How Does School Compare to Working in an Architectural Firm?

I recently attended the University of Calgary Networking Event where there were a lot of great questions asked by the students. One such question was: how does school compare to work? I’m sure the answers may vary from firm to firm, but I thought I would share my answer here.

SIMILARITIES

The studio atmosphere.
Our office is open concept allowing for free exchange of ideas and help. People are working hard but having fun – a great environment for creativity.

Continually learning new things.
I found the learning curve in Architecture School to be quite steep. The office environment is no different.

The design process.
We work independently and on teams. We bring out the trace for sketches, push and pull 3D and physical models, research precedents, the list goes on. It feels exactly like school with respect to formulating design concepts.

Critiques.
They happen formally and informally, internally with colleagues, or externally with clients, consultants, etc. Typically we’ll grab a boardroom where we can pin up, layout, and project work. All constructive thoughts are encouraged, even in my early position as an intern.

DIFFERENCES

Life balance.
Unlike school, life balance exists and is supported in the professional studio environment! I have time to not only focus on my career, but on my nutrition, fitness, leisure time, you name it! Not to mention, the firm holds weekly social activities creating an environment that everyone enjoys. It’s not to say that I haven’t worked the occasional evening, or weekend, but those extra hours have been largely up to me and I have been compensated for them.

Practical process.
Work introduces many new elements of the world of Architecture. These might include anything from the various levels of permits, financials, city beauracracy/politics, and much more.

Practical projects.
We work with real-world projects, some having more creative freedom than others. Budget and structural feasibility must always be considered, however that doesn’t mean design is uninteresting. New layers of challenge bring new excitement!

More multidisciplinary.
We are constantly working with various professionals whether within our office or externally. Experts in drafting and building science, code, interior design, marketing, administration, civil, structural, development, planning, etc.

Ultimately, I have found the professional studio environment to feel very much like the academic studio environment, with far less stress and sleep deprivation.

Do you have any particular concerns about what to expect from the work world? Or, if you are working already, how would you compare your office to your school experience?

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