ARCHITECTURE AND COMMUNITY PLANNING
Do you ever wonder what your career path will be? Of course, it is extremely difficult to forsee your future, but by reviewing the career of others, you gain a perspective for your own. Below is an essay from a former student who pursued a degree in architecture but combined it with one in community planning. Now, he is a principal in the firm of MV+A Architects.
My pursuit of a career in architecture started at the University of Maryland where I graduated with a 4-year Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree. The program at Maryland instilled in me a shared love of architecture and urban design.
This interest led me to the University of Cincinnati where I was the first in the program to pursue both a Masters of Architecture degree and a Master of Community Planning with a concentration in urban design simultaneously. The University of Cincinnati was a co-op program that combined semesters in the classroom with semesters working at architecture firms around the world. I obtained co-ops in Boston and Washington DC. These co-ops, or internships, helped expose me to different sizes of firms that worked on a range of projects, helping me to decide what I ultimately wanted in a career in Architecture.
Upon graduation, I wanted to join a firm that provided me the opportunity to work on urban design and architecture projects alike. This proved challenging to find, as firms were either too small to be working at a larger urban scale, or so large that I would need to choose between a planning studio or an architecture studio. I chose to work for MV+A Architects in Washington DC, a firm that hit that sweet spot of combining urban design and architecture under the same roof, without being segregated into a specific studio. I quickly worked to obtain my architectural license and become a certified planner through the AICP. I am very glad I did this quickly as life did not get easier, especially as I started a family and got further from school and good study habits.
Although many of my peers, and many in my generation frequently change positions, pursuing a variety of opportunities and leveraging each company change for a higher salary, my decision to stay with the same company proved to be one of my smartest decisions. I was able to recognize that I was being given good opportunities to learn, prove myself, and interact with clients. I enjoyed the work I was doing as well, and was rewarded with more opportunities, responsibilities, and promotions. This culminated in my promotion to principal in 2022 after 12 years at MV+A at the age of 37. I was given the ability to become a financial partner in the company and am responsible for the long-term future of the firm. There is no doubt in my mind that I would not be in this position at my age if I had left MV+A Architects at any point in my career.
My advice to those starting out in their studies and in the profession would be to try to get exposed to as much as you can early in your education and career so you can quickly decide what you want in a career in architecture. Career related positions in the summer are crucial in this pursuit. Then if you find a company that is a good fit, do not leave it behind. It takes a very long time to build trust amongst the leaders of a firm regardless of how much experience you have. Every time you start a new position, you are starting from scratch and have to prove yourself again and again. That said, if your job feels like a dead end, find a better fit where you can see a future for yourself.
Lastly, I believe there are key moments in everybody’s career that shape their trajectory and opportunities at a company. It can be hard to recognize when those moments come. But when you are given an opportunity to prove yourself, seize that moment and knock it out of the park!
Brian Szymanski, AIA, AICP, Principal
MV+A Architects, Washington D.C.