Architect Archetypes





When we get out of architecture school, no one is there holding your hand, guiding you where to go next. We’re all sort of left to our own devices, assumed we’ll find our own way in the world.

And why shouldn’t we? The last generation did it, right?

But perhaps there’s a different way to think about the next step.

Jobs in Architecture

If you were to ask a thousand architects (not that I actually did for this) the different stages of a ‘typical’ architect’s career, I’d imagine that they’d each of them would come to a few common conclusions.

  1. There is no ‘typical’ path for architects

  2. There is no consistency across the profession for how to label an architect

  3. There are too many diverse and nuanced positions to count

Think about it this way. Let’s say that you just graduated college and you’re looking for your first full-time position. Are you a ‘drafter’? Are you an ‘intern’? Are you an ‘emerging professional’? Are you an ‘architect-in-training’?

If you look for a job online, you’d soon find that every architecture firm describes it slightly differently depending on the spin they place upon the position they’re trying to fill in the moment.

When you’re just getting started, you may not realize that each of the positions described above are all basically the same.

From someone who’s been working in the profession for over 11 years, I think that the better approach to understand how to build a career is twofold:

  1. Understand the Archetypes Most Gravitate to Within the Profession

  2. Reverse Engineer the Career You Want Based on the Archetype You Fall Into / Want to Be

We all know different types of Architects in the office. Some focus on design, while others thrive managing teams. Others have little interest in design and focus on construction in the field.

What if we looked to the personalities and skills of our peers rather than an arbitrary set of levels and titles?

Enter the Architect Archetype.


Merriam-Webster defines an Archetype as “the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations.”

In other words, an archetype is an example of a common idea, thing, or person. 

The reason an archetype is so powerful to use as a mechanism for architects developing their careers is because archetypes are not tied down to a specific level in a career. Rather, they exist as combinations of personality traits and areas of the profession that each person has chosen to focus on.

An architect of a given archetype could have a much longer tenure within the profession as another architect of the same archetype, but both would likely have choices, personality traits, and skills that align with each other’s.

Side step for a moment with me. If you were looking to emulate someone in the profession right now, what makes you gravitate towards them? 

  • Do they have a certain type of success you want?

  • Do they do a particular thing well?

  • Do they focus on a specific area in the profession?

  • Do they have skills you wish you had?

These types of questions lend themselves to planning goals for ourselves much more than I want to be ‘Architect 1’ in two years.

What does that even mean?

The only real step that we have to move forward in our profession is to obtain our professional license.

But that begs the question - do you even WANT to be licensed? What happens to the large portion of the profession who would rather support licensed architects and are perfectly happy never being licensed?

One of the greatest mentors in my own career isn’t licensed. It’s possible that he never will get his license either. Aside from a piece of paper that indicates he’s legally able to stamp drawings, I don’t trust his judgement or ability any less. In fact, he’s one of the people I lean on most.

We need to have a way to measure the decisions we make in our careers that isn’t tied to a system of levels we can’t agree to in the first place.

Rather, let’s talk about archetypes that we can use and learn from.

Archetypes in Architecture

I’ve seen firsthand how people around me have gravitated toward different archetypes as they gain more experience and learn more about themselves as professionals and human beings.

The thirteen archetypes below represent some of my observations about how these professionals have molded and focused their careers. It’s important, however, to note that archetypes are not absolutes and can very much overlap with each other in terms of similar skills, abilities and interests.

They’re not in any specific order as I don’t believe that there should necessarily be a hierarchy of importance for them either.

Consider these archetypes as potential guides, not as absolutes.

  1. The Generalist

  2. The Teacher

  3. The Entrepreneur

  4. The Designer

  5. The Philosopher

  6. The Technician

  7. The Volunteer

  8. The Builder

  9. The Manager

  10. The Scientist

  11. The Operative

  12. The Protector

  13. The Marketer

The Generalist

The ‘Jack of All Trades, Master of None.’ The Generalist can often be found looking into a very wide variety of different aspects across all things in the profession. They ask as many questions as they can to understand the entire process. They want to be self-sufficient and know just enough to be dangerous. They rely upon the expertise and specialization of others on their team to fill in additional gaps in their knowledge base.

The Teacher

The Teacher is proficient in design and their understanding of the profession. They may specialize in an area of expertise or research, but will be more than willing to share all they know with others willing to listen. The Teacher knows that the lifeblood of the profession depends upon the inherent transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next.

