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Thread: Planning careers with a B.Arch (transition from architect to planner)

  1. #1
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    Planning careers with a B.Arch (transition from architect to planner)

    Hi everyone, i'm new to this site and have really enjoyed reading all the great advice in this forum. I have a question regarding a career change into urban planning and design, and was hoping anyone could offer some advice.

    Does having an architecture degree help or hinder people with jobs in urban planning? Has anyone transitioned from an architecture firm to an urban planning & design firm?

    I graduated with a B.Arch degree from Syracuse architecture last May, and have been working at a very large new york firm for a year. I'm frustrated with the work, and since graduation I have realized that a career in urban planning best fits my skills and would be far more fulfilling for me personally. Rather than continuing down a career track that would be less fulfilling, I hope to make a transition to this related field while I am still young.

    I would like to make a transition from an architect career track to urban planner, but I am unsure if I would be qualified for an entry level position at a planning firm. I've worked at several architecture firms as an intern/junior architect, but never in a planning office. Has anyone made this transition?

    Thanks in advance for any responses!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    One of my clients (a municipality) has an entry-level planner who has a BArch, worked for a year, and then went back to earn his MUP. He was much more interested in learning about the bigger picture. I started college in architecture but was sick and tired of designing everything within building envelopes, which is why I switched to planning (and will eventually go for an MLA).

    Having a BArch under your belt will open many doors for you, whether you choose to stay in architecture or go into allied professions like planning. My mentor has a BArch and an MUP. He is licensed as an architect, but has spent his long career primarily on the planning side. Because BArch's are typically more technical degrees that are held to a high standard (for licensure) I think you can earn an interview for planning jobs by virtue of that degree: you have demonstrated your abilities by going through a rigorous program of study. People with a non-technical degree (such as planning) will have more luck earning planning interviews by earning an MUP. Although, as you probably have read on other threads, you can also get your foot in the door in planning with other degrees such as a BUP, geography degrees, economics, etc. It's just a question of being at the right place at the right time.

    To earn the letter of offer for a planning position, regardless of your previous training, you really have to hit home with how you bring your skills (in this case, architecture) to the table and how you meet the needs of the potential employer in a way that is better than everyone else. One of the reasons I dropped out of architecture was, again, because architecture did not look at the bigger picture (like planning or LA would).

    Ask yourself how does your architecture experience contribute to planning methods. Some areas to consider:

    How does your understanding of building materials make you the best code enforcement officer?

    How does your experience with lighting, roof pitches, and screening unsightly antenneas on roofs help you understand good design.

    ***Do you know how to read an ordinance? This is the biggest problem I have encountered with reviewing architectural plans. Most, but not all, architects do not know how to design according to the

    (1) standards adopted in the planning documents (zoning ordinance, subdivision ordinance, international building code, even the comprehensive plan) and
    (2) the interpretation of the ordinance established by the decision makers (the plan commision, city council, etc). If you work on the consulting side, communities might have the same exact set of adopted planning documents, but they are intepreted very differently.

    Bottom line, I think you can do planning with a BArch and not even need to go to back to school for an MUP. However, you have to sell your architectural background in a way that meets the planning needs of your potential employer.

    Hope this helps-

  3. #3
    Cyburbian MazerRackham's avatar
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    I know several planners with Architecture degrees. Of course, they are mostly employed in urban design or historic preservation. If one of those areas of practice suit you, an entry level position should be well within your wheelhouse. There's only one way to find out...submit some applications and see if you get any nibbles!

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    Thanks for all the responses. Finding a way to market the skills I've learned from working as an architect is great advice!

    To continue this discussion, what are some of the differences and similarites between an entry-level architect and an entry-level planner? I'm unsure as to the role of the entry level planner in the office, their responsibilities and typical work. Is is mostly representational (drawing, modeling) or analytical?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by JTMack View post
    Thanks for all the responses. Finding a way to market the skills I've learned from working as an architect is great advice!

    To continue this discussion, what are some of the differences and similarites between an entry-level architect and an entry-level planner? I'm unsure as to the role of the entry level planner in the office, their responsibilities and typical work. Is is mostly representational (drawing, modeling) or analytical?
    One, or both, or neither.

    http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos057.htm
    http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos038.htm

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