What Skills Does an Architect Need? (Feat. Rita El Kouhen)
Joey McDowell is an experienced writer and editor originally from the Dallas area. A firm believer in a well-balanced lifestyle, Joey applies this forward-thinking approach as the editor-in-chief of The Idea Trader. He travels extensively to find compelling stories and insightful individuals.
What skills does an architect need? Whether you're currently studying architecture and want to cover all your bases or just curious about the field of architecture in a more general sense, we're going to discuss some of the most important skills architects should have under their belts.
Something you should know at the outset is that architects need to master many skills before they can work at a professional level.
Thankfully, students and lower-level employees at architecture firms can practice many of these skills while in school or working an entry-level position.
Still, there are several other skills that won't be taught in university programs, meaning it's the responsibility of the architect to keep themselves well-rounded and prepared to handle any number of difficult situations.
Let's get started and look at the skills every architect should have.
Communication is absolutely one of the most important skills for an architect to have, which is why we've placed it at the very top of our list. Think of communication skills as a foundation for the work of an architect.
If you're not familiar with the industry, professional architects need to communicate with a whole host of other professionals during the course of their work, no matter how big or small the current project is.
As an architect, you'll be talking to clients, contractors, consultants, builders, and team members working within your firm.
Every single one of these lines of communication has the potential to cause problems if it isn't properly maintained.
For instance, communicating with clients is essential to this line of work, during every stage of the process. An architect can't simply take a client's brief, whip up some plans, and set to work on finalizing those plans and get the build going.
While an architect is ultimately responsible for how a project turns out in the end, the client is always the real boss. What they want is paramount.
Communicating with clients consistently helps avoid discrepancies and streamlines the process of making revisions to the current plans.
While it may seem somewhat obvious, communicating efficiently and effectively with an internal team is equally important.
If just one member of the team doesn't understand a specific aspect of the project, whether it's the timeline, client expectations, or the technical details, there's potential for this misunderstanding to lead to much larger problems down the road.
An architect should always feel that they're able to communicate with all relevant personnel, and, in turn, clients, contractors, and members of the internal team should feel they're able to bring up concerns and questions with the architect. After all, communication is a two-way street.
Technical knowledge is a fairly broad term that covers quite a large range of information.
That's because the technical knowledge required to work as an architect is extensive, and includes knowledge of construction, various building materials, physics, mathematics, and design, just to name a few.
While we can't go into detail on all of these, it's very important to point out that gaining all the necessary technical knowledge to work as an architect is a lengthy process, and there's no room for shortcuts.
In a very basic sense, all this knowledge comes from two main sources: academic study and real-world experience.
For the academic study portion, you'll need to study at an accredited institution, period. While it is technically possible to gain the same knowledge that a university program offers through self-study, there are many benefits to learning in a structured environment from talented teachers.
As for real-world experience, working as an intern or entry-level employee can be extremely beneficial, giving an aspiring architect the chance to put their skills to the test and see firsthand how experienced architects and managers handle their duties.
Beyond all this formal training, it is also the responsibility of the aspiring architect to pay careful attention to their own proficiencies in all these types of technical knowledge, not just when studying at university but for the length of their career.
If an architect needs to brush up, as it were, in a certain area, it's up to them to take the initiative and do just that.
Leadership skills, with advice from professional architect Rita El Kouhen
Architect Rita El Kouhen has more than ten years of experience in this line of work, having been a member of a top firm in Paris and later relocating to New York, where she joined up with an illustrious, award-winning design and architecture firm, where she focuses on large-scale projects, urbanism, retail, and 3D modeling.
With regards to the question of what skills architects need, she feels very strongly that leadership should be a core skill for every architect.
"If you want to build a respectable, successful career, you have to take risks and not be afraid to be a leader. Being a leader is not just about being in charge. It's also about sharing knowledge, being a good listener, problem-solving, and having an analytical mind that works well under pressure."
El Kouhen has put this idea into practice during her own career, rising up the ranks in her firm and becoming a Project Manager. She knew that she could handle the intense multitasking and has been proving herself right ever since.
"Being a Project Manager provides me with the opportunity to oversee all aspects of the project. Simultaneously, I'm managing an internal team and also coordinating all aspects of construction with different professionals in the field: engineers, contractors, lighting designers, and most importantly, clients. Some people might find it difficult to juggle several aspects, but I find it thrilling."
