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“Construction is a very costly endeavor, costing hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars and it is a huge responsibility for architects to be the steward of that kind of money in the form of a building,” says Rosa Sheng, Senior Associate at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and Chair of Equity by Design. This huge responsibility along with the tremendous breadth and ever changing amount of technical knowledge that is required to be an architect and an education that conditions people to think that they are failures if they do not become starchitects often leads to confidence issues in architects, especially women and people of color.

To address this often overlooked issue in the profession, I have launched a series that showcases tips on how to gain confidence as an architect. I asked several women architect superstars for advice on this subject and will share what they said over a series of posts. Read the first installment here.

Today’s installment features Diane Jacobs, principal at Holly Street Studio Architects. Below are her 20 tips on how to build confidence as an architect:

  1. “Know who you are and who you are not.
  2. Everything you are comes with you to the drawing board: your heritage, your experiences, your talent, even your social disposition. Know that you will serve others best by tapping into your highest and best self. The trick is to know how to communicate and share this in a way that aligns with client and employers needs. When you are doing your best work everyone benefits and you will create a demand for your participation on project teams. When this is not available to you – embrace the things you are not particularly good at and work to master them so that at least you have a clear understanding and ‘voice of experience’ when you move on to what you are truly meant to do.
  3. Verbal/Written communication is as important as graphic communication.
  4. So many people have no idea what we are talking about half the time. If you can master the skill of connecting with others outside of our profession in a way that is inclusive and inspiring, you will allow for our best work as architects to come to fruition.
  5. Keep your eyes on the prize.
  6. Forget some of the day-to-day pettiness on projects coming from all directions: colleagues, contractors, clients which will inevitably be part of your work experience. Remember you are there to solve bigger problems and that in the end – most people remember a wonderful new place that was created – not the fact that you couldn’t make it into the studio on Sunday.
  7. Build your very own ‘A Team’.
  8. Collect a small handful of personal advocates, both near and far that know you for your strengths and love you for your spirit. These people could be from within and/or outside of the profession, and preferably outside of your place of employment. They could be family members or friends – with the sole purpose of distracting you from frustration and (with total honesty) reminding you of both your greatness and your highest purpose in life.
  9. Get good at/nourish something other than architecture.
  10. Learn to sail a boat, bake bread, throw ceramics, or sing in a choir. Most architects have multiple talents – jump into another one of yours and complete good work in much shorter time periods than it takes to watch a building go up. Its important to regularly see the fruits of all your labor.
  11. Help others thrive.
  12. You are in this together. Contribute to each person’s success on your team and you will find that your own success will multiply exponentially.
  13. Stay inspired by beauty – music, art, nature, etc.
  14. If you forgot why you love architecture, go see someone at the top of their craft. Remember you can be at the top of your craft too.
  15. Take very good care of yourself.
  16. Do not live at the studio. Run, walk, ride a bike, do yoga (or hang upside down at least once a week in some fashion). Eat well. Sleep well too. You are only a fraction of your best self when sleep deprived. No matter what some folks say, looking good really does matter – for both men and women.
  17. Teach.
  18. Even first year interns have something to offer. DON’T let anyone tell you otherwise – you have come a long way to be where you are. Volunteer at a middle school teaching sketching. Go to a kindergarten class with some play doe, bring your niece or nephew to the model shop for a preview of a model to come. You know so much already and people LOVE architecture + making things.
  19. Hang around other disciplines.
  20. Some of your best allies who ‘get it’ will be Landscape Architects, Engineers, Graphic Designers, and Builders. All of these folks generally love what they do, but face similar challenges. My mentor is an LArch and we share just enough to help each other see things with exceptional clarity and appreciation for the big picture.

Photo credit: Original art by the author.

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