It was tough for me to find the right path out of architecture school. I wanted to design great spaces, but I had difficulty figuring out how to get the jobs that would allow me to do that after graduating. It was tough even getting a job, before worrying about the quality of design work I would be able to do. My solution to this was to work on design competitions outside of work, to practice my skills and get better at designing architecture. Then I would bring these competition entries to architects around the city and ask for critiques on how to make them better. I would use this as an excuse to meet with good designers, and to learn from them, making these entries better.

The fourth competition I entered was to redesign a mall facade. I proposed adding mirrors that allow people on the street to window shop, and to see the activity on the mall’s upper floors. I won this competition (the only win I have had so far out of 18 competition entries), the prize of which was an internship at Snøhetta in Oslo. I was able to learn a lot about their design process while working at Snøhetta, and I also learned that it is possible to produce exceptional design quality while maintaining reasonable work hours. We worked 40 hours a week, and the office would take July off so everyone could go to their cabins in the mountains, because that is what one does in Norway.

Mall facade competition entry with mirrors to connect to the street

When I moved back to Portland, I worked at ZGF where we did large complex projects. I was worried about my technical ability, so I took the Architect Registration Exam (ARE) while working on these projects. I matched up the tests, so they aligned with the phase of the project I was working on, so studying each evening directly helped me do better work each day. I was learning a lot about the technical and design sides of architecture, but I still felt there were areas I could grow more by looking outside of traditional architecture.

…an architecture education provided me with a strong design foundation that was valued across industries, and that exploring those different industries exposed me to even more ways to create better work.

I wanted to solve design problems more efficiently, which led me to explore coding, machine learning, and eventually making a Rhino plugin to generate building layouts. I became convinced that adopting and developing AI tools could radically enhance the design process, which inspired me to start writing blog posts and form a monthly “AI in Design” meetup group.

I loved learning how coders solve design problems, and I wanted to learn how other types of designers work, so I ended up leaving my job as an architect and now work as a museum exhibit designer at Upswell. As I was applying for roles outside of architecture, it was validating to see how valued my architecture school training was, and how well the skills translate to a variety of different fields, like physical product design, UX, sportswear design, and exhibit design.

My role at Upswell started with doing physical design for museum exhibits, but I quickly expanded into UX, institutional strategy, interaction design, and more. Learning the design processes for these fields was fascinating, and I have since been experimenting with ways to bring them back into architecture.

Prototyping a museum exhibit made of paper tubes

I have since been able to get back into architecture through independent architecture projects. For a house project, I brought in what I learned from user experience designers to create a space that suited how the clients live. The client for this house is a landscape photographer, so the client and I placed windows based on their photography process and composition principles to frame specific views of the surrounding trees.

House project with framed views to the forest. Photo credit: Keith Isaacs

Today, I continue to explore design processes in various projects – blogging, AI meetup organizing, museum exhibit design, and independent architecture projects. I have found that an architecture education provided me with a strong design foundation that was valued across industries, and that exploring those different industries exposed me to even more ways to create better work.

Ben Feicht – https://www.benfeicht.com/blog

Architect / Experience Designer, Upswell

From Architecture to Exhibit Design, Exploring New Career Paths with Upswell

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