The future is bright

Some of you may know I’ve been unsatisfied with my current job, and I’ve been seeking an opportunity where I’d be challenged, and my experience and skills as a project architect/PM lite would be utilized to its full capacity. The ideal position I was seeking is long term with growth, structured, and supportive of my professional endeavors.

18 months later, I am happy to report that I am resigning and joining a reputable architecture practice. They specialize in high-end residences. Their work is quality and of high standards. The finished projects are beautiful. They have a great attitude towards compensating and rewarding employees for their hard work and contributions. I am ecstatic to be part of their team!

Upon receiving the job offer, my whole being lit up. I felt the heavy shackles break and drop to the rotting wood floor. I was freed! The dark cloud that has been hovering over me for the last 18 months dissipated like the sun appearing after a storm. In fact, I think the afternoon sun was shining over the building across from our office and into my corner when I read the good news. I could see the path to my future again, and it is bright!

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One year anniversary

It’s been a trying year for me. Though I’ve been fortunate enough to land this current job (since last year) and still have it, I wonder if I might have been better off had I not accepted the position?

The work is not interesting. I’m not gaining useful professional experience. I work with an architect who has little or no interest in designing. He’s only interested in being the few who is providing a service that no other architects are interested in taking on. He has convinced gullible clients that he is connected to authorities with power to approve projects. The truth is, he has no influence over these bureaucratic figures. He may know them and he may have a rapport with them but his familiarity with these people has not by passed the bureaucracy machine of getting projects approved. He also wants to churn out work based on a template or standard drawing information.

He also relies on an individual in the office who has no degree or passion for architecture. He may have experience but he’s not inspirational. He’s not fit to lead nor does it seem like he has an interest in taking on more responsibility than what he’s accustomed to, which is not working with others.

I try to stay positive but it gets more and more difficult. There’s just no hope for this office, or for the people who strive to be architects. This is not where architects are made.

I’m professionally stunted, and that’s not good. Time moves on. Each year I’m not working on a new construction project is another year wasted. I’m not pleased that I’m venting this out but I am so frustrated.

However, I’m not without a means of escape, or at the very least – trying to create opportunities for myself that may lead to a better future.

One year later, part 2

As I mentioned in my last post, I was made redundant towards the end of September in 2010. I was hopeful about 2011 and my prospects of returning to work within the second quarter. But the reality of the economic situation continued to be harsh. As autumn approached, I was starting to get depressed.

And then one day I received an email requesting an interview. There was something prospective about this email because the architect contacted me a day after I sent in my resume. The other interviews that I went on were arranged weeks and months after I responded to the job listings. I had a good feeling about this one.

The interview went well and in fact, the architect was familiar with a couple of former employers, and a project I had worked on. He explained to me the type of projects that the office does, which clarified some of the projects I noticed on the website. At the end of the interview, the architect advised me to take a day to think it over and to send him an email of my interest and then a second interview would be set up.

I didn’t really need to think it over. It was employment; an opportunity to return to an architectural office environment. A second interview was set up the same week. An offer was made. I accepted, and I started on Monday.

I’m glad to be back at work, and thankful to have this opportunity as there are many others who are still unemployed. I was plucked out from hundreds who have applied for the same position, and the architect hired me.

I feel whole again and to be a contributing member of society. The next step, becoming a license architect.

Times are tough, part 1

I’ve been without full-time employment for almost a year. I had a few freelance and commissioned projects to keep me occupied during that time, which was good but I wanted to return to full-time work.

The job hunt was exhausting and discouraging. Even though there were opportunities listed in the classifieds, there were few call backs. The lack of response after I had submitted my resume was discouraging especially when the position I applied for was re-listed weeks later.

It is an employer’s market. The search for the right candidate has to not only be experienced with specific project types but they must be proficient with many computer software skills especially as it pertains to 3D modeling and BIM. Employers were also seeking candidates who did not require assistance or training.

