Architecture is an ever-evolving field – both in how it is practiced, and in what is considered state-of-the-art architecture. This requires architects to keep their skills sharp and stay ahead of the curve. Whether you’re an architecture student yearning to stand out in your class or a seasoned professional looking to elevate your career to new heights, in this guide we’ll cover how to improve your architecture skills and why it matters.
In this post I bring together everything I’ve learned and seen so far in over a decade of working as a professional architect in a leading architectural practice. I want this guide to be as practical as possible, so I’ll stick to what I’ve seen work in a real-life professional environment.
Any journey of improvement starts with self-awareness and reflection. Before you go about improving your architecture skills, establish where your current strengths and weaknesses lie. Mapping out your aptitudes will be the starting point.
In the first section, I summarize the three main skills that play a dominant role in the field of architecture. Read through them and take a mental note of which one of them resonates the most with you before you move on to the next section, where I share what in my experience makes the biggest difference in your architecture career.
Let’s get started!
The Top 3 Skills of an Architect
Design Thinking and Creativity
Without creativity there is no architecture. A world without architects wouldn’t mean that there are no buildings. But our built environment would be dominated by principles of structural, economical efficiency, resulting in monotone, repetitive and uninspiring cities and spaces.
Ever since humans started building their own houses, they were an intricate combination of cultural, even personal creative expression, and pragmatic considerations about structure, materials and functionality.
As architects we are the ones responsible to find an expression for a building that not only meets the functional requirements, but that surprises, delights, and creates additional value for its users and the urban context it is situated in.
We are the masters of finding a formal language, material, color, or pattern that reflects the ambition of the client to the benefit of the final users. As Peter Eisenman once said: “Architects have no power, but complete control.”
To achieve that, architects need to be creative. They need to have an enthusiasm for finding beauty in the mundane, to get excited at the prospect of solving a functional problem in a way that creates synergies and amplifies qualities. They need to have a sixth sense of what makes a great space, and even better, be able to articulate why.
Creativity within architectural practice
Within the scope of an architectural project, being creative means having the ability to come up with strong design concepts, that tell a story and that get the team, the client, and finally the users excited. It means creating unique spaces that people can identify with, finding innovative solutions to age-old problems, to push the boundaries of what’s been done before.
Design thinking means that you are able to translate an architectural concept into building form, meaningful spatial configurations and building facades.
Design thinking and creativity doesn’t come easy to everyone. Some seem to constantly come up with original, interesting ideas, while others struggle, staring at an empty sketchbook, to generate engaging ideas. This can be a frustrating experience.
Are you someone who enjoys thinking creatively? Do ideas and concepts come to you effortlessly? Or do you dread the early design phases of a project? Are you an architect who can’t wait to get past the design phase of a project to finally work on and solve more concrete, technical problems?
An architectural alone doesn’t make a building. Only once we find technical solutions within the constraints of structural, economical feasibility, the building becomes reality.
In the realm of architecture, technical proficiency is the foundation upon which remarkable designs are built. It’s the knowledge and expertise that enable architects to bring their visions to life, transforming conceptual sketches into detailed plans that can withstand the test of construction.
Technical knowledge is the compass that guides architects through the intricate maze of design and documentation software, building codes, and construction methodologies. It ensures that your designs are not only aesthetically pleasing but also buildable, functional, and safe. Let’s look at each in more detail.
In today’s digital age, software has become an indispensable design tool for architects. Architecture offices around the world use software like Revit, AutoCAD, ArchiCad, Rhino and Grasshopper and many more to streamline the design and design documentation process.
Each software, when used correctly, gives you a competitive edge over competitors who don’t keep up-to-date.
Are you a software-wizard? Do feel empowered by using well-designed software and you are excited to learn about new functionality and the new possibilities they offer? Or do you dread any new version of a software and hope you can get away with not learning an industry-leading software?
But technical proficiency is not solely about software expertise. It encompasses a wide range of skills, including structural engineering principles, knowledge of materials and construction techniques, and familiarity with building codes and regulations. It’s about understanding the nuts and bolts of architecture to ensure that your designs are not only visually striking but also practical and compliant.
It also encompasses the realm of sustainable design and topics of universal design and resiliency.
Are you passionate about how a building comes together? How different layers and materials are assembled precisely according to their properties? Do you enjoy knowing in detail what complies with a regulation and what does not? Or would you rather relegate the task of detailing a façade to someone else? And you are happy if someone else takes care of double-checking what the regulation says?
Communication, Leadership and Management
Design concepts and technical solutions are not developed in a vacuum – they are the brainchild of a large group of people. The design team, specialty consultants, the client, stakeholders – all are eager to hear your ideas, and to add their own thoughts.
As an architect, your ability to communicate with clients, contractors, and team members is paramount in bringing your design vision to fruition. It’s not just about presenting your ideas; it’s about fostering collaboration, understanding the needs of stakeholders, and ensuring that everyone is on the same page throughout the entire process. You’ll have to convincingly present and defend ideas, be able to argue and reason to get your architectural vision across, from the masterplan approach down to the color of a light switch.
Effective communication is the cornerstone of successful architectural projects.
Clear and concise communication allows you to convey your design intent, address concerns, and build strong relationships with clients. It’s about actively listening, understanding their requirements, and translating their aspirations into tangible designs. By establishing open lines of communication, you can create a collaborative environment where ideas can flourish and projects can thrive.
Are you an outgoing person, seeking out dialogue and happy to discuss your ideas? Can you communicate your ideas fluently and effectively and get your point across? Or do you find presenting a project challenging and anxiety-inducing? Do you feel much more in your element thinking about and developing a design?
