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Globalisation has brought with it many things: the ability to travel, to recognise familiarity in any city, and, most importantly for us, to create trans-continental opportunity in design. It has created a platform for young professionals that no other generation has been fortunate enough to encounter at this scale. If you want to be a ‘global architect’, to chase the award-winning projects, to work side by side with inspiring people, to learn from them and be amongst those at the top of their game, you have to be proactive and seek these people out; in essence, you have to be willing to be mobile.
Relocating for a career is not for everyone and not without risks (those will be covered later); however, having the opportunity to travel to a new city and learn a new skill set is an amazing experience we were both fortunate and proactive enough to capitalise upon. If that’s the kind of experience you seek, then maybe being a global architect is right for you. Read on to know for sure.
Why do you want to move?
Being in a position to uproot ourselves and move across the globe, to immerse yourself in another culture, is something we as Australians are both passport-fortunate and well-attuned to doing. But it’s also not for everyone. Before you entertain the idea, you need to realistically evaluate what you will gain from being global. What is also essential, is what can you bring to the table; what is your value. An internal professional SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) can help. You need to be realistic about where you can learn the most, be of value, where your experience level is at, and whether you, professionally can and want to progress from this experience. Establishing your own design ethos and where this can best grow is key. If you’re not realistic, it really is just a holiday.
Where do you start?
Being mobile in any profession is critical, but positioning yourself in one of the design epi-centres is crucial. Once you decide where you would like to become a global architect you need to do your research at home. Start with visas, compare your skills and experience to that of your chosen city, work out how to make yourself marketable to a foreign employer, understand your comparative salary in that market (there are many online sites for the US job market), and look for career openings – is the architecture profession in that city growing? Are local firms winning large commissions? Is there a lot of new construction going on? Do you know people or have a network there? Our advice is simple: do your research and be realistic.
Another piece of advice: make sure to attain your Architecture Registration. It acts as a basis for foreign employers to understand your experience in relation to their own country’s standards.
However, there’s only so much you can accomplish at home. Don’t expect a foreign employer to consider you if you are not there on the ground. If that means relocating on a tourist visa for months on end, then you do that – we and many others we know went through that tense experience and the majority have come out successfully the other side.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t contact every person in your network who lives in your prospective city to ask for advice – this should be the first thing you do – but do not expect these opportunities to come to you. Be ready for what the foreign employer may ask for in an interview, research and really understand the types of visas you will require and the paperwork needed (a simple Google search will reveal this), not all firms use immigration lawyers and if you don’t know the answers it shows a level of unpreparedness. Create a well-articulated resume sensitive to the local expectations and protocol (US prefer one page summary) and work on a strong portfolio (usually digital). Be prepared, that comes from research, don’t expect someone else to have the answers.
Having a diversified portfolio is unequivocally a good thing. Having skills that speak to experience on projects from different regions? That’s a great thing. Working as a global Architect also expands one’s opportunity for travel, which in turn results in increased exposure to diversified urban and regional topographies. It means our networks are increased, our web presence larger, with more expendable influence at reach. Being a global architect makes us better designers, better thinkers; our eyes are opened. The experiences you can have, what you can learn, who you can meet, who you can work for, hear, speak, and meet at an industry event can seem unfathomable. They’re not. They happen.
Last month, at a public lecture in NYC, Richard Meier and his partners spoke of their 50 years in practice and expressly highlighted the importance of being global, being mobile and the value of a diversified portfolio. Their advice was that the global Architect is no different to a business model. You become a self-managed entity, but the pragmatics are essentially no different. You place importance on growing networks, experience and reputation. The value of being mobile is a large part of this. If you can chase it, you can catch it; you can be amongst great work.
In every job there are risks, and some of these are amplified by being in a foreign city. Job loss and redundancy are probably the most frightening given our distance from ‘home’. For example: our work visas contain a caveat that if we lose our jobs we have 10 days to leave the country. Also, in the US, you can be fired at any time, no warning. You cannot let these things paralyse you. Without risk there is no reward. Of course you will need to learn local law, building codes, protocol, new units of measure (potentially) and office culture and expectations, but these are all minor to the prospective growth and experiences to come from the opportunity, these are just part of the everyday for the global architect.
It is not for everyone
Being a global Architect isn’t for everyone. Yes, if your experiences, professional projection and ambition align with buying the one-way ticket, then go for it. But if you’re passionate about growing your current soil, reaping the opportunities in your front yard, then do that too. Momentum needs to happen everywhere. And it needs to be maintained everywhere. While some Australians are looking to get US experience, some Americans are looking to get European/Asian/South American experience. This is a good thing. We all benefit. As the pace of development in one area slows, it is ramping up somewhere else. Opportunity exists everywhere; it just means these opportunities are manifested in different forms, driven predominantly by pace and type of work. Once you know what you want, and where you are best aligned, you can and should choose your seat. Buckle up.
You don’t know everything
The most humbling part of exposing ourselves to a new way of doing things is realising we don’t know everything. Seeing other local and international architects approach a situation from a completely different perspective reflective of their own education and experience is such an amazing way to learn. We are here to learn and to continue learning, that is intrinsic to human nature and we have both been extremely fortunate to be exposed to some of the world’s most respected and knowledgeable architects and designers who have shown us alternative pathways to gain the experiences that drove us to become global architects in the first place.
Moving into a new world engages you in a way you do not quite comprehend until you are immersed in it, commuting and complaining about it. As a global Architect, you come to realise that the way design solutions are sought, aesthetics comprehended and design meetings are conducted, are the same anywhere in the world, bar some nuances. Learning those nuances is key. Learning the language of these nuances will also make you better able to articulate your design story. You can be exposed to some great project opportunities and make valuable global networks. We think the idea of the global Architect isn’t crazy at all. It makes a whole lot of sense. For us, the answer solidly remains: ‘why not?’ Herzog or Zaha won’t come to you; you have to go to them. And we are glad we did.
Philippa Weston is an Australian Registered Architect with considerable experience in the US, Australia, Asia, and Latin America. Pippa completed her M.Arch at the University of Adelaide in 2008, gained her registration in 2010 and relocated to the US in 2011. Currently, Pippa is based in New York as a Project Manager and Architect for M.E Architects, previously having worked for world-renowned architect Robert. A. M. Stern. Her practice focuses predominantly on high-end multi-residential developments, private boutique residential and hospitality / retail spaces.
Bronwyn Marshall currently works as a Designer and Architect at an International Design Firm in New York, after relocating in early 2013 from Melbourne. She has been a Registered Architect in Australia since 2011, graduated with both M.Arch and B.Comm from the University of Adelaide and has been working in practice since 2007. She has worked for medium to large scale design firms and her experience spans boutique high-end residential, public architecture, master-planning,commercial, industrial, health, hospitality and education projects. She has collaborated with numerous architects throughout Australia, Asia and the United States. She also writes regularly for Minimalissimo as an Editor.
‘Should You Become a Global Architect?’ by Philippa Weston and Bronwyn Marshall was first published at ArchDaily on 7 February 2014.