I went on a few interviews that did not result in job offers. One interview turned out to be a freelance position with the possibility to become full-time even though the position was advertised as a full-time position. When I asked, he did not give me a duration of when the position would be offered as FT. Instead, the architect told me it would be a quick decision because it was about how people got on with each other. That made no sense to me and I had a feeling the architect was not being honest about the employment situation. The architect who i interviewed with explained he had joined the architectural practice (I was interviewing at), and was bringing in retail projects. There was a potential project that was coming in that he needed help with. What appealed to me about this position was the opportunity to work on diverse projects, which included new construction.

My last unsuccessful interview took place in the summer. The position was for a project architect that was experienced in hospitality, retail, and residential – particularly in new construction. The architect who I interviewed with seemed pleasant and sincere but the conversation that took place was discouraging. In fact, it was discouraging from the start when he sent me an email to set up an interview four months after i originally submitted my resume.

The architect explained why he was hiring and his expectations. He had relieved his project architect who he had hired three months ago. The architect claimed it wad a mutual agreement. He further explained the project architect could not handle the demands and stress of the job.

I was still interested in the opportunity after he explained the position and his expectations, and despite the conversation having turned into putting doubts in my head about what I wanted to pursue with my architectural career. I had vented about this on Twitter, and I appreciated those who paid attention and share their thoughts.

Two things annoyed me about that particular interview. I did not appreciate the architect making assumptions about my architectural career. Or rather, he did not appreciate some of my project accomplishments and career decisions. And although we discussed my professional history, and explained I wasn’t where I wanted to be career wise because of circumstances that were not in my control – canceled projects.

I also did not appreciate how he handled our conversation when it turned to salary requirements. I am aware that we are in an economic slump and the value of money is not the same. He even explained that clients are not paying architectural fees for the same services provided a few years ago. Fees are getting smaller but the amount of work is the same and it needed to be done in less billable time. I was prepared to take a salary reduction if the right opportunity came along. And although this architect had informed me he could not pay my salary request, he was not prepared with a figure of what he would be able to offer. It made me wonder if he had any intentions of offering me the position.

These are difficult times, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better any time soon. Just recently, a friend who is an engineer was made redundant. It’s not a good sign that people continue getting laid off let alone not being able to find employment in this terrible economy. Many recent grads are also having trouble finding work, too. In this market, we are over saturated with architects of various experiences.

It seems landing a job has more to do with chance, luck, and skill – in that order. You have to imagine that employers who list a position to fill are inundated with resumes in their emails. They have to print them and read through them. Sometimes they don’t even bother. When they do single out the few to interview, it’s because something in the resume caught their attention.

I was fortunate enough to have grabbed an architect’s attention.

…to be continued…

Freelance project: Completed

I completed my first freelance project last month. This project was through a former employer. It was for a commercial fit out with massive storage facilities. I was brought in to do the construction administration, a talent which I have developed over the years. It wasn’t a challenging project but a good project to test the waters of freelancing.

The experience of sort of returning to work for a former employer was a mixed one. Returning to the office and having to work in that environment was familiar and at the same time disappointing. Everything was as I had left it except a bit more cluttered. My desk was still vacant, and the computer was useless so I had to desk hop around to complete my tasks. I thought the lack of preparedness on their part was unprofessional and disrespectful.

The project itself went smoothly and completed without complications. The client/tenant was pleased with the finished product. As I mentioned, the project was a commercial fit out with storage facilities. The original raw high ceiling space was drastically transformed to a bright and well lit office space that had splashes of color. I was pleased with the colors and finishes. I missed these moments where you spend each week looking at rough construction and then comes the day when you walk onto a pleasing finished space. A smile would overtake my face. A feeling of pride would sweep over me, and I would be happy, almost giddy.

I can certainly see myself doing more freelance work although perhaps keeping it specifically to construction administration, and I would pursue this service with new architectural practices. I’ll have to see if there is a demand to do just construction administration. If you know anybody in the NYC area who needs help with construction administration on projects, let me know. I may even entertain working abroad if the fee is right.

Thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment if you are compelled to share your freelance experience or comment about mine.

A prelude…

During the last 6 months since being unemployed, I have put together cover letters with my resume and samples of my work to various job postings that I found or forwarded to me by friends. I knew getting hired during these economic times was not going to be easy. There is competition for these positions and employers are seeking a candidate that can do it all! I also noticed many positions seeking freelance architects. I kept an open mind about being a freelance architect and sought out advice and tips from architects via Twitter. In February, I accepted a small project with a previous employer to test the waters at being a freelancer. It has been an interesting experience, which I will share when the project is completed.

photo by Maxime Perron Caissy found on Stock.XCHNG

Soon after taking on a project as a freelancer, I was approached with two commissions. One is a graphic design project, and the other is a small residential interiors project. I am excited about both these projects for more than obvious reasons, which I will expand on in a future post.

I’ve also reconnected with a former colleague and friend, a great guy. When we used to work together, he was one of the people who developed an AutoCAD and drawing organization and standards that I continue to use today. He is currently, an “expert” on Revit. He teaches the program at various institutions and works for one of the large corporate architectural offices. If anybody is going to help me to accept and embrace Revit, he is that person. After speaking with him about, I have become more open-minded about the new architectural documentation platform.

In addition to trying to find a full-time position, I have been lending some of my time to giving back to the community. I volunteer at the Museum of Chinese in America. You may have read one of my posts about the current special exhibit, Chinese Puzzles. The post I wrote was of my own will. I was not influenced, solicited, or asked by MoCA. I recently met Wei Zhang and Peter Rasmussen, the curators and owners of the Chinese Puzzles exhibit who, on their own, found my post on the fascinating exhibit about Chinese puzzles. They were appreciative of my post on the exhibit, and complimented on the photography. In fact, they liked my photographs of the exhibit and of the puzzles, that they have asked me to do additional photography for them. I was flattered but you can imagine how pleased I was, too. I can add photographer as part of my repertoire of creative experience and skills.

I still want to return to a full-time position at an architectural practice but I am more than pleased to have these wonderful opportunities to develop as a self-employed architect/designer. This has been a long time coming, I suppose. I have considered it but always as moonlighting, though. It is a wonder to me how life seems unexpected at times. One minute, you’re just going about your life, your daily routine. The next minute, you find yourself lost and wondering what to do to pass the time productively. Without realizing it, the little things that you do in life and the what you say to people have an effect. And that effect has been positive for me. It has opened my eyes and my mind about possibilities, about my life, my career path. These events has helped me to realize that I can live a life that is not routine and traditional. I am curious to see how this new life as an independent architect/designer develops and how long it will last. I suppose it doesn’t really matter. I’m in it for the ride and will go where it takes me. I hope you will ride shotgun with me?

**Disclaimer: I know I referred myself as an architect but please note that I have not acquired my license yet but I don’t want to deny my professional training and experience.**

Freelance architect

Based on what I have observed in the job listings for architects, it seems that the economy is starting to pick up. That’s great news! However, I noticed that many of these positions are seeking freelance architects. Despite the economy beginning to bounce back from the brink of collapse, many architecture practices do not seem confident in the economy. I don’t blame them for being cautious.

And it seems there are many freelance architects who are filling the need for temporary help while we recover from the economic and financial havoc that we have experienced for the last couple of years. The idea of being a freelance architect does not excite me however, if this is going to be the employment trend, I can not be inflexible about these employment opportunities. Understanding that this may be my future, I inquired with a few architects via Twitter about their experiences and advice. Below were some concerns and questions I had about being a freelance architect followed with responses from those who are freelance architects and self-employed architects. These architects who were kind enough to share their experiences are from the US, UK, and Canada.

One of my concerns was the type of work freelance architects would be offered. I suspect that if you are not part of the office (a full-time employee), then you would be given the less desirable parts of a project but that’s not necessarily true.

