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Why I didn’t go work for my favorite architect

As a result of writing Architect This City, I’m fortunate enough to receive a lot of emails from random people. But I’m always open to meeting new people, and so I enjoy this very much.

One of the most common questions I get is from architects, and students of architecture, who want to know about transitioning over to real estate development. (Posts related to this topic also happen to be some of my most popular.)

So today I thought I would share a story with all of you about the one decision that ultimately lead me into real estate development.

When I started graduate architecture school, I already had inklings that I was going to get into development. That’s one of the main reasons why I went to Penn. I knew that I could concentrate in real estate and I knew that I could take courses over at the business school. And that’s exactly what I wanted to do.

But during my first year, I still wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to reconcile this dual interest. In fact, I remember feeling really conflicted. I loved architecture and design, but I also really enjoyed business and entrepreneurship. I was also interested in making money, and architecture isn’t often the best place to do that.

So for my first summer internship, I decided to apply to both architecture firms and to real estate developers. I was fortunate enough to be offered jobs in both. And on the architecture side, I actually got my top choice, which was the Bjarke Ingels Group in Copenhagen. To this day, Bjarke remains one of my favorite practicing architects.

But when I looked at the numbers, I quickly realized that real estate developers were prepared to pay me about 3x more than any architect would and that, if I were going to take an architecture job, I was going to end up going more in debt just to live throughout the summer.

While internships are often career loss leaders, I took this as a sign of things to come. This was a 10 or 20 year decision in my mind. And even though I loved architecture, I figured I would quickly fall out of love with it if I couldn’t pay my bills or live the lifestyle that I wanted.

So I accepted a real estate job and I moved to Dublin, Ireland for the summer to work for a small consultancy called Urban Capital (no relationship to the Toronto firm of the same name). And I haven’t looked back since.

This may not have been the right decision for some of you, but it was for me. So if you’re at a crossroads, my advice is always to think about where you’d ideally like to be in 10 or 20 years. Because once you establish that, it’ll become much easier to make that decision today.

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