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The coach: I’m sick of designing luxury housing when I can’t afford to buy a flat

Sad architect crop
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AJ careers expert Matthew Turner proposes alternative career paths for a London architect who services wealthy clients but receives inadequate wages

The summer holidays gave me the chance to reflect on what I am working for. I feel I am in the wrong game. I work tirelessly doing residential projects which turn people’s OK houses into incredible houses, increasing their property value by hundreds of thousands. In the meantime, I can barely afford to rent a flat, let alone buy a place. I’m not a revolutionary, but it’s a bit mad that I have professional qualifications and I cannot afford to live permanently in the same city I work in.

It is indeed a strange, and very painful, picture you paint of living in London today. The services of architects (in the residential market) are essentially a luxury, and so we are surrounded by clients with money, and it quickly dawns on us that money begets money. But you need to avoid panicking about societal and economic issues that you have no control over. Casting yourself as the victim is not going to help you personally - think about the micro as well as the macro.

Innovate, become business-savvy, find a niche

Move on, think through where your priorities lie. How about I set out three options: change career path and up your salary, be innovative, or leave. Step back and think about which of these feels most like you, and which you could work hard at making happen. After all, where there is a will, there is a way.

So what would these options look like? Remain in London, and perhaps find more remunerated work than being a traditional architect. Commercial practices pay more, or you could step towards dozens of construction-related careers that pay much more than architecture.

You could innovate, become business-savvy, become your own developer, find a niche - there are many ways people are working today to deliver interesting solutions within the property market. Or, if you think the writing is on the wall for continuing a career in architecture in London, then transpose yourself to live somewhere else, a city with a smaller pool of employers, but a lower cost of living.

What I have set out here is of course just a basic sketching of possibilities, not your actual choices. No one would say the challenges are small, but it is important to to avoid feeling like you are a rabbit in headlights. Aim to take control of your own destiny, and run towards something.

AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, tweet @TheAJcoach or email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com

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