Of course, this advanced level of leadership is only possible when an architect has mastered many other skills, including the other skills mentioned in this article.
Without intricate knowledge of, and experience with, the various responsibilities of an internal team, it won't be possible to expertly direct efforts in all these areas.
Having mastery over many skills also generates an increased level of trust and authority between a leader and their team, as well as with their clients.
Some outsiders may see professional architects as technically-minded and nothing else, but this just isn't the case. In fact, creativity is massively important to be a successful architect.
While physics and materials and building codes represent limitations to pure expression, the most notable architects in history have found ways to apply creativity to projects while staying within the boundaries of those basic limitations.
Just consider the work of the much-lauded Frank Lloyd Wright or Imhotep of ancient Egypt. Though both were working in vastly different time periods and cultural conditions, these architects brought many new ideas to architecture as a whole.
These innovations wouldn't have been possible without a great deal of creativity. That creativity inspired these architects, and has inspired many others like them, to challenge norms and find new (and sometimes better) ways of doing things.
It goes without saying that architecture necessitates a great deal of highly detailed planning, but it may come as somewhat of a shock to architecture students to hear that the ability to adapt to changes is also a major part of the job.
Building conditions can change, client needs and expectations can change, and as a result, plans for a project can also change.
There may be a shortage of a certain material, or there may be bureaucratic complications with the building site itself and the relevant authorities.
There may even be an unforeseen accident during the construction process that seriously delays the date of completion.
Life is unpredictable, and that makes architecture an unpredictable career, especially when working for high-level firms and big-name clients.
An exaggerated example
Let's consider the need for flexibility and adaptability in the context of a very simple hypothetical scenario.
Architect A is talented but gets easily frustrated and prefers to stick to what has already been agreed-upon.
Architect B makes detailed plans with the help of their team but maintains enthusiasm even in difficult situations.
So let's say a new skyscraper is being constructed in a dense metropolitan area. After many months of back-and-forth, both the architecture firm and the client are happy with the plans that have been laid out for this building. Likewise, the local authorities have approved the plans.
A construction company has already been hired and they're set to break ground within just a couple weeks.
Then, very suddenly, the city council sends a statement explaining that, through a legal loophole, they're able to revoke approval even at this late stage, and that the proposed building actually needs to be reduced in size by 10 storeys.
This change will have a devastating effect on the existing plans for the building and will drastically expand the timeline for the project as a whole.
It may also cause problems with the construction company, which has already agreed to certain conditions and scheduling.
In this situation, Architect A would have a very difficult time coping. They would most likely have some very angry words for the city council or even the leadership within their own firm.
The changes and required revisions may cause a level of stress that this architect simply can't handle. They would be unable to adapt to the situation and may even quit the firm, which could have a very negative effect on their overall career.
Meanwhile, Architect B would be more than capable of processing this major setback and coping with the associated stress.
Accepting the situation for what it is, Architect B would attempt to resolve the issue, if at all possible, and then communicate the next steps to their team and to the client.
Even if it meant a setback of several months or even a year, this architect would see the project through to the end and be better off for it.
They would likely earn the respect of their peers and maybe even become a candidate for further promotion within the firm.
Now, this is clearly a heavily exaggerated example of what professional architects actually may experience during their careers, but it still gives an idea of how personality, coping skills, and a sense of flexibility can greatly benefit an architect's ability to complete projects successfully.
Without that flexibility, setbacks will only cause bigger and bigger problems in a cascade effect.
Perfectionism, in this context, is all about staying dedicated to your work and being extremely detail-oriented.
As we've already discussed, creating and renovating buildings and structures is highly technical and very serious work, and no matter who the client is, the plans and the execution of those plans need to be rock solid.
That attention to detail won't be achieved if the architect is rushing through their work.
For example, someone who tends to only put in the bare minimum amount of effort and clock out as soon as possible probably wouldn't be well-suited to architectural work.
But professionals who are willing to go the extra mile every time to make sure everything is perfect stand a much better chance of coping with the stresses of professional architecture work and achieve fantastic results.
We hope that this has been an enlightening guide to just some of the core skills that architects need to be successful in their field.
In summary, there's always more to learn as an architect, and it's important to keep your mind open to new ideas and new possibilities.