August 16, 2016 by Bob Borson
I have answered this question at least a hundred times over the last 6 years and I have distilled the answer down to what I think is the very first step. Granted most of the people asking this question are fairly young – probably high school and early college level – but the answer is still the same.
Should You Focus on Math?
Most people think being an architect has something to do with math. It doesn’t – in fact, I tell people that their lack of math skills should not be the thing that keeps them from pursuing their dreams of becoming an architect. If you are that person, read Architecture and Math and let me know if you still think math is going to be the thing that stops you from becoming an architect. Math is a necessary component to being an architect but the hardest math I do on a daily basis was stuff I learned in grade school. Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, and Division … that’s about it. I could get creative and work some geometry and algebra into the mix, but I can generally avoid it if I want.
What About Sketching?
Can’t draw? I’m not sure that it’s that big a deal nowadays – and it would seem that most graduating architecture students don’t really know how to sketch based on the portfolio’s I’ve seen. I’ve written a bunch of articles on why I think sketching is important – the articles that seem to garner the most interest are: Architectural Sketching (5 Tips and Techniques that should improve your architectural sketches) which is pretty much just what it sounds like … it’s the 5 things I learned years ago that actually helped me when I started sketching; and Architectural Sketching – an article dedicated to different styles of sketching and the possible roles that each style play in the design process.
Sketching is really important, and it’s definitely something you should be working on … but it isn’t the most important.
It must be Presentation Skills … right?
Presentation skills are far more important than anybody in school actually realizes. Had I realized just how import presentation skills were, I would have supplemented my college curriculum with some classes on the subject. Luckily for me, this happens to be an area where I naturally do okay. When it comes to standing up in front of a room of strangers, I get as nervous as the next person, I just don’t seem to let it get in the way. It also doesn’t hurt that over the past few year, I have given dozens upon dozens of presentations to people all around the country and I have become considerably more immune to the challenges of standing in front of a bunch of people and presenting. There are some simple things someone can do to put themselves in a position to give a great presentation, I’ve covered them in an article titled: Presentation Skills -Tips and Techniques and with just a few little adjustments, most people can become more than competent when presenting.
So, presentation skills are incredibly important … but no, that isn’t it either.
So if it isn’t math or sketching, and it isn’t presentation skills, what could it possibly be? Exactly where should enthusiastic future wanna-be architects begin? The answer is shockingly simple and straight-forward: The most important skill that someone who is interested in becoming an architect should develop is seeing the world around them and then being able to articulate why they like the things they like. Sounds pretty easy but is actually one of the hardest things a young designer can figure out … and it won’t improve without time and effort, so why not get started on it now?
The difference between someone doing well and someone doing great as an architect is not their design skills, it’s their ability to make a personal connection with the people who hire them (clients), work through problems by extrapolating similar conditions, codifying that process, and then understanding why some solutions work and others don’t. This last one is frequently overlooked by younger designers, maybe not out of negligence, but due to their experience level. Being able to understand why you did something allows you to duplicate your successes without having to replicate your solutions (pretty sure I’ve said that before on the site here).
It never dawned on me – certainly not while I was in high school or college – that I should be thinking about my ability to understand why I do or don’t like something. I can remember with exacting clarity the times when I was in architecture school when I thought I should do this or that in a design “just because it looked awesome“. While it might have actually been awesome, that’s subjective to the person doing the evaluating. It’s pretty easy to understand that just because I like something, it doesn’t mean that everybody will – that requires knowledge and understanding. If you can’t articulate why something is better, maybe you should try and figure out why it’s in your project. I was pretty sure that I have spoken about this very topic before so I went and searched through my site. It took awhile, but I found it … it was the 3rd article I ever wrote, published January 16, 2010 (771 articles ago – I’m kind of surprised I remember it). It’s titled ‘My Opinion Might be Better Than Yours‘ and I’ll leave you with the best line from that post: "My opinion might be better than yours. It’s true and I can tell you why. That’s why it’s better – because I can tell you why."