We’ve all seen exceptional architects and design professionals stuck in the rut of a routine and uninspiring career. The greatest tragedy of this industry may very well be the opportunity cost of wasted potential. In the highly competitive architecture and building design industry, how do you stand out? How do you ensure you stand out now, and well into the future?

Successful architects are the ones who got lucky right? I recently asked two of my closest friends and was relieved to learn nothing could be further from the truth. They both work with innovative clients and on some spectacular projects in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Latin America and South America. Their thirst for knowledge and the passionate energy they radiate when discussing new technologies was inspiring. Also notable was the ever-present theme of sustainability.

Indisputably spectacular careers, a wealth of spectacular experiences – no question. The conversations got me thinking, though. How’d they do it? I’ve had the pleasure of working with these friends on several occasions and their teams are full of talented, young architects and designers – but I can name a dozen young RA’s that are equally talented, yet haven’t seemed to reach their potential. I wanted to know what advice a highly accomplished architect would give to someone who wanted to take their career to the next level.

Our conversations and subsequent e-mail exchanges raised some questions in my mind:

What advice would each of these highly accomplished people give to architects looking to take their career to the next level? What advice would I offer from my perspective?

So I asked them.

5 Key Success Factors: Frank Farrington, AIA/IIDA/LEED, Farrington Design Group (Atlanta, Georgia)

Architecture firms always have new developments and changes in direction. This is simply a normal part of the job. It takes time to learn the business side of architecture that is not taught in school. Never expect to be pampered. This is a profession like being a doctor or lawyer and you are expected to deliver professional results.

in my experience, this is what it takes to make it in our industry.

  1. Passion – Tasks that seem simple and menial are assigned to test your abilities. You need to approach each task and each day with passion. This shows attitude!

  2. Questions – You need to ask questions. No matter how much experience you have, and no matter how trivial, never be afraid to ask a question. Most mistakes occur by making a choice made on an assumption and not based on fact.

  3. Document – You are working in a business. This requires documentation of everything you do for the firm and yourself. Document your research when solving a problem or exploring a new building system. Ask to retain copies of the projects you work on to maintain your portfolio.

  4. Be Supportive – Always look for ways to help. If you see one of your coworkers struggling to complete an assignment, offer to support their efforts. This can be a wonderful opportunity to show your worth to the firm and your colleagues.

  5. Why – The most important advice I can provide is that you understand why before you proceed. Architects are problem solvers and dream interpreters. To initiate the process, one must follow the path of William Pena and complete Problem Seeking before you can provide a viable solution.

3 Core Values to Always Remember: Valente Souza, Arquitecto at UNAM Facultad de Arquitectura (Mexico City, Mexico)

  1. Always consider your own history, your observations of time and places, your memories and your sensibilities. Then fully embrace the design tasks ahead of you. This will create work that is authentic to you and build your individual reputation.

  2. Being an architect is like being a chemical engineer: one sees abstractions in the third dimension, and understands complex relations. In order to foster that capacity, read complex novels, go to art shows often, listen to classical music every day, meet and become friends with as many professionals of different disciplines in order to understand their perspectives and challenges.

  3. Adore what you do, or you are lost.

As for my own 2 cents, I read a remarkable piece from Samantha Raburn Markham titled Young Architect Guide: 21 Essential Tips for Emerging Architecture Professionals, that resonated with me.

To paraphrase:

  1. Technology will lead the way – the rapidly changing world of design and construction requires technology to improve efficiency, support the creative process, develop collaborative tools, create higher-performance and more sustainable materials.

  2. Be a champion of sustainability and the surrounding environments – educate yourself and become a champion of sustainable technologies and the integration of structures into communities and environments. Your clients will see your passion.

  3. Be relentless in your pursuit of knowledge. Valente and Frank have accumulated an immense wealth of product, process and technical knowledge that never ceases to amaze me.

  4. Appreciate the impact of design – architecture has the power to inspire entire communities, the power to tell a story, the power to enlighten and the power to contribute to our future. We need not just to think about today, but always consider tomorrow.

  5. Never forget the power of a team — embrace diversity of opinions. Feedback, collaboration and cooperation are hallmarks of strong teams and strong results. Solicit opinions, listen, learn and contribute.

  6. Build your brand — contribute to your community, participate, build relationships across multiple professions and potential project stakeholders.

Architects and design professionals have the chance to change the world. I really mean that. Architecture has the rare potential to combine a visual art form with incredible story telling. For today, for tomorrow and beyond.

Scott Jenkins is the CEO and Co-Founder of ZS2 Technologies and has been an executive, entrepreneur, investor and supporter of innovative technology companies in the construction, manufacturing, engineering and software industries for over 20 years.

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