@architectmark: @lafemmearchitct #Askarch i tend not to work freelance 4 other architects (i’d b quite happy 2);I think sometimes Arch R possessive over proj

@Ask_Architect: @lafemmearchitct#freelance for other #architects sometimes – work can be anything from small parts to assistant/project arch#askarch

I was curious about why some architects became freelancers and I was surprised that many want to as opposed to a result of current economic circumstances.

@jdg_architect: @lafemmearchitct But because I want to ! I am my own boss, I have a few good, returning clients.
@jdg_architect: @lafemmearchitct Freelance fits best what I want now. I had a full-time position before. I quitted.

@simplybrinn: @lafemmearchitct both – Layoff last June, offered contract work w/the pools, supplement w/additional freelance for consistency.

In inquiring about being a freelance architect, a couple of the architects explained that the freelance opportunities were offered through previous employers and/or friends (who are also architects), and seems to work out for these architects.
@Ask_Architect: @lafemmearchitct so far just freelancing 4 past employers & best friend so all very open & collaborative #AskArch@architectmark
@jdg_architect@lafemmearchitct I also have a good friend which manage his own architecture practice (with employees) that happen to have work overflow from time to time.

The most important concern I had about being a freelance architect is the duration of work, rate, and payments. And this is where architects offered great advice.

@ShropsArchitect: @lafemmearchitct most of my freelance work is hourly. One may go to fixed fee as its a large role 4 big project #AskArch
@ShropsArchitect: @lafemmearchitct treat #freelance#architect work much as u might working 4 a client. brief appointment contract etc#AskArch

@ronestudioarch: @lafemmearchitct #freelance – be sure your contract outlines ONLY those services you will provide – no wiggle room – always get retainer

@architectmark: @lafemmearchitct make sure your agreement/contract for the services you’re providing is clear,especially payment!#AskArch

@simplybrinn: @lafemmearchitct that works – just agree on a payment timeline (1x/week, etc) & deliverables. Get a contract signed @ronestudioarch
@simplybrinn: @lafemmearchitct @ronestudioarch One way: estimate your time, charge a % of the total price; collect the (adjusted) balance upon completion

@jdg_architect: @lafemmearchitct I do set my hours, work from my office but meet at theirs and respect their schedule.
@jdg_architect: @lafemmearchitct keep in mind that it’s more expensive for architects to hire freelancers over full time employes.

Of the advice that were being offered, requesting a retainer from your architect client was something I did not consider and I think it should be. And why not? It is standard practice for an architect to request a retainer from their client. It doesn’t hurt to ask, right?

@architectmark: @lafemmearchitct i normally work on a retainer basis as so many things can change (site purchase falling thru,divorce/split,floods #AskArch

@architectderek: YES RT @lafemmearchitct: Is it standard practice for #architects to ask/get a retainer from a client on a project?#AskArch
@architectderek: @lafemmearchitct A retainer is still a good idea if it’s the 1st time you’ve worked with someone.

@simplybrinn: @lafemmearchitct @ronestudioarchretainers minimize your risk (and headache) should you get a flaky client; doesn’t have to be huge

I want to thank all the architects for their time and advice on the subject of being a freelance architect. They have opened up my eyes to the benefits and possibilities of being a freelance architect. I like the idea of setting my work hours, perhaps getting paid more than what I would have normally gotten paid, be able to dedicated some time on personal projects, and eventually become an entrepreneur. Yes, I still have concerns about being a freelance architect but I think if I put myself in a position where I have some control over my time, pay, and work with architects who I am comfortable with, I can make it a positive and amicable experience.

I also want to give a big thanks to @AskArch, a wonderful resource for both architects and non-architects should you have questions about architecture, architects, and profession. Follow them on Twitter; or tune in every Friday 1:30 pm to 5:30 pm Western European time zone.

Are you a freelance architect? Or considering freelance work as an architect? Please leave any advice you would like to share or questions you may have. Thank you.