Bah Humbug!

This post is part of a coalition of architects posting on a single topic, each interpreting it in their own way, known as Architalks. This month the topic is your “Mentorship”



This is the kind of the topics I hate.  Architecture bloggers are going to write long posts about their favorite mentors, or plug a local professional organization’s mentorship program, or possibly elaborate on how wonderful their office structures their learning.

Blah, blah, blah…

You know who you greatest mentor is?


You’re going to come across many, many mentors in your career, and not a single one of them will do anything for you if you aren’t in the right mindset.  And that has nothing to do with your company structure, the AIA or a Tony Robbins seminar.

Here’s what you need to do.  From the moment you started school, you’ve been training for this moment.   Don’t screw it up by trying to pretend you’re an architect.  Follow these steps:

  1.   Shut up.  No really.  For about two years.  That brilliant idea you have about completely revolutionizing the project design?  We tried that 15 years ago when you were still in grade school so seriously, shut up.
  2.  Sit down.   That’s right this is just like kindergarten.  How do you expect to learn anything if you’re up walking around and talking all the time?
  3.   Listen.  Become a sponge.  Absorb everything.  Make notes, do sketches, attend seminars, visit architecture, take pictures.  But every time you think about interjecting, don’t, refer to lesson no. 1.
  4.   Ask questions.  Lots of questions.  Good questions.  Insightful questions.  Not questions that are redundant, or that make you proud you were so smart to ask them but questions that actually help you learn something.
  5.  Find answers.  Questions are extremely important, but don’t treat people like they are your own personal Google or a substitute for a code book.
  6. Work hard.  Architecture is never a 40 hour a week prospect.  Expect the best opportunities to come when you offer to help outside your normal 8 hours.
  7. Work smart. Value isn’t measured in time.  It’s measured in production.  If you kill it in 40 hours, go home.  They’ll notice and be proud.  If you destroy yourself by being up there all weekend, and get the same done as the person killing it in 40, you may lose your job.
  8. Teach yourself. Architect learning is better when it’s autodidactic.  If you’ve ever said “I want to own my own firm,” this had better be your most accomplished skill.

In most cases you’re going to have high’s and lows in your career, good and bad firms, successful and tragic experiences.  Your mentorship isn’t anyone’s responsibility but yours.  You need to find a good firm.  You need to associate with the people, the projects and the techniques that help refine your skills.  You need to find way to contribute and grow and become valuable.

You are your best mentor.


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Check out the other bloggers who have written on this topic:

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
This is NOT Mentorship

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
ArchiTalks: Mentorship

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Mentors, Millennials and the Boomer Cliff

Mark R. LePage - EntreArchitect (@EntreArchitect)

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
ArchiTalks: Mentorship

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
teach them the way they should go: #architalks

Jes Stafford - MODwelling (@modarchitect)

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Bad Mentor, Good Mentor

Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
The Top 3 Benefits for Architects to Mentor and to be Mentored

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
I've got a lot to learn

Emily Grandstaff-Rice - Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia)
Gurus, Swamis, and Other Architectural Guides

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept)
The Lonely Mentor

Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Advice From My Mentor

Jeffrey Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Mentoring with Anecdotes vs. Creating a Culture of Trust

Samantha R. Markham - The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
Why every Aspiring Architect needs SCARs

Nisha Kandiah - ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
Mentorship : mend or end ?

Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Mentor5hip is...

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
My Mentor

Tim Ung - Journey of an Architect (@timothy_ung)
5 Mentors that are in my life

Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)

Gabriela Baierle-Atwood - Gabriela Baierle-Atwood (@gabrielabaierle)
On Mentorship

Ilaria Marani - Creative Aptitude (@creaptitude)



06 2017
  • Bob Borson

    This is all well and good unless you are an idiot as worst, or gullible/naive at best. There’s nothing wrong with aligning yourself with someone who can be a sounding board for what you are already thinking about – and mentorship does not abdicate personal responsibility and individual ownership in the process.

    … but we all know that you can be cranky from time to time

  • Jonathan Brown

    Of course I’m cranky. I admit that at the open. I ain’t Cratchit in this scenario.

    You’re right, clearly. And maybe this advice is more for the self motivated than those who need a nudge. That said, none of what I said precludes your premise. I have many people I consider mentors. In our office alone, Mellisa Joesef taught me how to think like a designer and not a self serving idealogue, Mark Wolf taught me how to focus intently on what a client really needs from their architect (see previous post on advocacy), Carl Malcolm taught me that codes are only restrictive if you think linearly, Paul Woods taught me the critical importance of understanding construction before you even have a chance at design, and John Schrader taught me that good design, while it’s more work, is always more fun than bad design. Just a few examples.

    But there was no structure that facilitated this, no team building lunches, no trips to the AIA, no pep talks. I sought them out. I worked hard. I listened to what they said and remembered. I practiced. I made mistakes. But I learned. I refined my craft. So that is my advice.

  • Bob Borson

    the keys words in my comment (amongst the many) were “what you are already thinking about”

    Mentors are not there to tell you what to do or how to behave – their role is to provide support and guidance. This is what I like to think of as empowering people to make decisions for themselves.

  • Ilaria

    Despite once a teacher told me that “the ones who are arrogant and obstinate have the chance to be big architects” I don’t believe that. Nobody likes pretentious people.
    I would add “be modest”.
    You need to be modest to be able to really listen an learn.
    Plus – at the very end – you need to learn how to be a good vendor!

  • Jonathan Brown

    I honestly believe to succeed at architecture, you have to check your ego at the door. We work in coalition with other architecture firms on an array of projects and if we both brought unalterable egos to the meetings it would be an incredible disservice to our clients, and the design would inevitably suffer. The same is true within a firm. That said, knowing what you don’t know is the first hurdle, and that can take people a while to get. The note on modesty is true as well, and maybe I should have included the notions of patience, because these things come. Listening for two years sounds like an eternity for a fresh grad, but I can honestly look back on my first two years our of school and say I shouldn’t have been talking, I should have been listening and observing more. And it really isn’t that long. Be an apprentice before you think you’re already a journeyman.

  • Jonathan Brown

    Agreed. That matches what I meant by noting “You need to associate with the people, the projects and the techniques that help refine your skills.”

  • Ilaria

    I agree with you. Best designs are made in team, and a good team is made of open minded people who are willing to listen and help and for whom the first goal is the design. After all your design isn’t “yours” – unless you aren’t designing your own home – it’s made for someone else. To please someone else’s requests and needs. There’s no place for ego.