Leadership & Management
In addition to communication, leadership and management skills play a vital role in the world of architecture. As an architect, you often find yourself at the helm of a project, responsible for leading a team of professionals, managing timelines, and ensuring that every aspect aligns with the desired outcome. Project management and organization are crucial in keeping the project on track, coordinating resources, and delivering exceptional results.
Time management is another critical aspect: architects juggle multiple tasks, deadlines, and responsibilities simultaneously. Being able to prioritize, delegate, and manage your time efficiently is the key to staying focused and delivering high-quality work within designated timeframes.
Do you enjoy taking responsibility and leading a team? Does it come easy to you to get a team motivated and working at the best of its abilities? Are you able to coordinate complex process successfully? Or do you feel that leading a team is tedious and tiring task?
The Generalist vs Specialist Architect
Having read the descriptions and questions above, you probably felt that some of the skills come easier to you than others. It’s completely normal to have preferences among the different aspects of the architectural profession, and you shouldn’t feel the pressure to excel at all of them, heck, that’s near impossible!
That being said, every architect should have a basic ability in all of those domains. Since they are all interwoven, having a serious deficit in one of them will affect all other areas of your work.
To improve your architecture skills, the first step is to get that basic skill level in the areas discussed. Try to take on the lead in the design phase of a project. Try your hand a leading a team, even if just for a project. If you can, also follow through with an architecture project from inception to construction.
You will get exposure to these skills early in your career, when you are expected to be a versatile asset to an architecture firm. At this stage of your career, be as open as possible to all tasks your are given, even if you may think of them as boring at first.
Seek out diverse professional experiences – you will learn about design, technical aspects of architecture and communication and leadership as you go. And as you do, you’ll learn about yourself and what you are good at and enjoy doing, as well as the things you rather stay clear of.
Once you’ve found the areas you like, it’s time to go deep.
Pick an architectural skill and excel at it
To improve your skills in architecture today, and to become a valuable resource within the field of architecture, it’s best to follow the concept of T-shaped skills.
T-shaped refers to having skills in a wide variety of domains, but being outstanding in one of them. In doing so you become a ‘Generalizing Specialist’ – someone who can do all the tasks, but that really blows people out of the water in one specific area of expertise.
This specialization or deep knowledge, doesn’t need to cover the entirety of one of the three elemental skills mentioned above. Usually architects perform above average in one of these three areas, but it’s important not to stop there but to develop a profound understanding on a subtopic of that domain.
When it comes to design, it could be deep knowledge of high-rise building design, or a particular affinity to designing large urban developments and urban design.
Within the domain of technical expertise, it could be a particular strength in detailing facades, or having expert knowledge on sustainable design.
And under the rubric of communication and management, it could be excellent project management and people management skills that make a difference.
In my experience, the more someone is able to highlight their specialization, the more attractive they become to a potential employer or client.
The key is to go from ‘I’m an architect (and I can do a bit of everything)’ to ‘I’m an architect and I specialize in ________’.
My Journey to Improving My Architectural Skills
To give you more color with my personal experience: My strength has always been in the area of design. I’ve always loved coming up with concepts and telling a convincing, engaging story. And I enjoyed exploring design options and formal finesse. But that wouldn’t set me apart from any other architect out there! So I decided to double down and improve my architecture skills in computational design in particular and became an expert working with Rhino and Grasshopper. I can’t stress enough how much of a difference this made in my professional career. Through profound knowledge in this single subdomain my designs improved from good to outstanding. And on top of that it opened doors to many new career opportunities.
If you are looking for a practical way to take your architecture skills to the next level by becoming an expert in computational design, check out my course Grasshopper Pro. I designed this beginner-to-advanced course in parametric design specifically to help architects like you enhance their design abilities and to boost their careers with the prized skill of computational design.
In the course, you’ll embark on an immersive learning journey that combines practical knowledge with hands-on exercises. Improving your architecture skills requires more than just theoretical concepts. That’s why my course offers a blend of engaging video lessons, and real-world case studies that allow you to apply what you’ve learned in a practical context.
As a professional architect with over a decade of experience working at Snøhetta, one of the world’s leading architecture firms, I know how computational design is used in professional architectural practice, and I share everything I’ve learned in the course, so you can get to work right away.
So, if you’re ready to unlock your full potential, expand your skillset, and make a lasting impact in the world of architecture, join my online course today. Check out our website, enroll now, and embark on a transformative journey towards becoming an architect with extraordinary skills.
The Bottom Line
If you are reading this article, you already have one of the most important ingredients necessary to improve your architecture skills: the ambition to get better! By gaining clarity about where your current skill levels are, and which domain of the architectural profession you are most naturally drawn to, you can focus your efforts and improve your skills most effectively.
By now, you understand the importance of design thinking and creativity, technical proficiency, and communication, leadership, and management skills in the field of architecture. These skills are the building blocks that will set you apart and propel your career to new heights.
But don’t stop there! Find the area within architecture that you are most passionate about and become an expert on the topic, by honing your craft, or by studying the topic deeply. This specialized skill will allow you to stand out and to gain visibility in the competitive world of architecture.
And speaking of acquiring new skills, check out my online course that teaches Grasshopper for Rhino. It’s the perfect opportunity to enhance your design capabilities, with an in-demand skill.
I hope this article has provided you practical guidance to elevate your abilities as an architect. I wish you the very best in your journey to improve your architecture skills!
Dream big, work smart, and never give up!