Amazingly, summer is nearing its end; parents with their children are headed to back-to-school sales. And, this series is still growing strong. Highlighted below is my friend Ashley; since this profile in 2014, she is now a Principal with LandDesign having started as Manager – Marketing Communications.

Unlike some of the previous profiles, Ashley is within an architecture firm which shows you can pursue your “beyond architecture” career path without leaving the profession.

Perception Architect

Ashley Wood Clark, Associate AIA, LEED AP, SMPS, Marketing Manager
The FWA Group Architects
Charlotte, North Carolina

Why did you become an architect?

I often describe my ending up in architecture school as a complete accident. Architecture school was barely on my radar by my senior year of high school, but my calculus teacher encouraged me to look into it. After spending a day in a multi-disciplinary firm, I decided to apply. I was lucky to be accepted in late spring to the architecture program at University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC).

Why did you decide to choose the school, University of North Carolina at Charlotte?  What degree(s) do you possess?

This was the only architecture program I was accepted into, but I liked UNCC because it was a growing campus offering larger university amenities, with an architecture program that was small. I knew I would be in smaller class sizes with my major, but would have the opportunity to experience a larger university community. Coming from a small town and a small high school, this was a scenario that appealed to me. I received my Bachelor of Arts in Architecture and Bachelor in Architecture from UNC Charlotte, as it was a 5+1 Undergraduate program.

Figure 4.17 Middleton Place Plantation – Precedent Sketches of Thesis Project by Ashley Clark at University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

In your position as marketing manager, what are your primary responsibilities and duties?  Please describe a typical day.

My primary responsibilities include doing research for opportunities to pursue, making contacts with potential clients and consultants, keeping our written and graphic marketing collateral up to date, and managing our proposal process – this includes working with principals to determine what opportunities we will pursue, assembling the proposal document, coordinating with our consultant team and ensuring our submittal is clear, timely and representing our qualifications well. I also work with technical staff to maintain our website and social media efforts.

How and why did you pursue what might be considered a career path beyond architecture?  Do you still wish to become a licensed architect?

I am currently taking the ARE and plan to become licensed. Because I spent time working in architecture firms as an intern, I was able to complete my IDP hours and become eligible to sit for the exams. I do believe that if I continue in a role within a firm where I am involved in marketing, having my license gives me credibility with certain clients, and always gives me the option to go back to a more traditional role.

However, I do feel that marketing is much more aligned with my skills and interests, and see myself being more successful long term by sticking with a career that is focused on communication. During school, I would often stop working on the design of my projects so that I could focus more on designing my presentation for review, or focus more on my drawings. I just felt that if I had a well laid out presentation and was confident in what I was talking about, that I would have better reviews.  I believe it was this approach that was largely responsible for my receipt of the College of Architecture’s Book Award for Representation upon graduation.

For the past few years, you have been in leadership positions for the National Associates Committee of the AIA.  What are the challenges facing emerging professionals in the profession?

There are several easy ones we can all agree are present issues: The slow economy, the lack of retiring partners resulting in stagnant leadership and opportunity within firms, changing technology and whether architects are leveraging our skills in this area to take advantage…I could go on. But one problem I think needs more attention is all the mixed messages. While I am one that believes that career paths beyond architecture are one of the positive outcomes of an educational base that produces graduates with a number of skills that can be applied in a number of fields, many continue to focus on the fact that less graduates are pursuing traditional practice. While much of the dialogue about this focuses on whether licensure is too hard, or needs to be more accessible, I often question whether our definition of architect and what that means needs to change.

Also, what is leadership and how has it benefitted your career path?

I think that leadership is not being afraid to be different. I don’t naturally tend to think of myself as a leader, but when I think about the opportunities I’ve had and leadership positions I have held, I believe I ended up in them because I haven’t been afraid to stick to what I believe, and not fall victim to a lot of the stereotypes that exist in our profession.

Previously, you worked as an intern architect within an architecture firm.  How were these positions the same? different than your current one? 

As I transitioned into marketing positions, the opportunities for growth and to contribute to higher-level conversations within the firms I have worked for certainly increased, as has my income. However, I don’t feel as though the expectation to working late and over the weekend has been as prevalent. It certainly makes an easy case for pursuing careers beyond architecture, when you experience that shift first hand.

What skills did you gain from your architectural education, or working in the architecture industry, that have contributed to success in your current position?

Regardless of what I end up doing in my career, my architecture education will remain invaluable. The perspective you build, the processes you learn and the critical thinking and problem-solving abilities are applicable in so many ways.

I find that many architects respect and appreciate their marketing team, but often wish they better understood architects and architecture. What I have found to be beneficial is that I have knowledge of the value of architects because of my education and training, but that because communication and marketing are how I am applying my skills, it is a win-win for everyone.

What has been your greatest challenge as an architect?

My most prominent challenge has less to do with being an architect, but with being a woman. While I have had incredible opportunities as a young woman, I have also been subject to discrimination despite it. I believe we have made strides as a profession in attracting more females to our schools, but we are still not where we need to be to make a traditional career in architecture the best option for many women.

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