It’s becoming clear that the spike in unemployment caused by Covid-19 will likely have long-lasting consequences. While a shrinking economy doesn’t completely erase opportunity, for unemployed architects who have either lost their jobs or are just finishing school, the possibility of finding a full-time position eventually doesn’t solve a more immediate problem: what to do right now.
For unemployed architects in that painful situation, this article surveys some immediate-action strategies to help make a living while also maintaining a designer’s skill set for future work. Tactics include assembling a patchwork of part-time engagements that utilize architectural skills, expanding a job search by pursuing remote work in distant locations, and starting to build a framework for your own practice.
When faced with an involuntary career break, it’s helpful to remember that finding your next long-term position is primarily a matter of time. Thus, the most important thing you can do is buy yourself time to ride out a prolonged job search. This means doing anything you can to support yourself that also maintains, or allows you the time to maintain, hard-earned architectural skills. Luckily, architectural skills can be applicable to a wide range of short-term, digitally remote freelance work.
One of the most obvious applications is visualization. There’s many ways to go solo in this area, from listing your services on a freelance marketplace to soliciting your network of employed architects to see if their firm needs ad hoc renderings with a quick turnaround. If you’re inclined to seek a more permanent arrangement, you can quickly expand the number of full-time positions you’re searching for by including visual media beyond architecture, such as visual effects producers for film, television, or video games.
Another profession with a perennial need for one-off architectural services is real estate. Drafting simple floor plans for a leasing agency, for example, may not be glamorous, but can be a short-term way to get paid for drawing buildings. This can also be a good way to become acquainted with private developers, who may be looking to hire an in-house architect to be their advocate on large projects, or could even become clients for your own practice.
It’s also worth looking toward professions architects frequently hire as subconsultants. Façade design, parametric modelling, and graphic design, for example, are just some of the many fields packed with single-focus firms specializing in skills architects often use every day. Looking for part-time work in one of these disciplines can be a way to hone particular skills for a short period, or could even lead an architectural career in a new and interesting direction.
A slew of relevant stop-gap working opportunities for unemployed architects, particularly recent graduates, can also be found in higher education and cultural institutions. Academic research, curatorial fellowships, and similar positions that don’t require full-time teaching are less susceptible to the sort of volatility Covid-19 has wrought on the economy. Such positions can offer worthwhile, paid experience that can be gained parallel to a full-time job search.
Not all unemployed architects, of course, will be able to take advantage of adjacent professions, but it’s clear by now that widespread remote working is here to stay, at least in some form, for quite some time. So a simple way to expand the pool of jobs available to out-of-work architects is to look for them in firms based outside one’s immediate city or region.
This should be noted with the caveat that it’s currently unclear how willing a wide swath of architecture firms may be to hire remote staff working from far-flung locations. Many factors influence a business’ attitude towards this, from local professional regulations to payroll and tax filing issues. However, a number of tech-savvy firms have long embraced remote working, and it’s highly likely that the number of architecture firms utilizing a full-time remote workforce increases substantially after the current crisis subsides.
Starting Your Own Firm
A final path unemployed architects might find worth pursuing is to start their own firm. This is especially true for early to mid-career designers, who probably have a modest network and enough experience to facilitate a successful project but aren’t as familiar with the process designers go through to get clients.
Taking this approach obviously doesn’t pay until you get a client, so it’s probably not a priority for the recently unemployed, but even unsuccessfully pursuing your own projects in between part-time work and searching a for a full-time job can be a truly valuable experience. Forcing yourself to learn first-hand what it takes to win an architectural commission might open all sorts of doors if you just try, and at the very least will make you more valuable to future employers.
Regardless what strategy, or combination of strategies, someone takes to get through a bout of unemployment, it’s necessary to look for new opportunities in ways you might not have considered before. By opening yourself to the idea of following a completely different career direction than the one you’re used to, you may unintentionally find a new way to earn a living, making your skills, experience, and general disposition more resilient in the process.