Dear Architecture Students: You Have a Problem

Shock, horror: A new study has revealed that architecture students study for more hours each week than any other major.

Paul Keskeys Paul Keskeys

Shock, horror: A new study conducted by Indiana University has revealed that architecture students study for more hours each week than any other major.

According to the University’s national survey of student engagement, the average of 22.2 study hours includes “time spent in a week preparing for class including homework” — for aspiring architects, this includes the hours spent working on projects in studio, writing papers and, presumably, complaining about how little sleep they are getting. The weekly grind for architecture students beats out some serious academic contenders, including majors in chemical engineering, physics and neuroscience.

Now, I know what you’re all thinking: Tell us something we don’t already know! However, the unsurprising nature of Indiana University’s “revelation” is part of the problem. As a profession, we have become so normalized to the idea of architecture students working late into the night that we approach the subject with self-pitying, dry-witted, unchanging resignation.

Mean data taken from surveying thousands of students across the United States by Indiana University and covered by The Tab; image via Curbed

Some commentators appear to revel in this state of affairs, asserting that would-be architects must “suffer for their art,” and that the dedication required means the act of working long hours is not only inevitable, it is noble. However, from the perspective of someone who has lived through this experience, one can argue that this romantic notion is nothing of the sort.

Rather, it forms a cover for the fetishization of exhaustion.

When you compare the average weekly study hours for the majors listed above with starting salaries typically achieved by graduates, an inconvenient truth emerges. According to recent data, 2015 architecture graduates had an average starting salary of $43,390. By contrast, graduates with STEM-related majors (those in science, technology, engineering and math) fared much better. The average starting salary for those in an engineering field was $62,998. Computer science graduates could expect to earn an average of $61,287 right out of school, while those in math and sciences could achieve $56,171.

When faced with the discrepancy between total studying time and potential earnings, it raises a potent question: Is an architecture degree a bad investment?

Via Odyssey

Of course, it doesn’t have to be — architecture remains a highly rewarding career combining creativity with practical problem-solving, and once an architect is well established, they can make a good living. However, the issue outlined above may be reducing the number of talented students ever making it that far, as they seek a more lucrative career path elsewhere. To ensure the profession doesn’t suffer a “brain drain” to other STEM-related industries, this problem should be attacked on multiple fronts.

First, the unhealthy work ethic so prevalent within the profession — from the largest firms to the smallest studios — should be challenged and, ultimately, diminished. There is a plethora of ways to achieve this: through regulation, guidance from the AIA and advocacy from influential writers and commentators within creative fields.

Most of all, though, architecture professors have the power to affect change. They should challenge students to refine their work efficiency, and reinforce the truth that competitiveness with one’s peers does not equate to “outdoing” each other by suffering through “all-nighters.” Top quality work can be achieved within normal working hours, and while it should remain up to the individual student to manage their time, professors can advocate for a commonsense approach to studio projects.

Via Architects

In addition to this, architects must better communicate their immense value to the construction industry, so they can argue for improved fees and, in turn, offer fairer compensation to young but highly competent graduates. Some more notable architecture firms are highly adept at marketing themselves, but many struggle to compete against commercial developers who utilize draftsmen and -women to cram pre-designed cookie-cutter housing into tightly packed plots. Struggling firms have reacted to this trend by lowering their profit margins and offering increasingly meager salaries just to stay afloat.

There are many ways in which the profession could begin to rectify this; a number of different opinions on the subject have been published on Architizer in recent months. For instance, Lidija Grozdanic’s feature on new business models for architects outlines ways that the profession can diversify its income streams. As architects learn to be more financially savvy in this respect, they should be better positioned to support young architects with salaries that are competitive with other STEM-based professions.

Via Toner Architects

Then there is the more direct approach — Peter Eerlings believes every architect should simply double their hourly rate today. For him, this leads to more serious clients, less speculative work and a greater ability to design creative, ambitious projects. Significantly, this fee increase did not lead to a depreciation in the amount of work coming in — the quality of Eerlings’ work was enough to justify this increase, and he believes the profession as a whole is undervaluing itself.

Ultimately, the solution is simple — as a profession, we need to value ourselves more. Only then will the hours of work students put in become a sound investment in the future, rather than some kind of romanticized sacrifice for “the love of architecture.”

Now … get back to work!

Top image via The Underdog Architecture Student

Paul Keskeys Author: Paul Keskeys
Paul Keskeys is Editor in Chief at Architizer. An architect-trained editor, writer and content creator, Paul graduated from UCL and the University of Edinburgh, gaining an MArch in Architectural Design with distinction. Paul has spoken about the art of architecture and storytelling at many national industry events, including AIANY, NeoCon, KBIS, the Future NOW Symposium, the Young Architect Conference and NYCxDesign. As well as hundreds of editorial publications on Architizer, Paul has also had features published in Architectural Digest, PIN—UP Magazine, Archinect, Aesthetica Magazine and PUBLIC Journal.
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