and been selective about the work she takes on—primarily residential and adaptive reuse projects—to ensure enough time for both work and teaching. Over the years, she has learned when the teaching load will be light enough to take on new projects and how to avoid project deadlines that coincide with the final crunch at the end of the semester. “If you’re really committed," she says, "find a professional way of working that allows for the mix.”
For Megan Panzano, founder of Boston-based StudioPM and a full-time assistant professor of architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, finding an overlap between design work and course work has been crucial to her success. “My practice has grown from the teaching,” Panzano says. “We are small by design and the types of projects that I take on are those that still have a real rootedness in things that I’ve been working on in the academic setting.”
Teaching can also offer an opportunity to step away from a project and clear your head. “It’s not like things stop, but I can think about the project in the background and not be forced to actively make decisions on it.” Panzano says, “Teaching always helps me be that much more decisive and committed to the next design edit or iteration I wanted to look at when I returned to that project.”
Don’t Bank On It
Even at the most prestigious universities, part-time teaching will only provide a modest supplement to an architect’s income. And, after accounting for the time and effort spent on course preparation and instruction, it may not be the best fiscal choice. Park, who teaches two days a week at SAIC in addition to running her firm, says prospective academics should have realistic expectations. She warns that teaching likely won’t offer the side income that would allow someone to quit their day job or launch their own firm.
“It’s hard,” Park says. “It’s even more time than you think, and/or it’s less money than you think.” But, she notes, teaching offers a way to balance the stressful, business-driven parts of day-to-day practice. “It’s a reprieve from some of the chaos.”