Dear Matthew: I am feeling frustrated carrying out someone else’s design

QUESTION: These past three years I have been working for a medium sized practice, an office I started at because I really respected their work. But the things that attracted me here have disappeared. Good jobs dropped off, i was given a pay cut, then i was put on really uninteresting projects. I know there is a recession on, but they don’t seem to care about quality. I know i am a good designer, and feel like I am in a different office from the one I signed up to, and I could do it much better; I also don’t see why I should do my own filing. Should I stay and hope things get better?



Dear Matthew says: I would say one thing is clear: focus on the difference between short term frustrations, and long term aims.


Other than being underwhelmed with your office, it’s not particularly clear where you want to see yourself down the line. Do you want to be running a practice? Do you prefer the security of a salary? An idea of what you want will help you turn your attitude from passive exasperation to be positive, and career enhancing.


You could well be right that your practice is run badly. In these hard times, a lot of practices out there are struggling with demoralisation. But remember, there may well be a bigger picture you don’t come into contact with. Who knows what sacrifices your bosses may have taken over these past years; they are most likely taking on projects that maybe aren’t the most exciting not by choice, but to keep your (albeit reduced) salary going out. You might be surprised to find they might well be earning less than you! From what you say, it sounds to me they aren’t treating you so badly.


Perhaps your expectations are at the heart of this. Architectural education ill-prepares us for the realities of our profession, I think tragically, and irresponsibly. People can excel through the long years of studies compounding an idealised view of the architect’s daily work, concentrating on only one set of skills and disdaining others. Perhaps because the profession has traditionally been peppered with people with money behind them, the illusion is there that if you are a good designer you will succeed. Unfortunately its a bit more complex than that.


Of course, there is nothing wrong with feeling you can do it better than them - many people go it alone in your situation. That is great, and I certainly don’t want to discourage you, but make that decision with your eyes open. Don’t fall in the trap of thinking that being your own boss automatically means you will be able to devote more time to designing better projects - in order to financially succeed in architectural practice, some would say you need almost to minimise the time designing and maximise all the things you maybe don’t currently rate - managing, promotion, negotiation, etc. Getting to do great architecture needs much more than being a good designer - for example, interpersonal skills can be more valuable. And at the start you will almost certainly have to do your own filing!


I am not saying stick with a practice you don’t respect. But maybe now is the time to watch and learn from your bosses business decisions, improve your skills and get a clearer idea of where you want to go next.