The Entrepreneur

The Entrepreneur sometimes dreams in Excel. They thrive building businesses and will strive to propel the financial success of a firm forward. They are calculating and often very well organized.

The Designer

It may seem like every architect is a designer, but that just isn’t so. The Designer specializes in creative endeavors. They can often be found reading the latest issue of Architect Magazine or Dwell. They spend much of their time trying to understand the world through drawing, modeling, building, and extensive research of the architectural masters.

The Philosopher

There are those in the profession who ‘walk the walk’ and then there are those ‘who talk the talk.’ The Philosopher falls into the latter camp. They are often the optimists in the room, open to new ideas. They are the dreamers of the profession who choose to focus on the big picture rather than the tiny details and technical drawings. It’s possible that the Philosopher may never actually build anything, but could greatly influence an entire generation of the profession who will.

The Technician

The Technician is the one person in an office most likely to know anything related to the construction of buildings. They seem to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every Specification ever written and can recite contractual obligations by heart. They will always be seen with a physical set of drawings and a red pen. The Technician can offer support and guidance to their team. They will often do so by assisting with Quality Assurance and Quality Control of documents on a project. They thrive in Construction Administration and basically live on the job site during construction.

The Volunteer

The Volunteer are inspired to help others in any way they possibly can. You’ll often find The Volunteer on a local committee, professional or charitable. They understand the importance of giving back to those who need it. Sometimes their efforts are focused on the advancement and protection of the architectural profession, while other times they can be found building communities through the giving of their time and expertise.

The Builder

The Builder is someone who practices through the effort of making. They can often be found in the field, trying to learn from the real world lessons of construction and the built environment. The Builder lives for mock ups and uses physical models less for presentation and more for the tactile and spatial feedback they exude. The Builder excels in the design process, but chooses to use prototyping and iterating with built objects to push their experience forward. To The Builder, a detail isn’t real unless it’s been built.

The Manager

The Manager is often the leader of a team. They may have a specific or general set of skills in design and construction, but can provide guidance to staff and coordinate an overall project successfully. The Manager will thrive in paperwork and people skills. They have heavy interaction with Clients, Consultants, Staff, and Contractors. While they are not always the designer creating the day-to-day drawings and documents, they are often the ones shaping the project through conversation and guidance.

The Scientist

The Scientist relies on data and experience equally. While they appreciate the built environment and the construction methods available, they also maintain a healthy optimism for new ways of doing. They search for better and more efficient methods to achieve designs capable of changing lives in the built environment. They will share their ideas with others in the hopes for feedback. The Scientist is a tinkerer of ideas, constantly refining them into concepts that can be applied to larger problems.

The Operative

The Operative is a specialist who can get a job done efficiently and effectively with little to no push. They are often given complicated tasks that scare others on the team. The Operative has talents that extend beyond ‘average.’ While competent in most areas of the profession, the Operative has chosen to specialize in a few distinct areas that parallel their interests. Not pigeon-holed, The Operative thrives on the task at hand because they are comfortable in their speciality.

The Protector

The Protector has an eye for the defense of both the built and natural environment. They believe that the conservation of energy and the preservation of our collective past are important endeavors to instill into the next generation. The Protector advocates for those who cannot advocate for themselves and will often choose a more difficult design path if it is in the best interest of the world.

The Marketer

The Marketer is first and foremost a communication professional. They promote not only the design skills of their team internally, but also present the face of their firm to the community at large. They often have an interest in speaking in front of anyone who will listen and know how to win over a room. They can sell a project and they can sell an idea with surgical precision.

Final Thoughts

An archetype is only a first step in understanding all the possible directions your architectural career can take you in. These archetypes in particular are not meant as an exhaustive list. You may, and very likely will, fall into several of these categories.

The important lesson to take away is that the decisions we make in our careers begin to sculpt our interests and the types of people we become. It may not be today, but rather, years from now until you are comfortable with who you are entirely.

The truth is though that you probably had a strong reaction or connection to a few of the archetypes here. That feeling you have should provide some insight into the type of architect you want to be.

From here, you can start to build your career knowing that there is no one right way of doing it. These paths are just that, paths. You can choose to walk down one that’s already been laid out before you or you can walk your own.

The archetypes are suggestions of where you can go next.

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What type of Architect Archetype do you relate to most? Are there Archetypes missing from the list?

CareerMichael LaValley