Chris was able to share valuable insights on being both a practicing architect and as the owner of his own architecture firm. Chris emphasized the importance of internships for students aspiring to work in architecture, which will allow them to gain valuable experience and learn what areas of architecture they may most enjoy.
Date of Interview: 7/20/2021
Interviewee: Christopher Bremer
Answer: Chris is the owner of Compass Architecture
Industry you work in
Answer: Professional Services
City you work in
[Compensation data was not provided by the interviewee. The below compensation information was retrieved from Glassdoor.com data. These averages come from compensation data that is self-reported by employees of various companies.]
$62,362 is the average base salary for an entry-level architect with 0-1 year of experience in the United States. With 4-6 years of experience, the average base salary moves closer to $85,000. Compensation could look much different for an architect that owns their own business.
Years at your current job
Answer: Self-employed for four years [as the owner of Compass Architecture]
Years working in your field, including time at previous employers
Answer: Igraduated in 2000, so I have been working as an architect for 21 years. I have been self-employed for four years.
Where did you work before your current job?
Answer: At an architecture firm called Sullivan, Goulette & Wilson; a design/build company Savane Properties; and an architecture firm called Holabird & Root.
Did you go to college or pursue any other secondary education? If yes, was it required for your job?
What was your college major?
What college did you go to?
Answer: Tulane University
Did you go to graduate school? If yes, was it required?
Answer: Yes, at Tulane they have a five year program [for architecture], so I finished with my Masters degree in Architecture. Most [architecture] programs are either five or six year programs. The six year programs include a bit more of a liberal arts education [for the first four years] and the additional two years is focused more on architecture. The five year programs have less liberal arts education, with more architecture throughout the program.
Do you have any other professional licenses or certifications?
Answer: An architecture license with the state, which is the only certification required.
Do you feel that your school’s reputation had a significant impact on getting a job in your field?
Answer: Not really. When I got out of school in 2000, the economy was doing pretty well. I had an offer at almost every company I interviewed. Tulane had a good reputation, but at that time it probably wasn’t necessary.
Job Demand & Stability
How long did it take to land your first job in your field after graduating?
Answer: I had set up some interviews for when I returned home [from school]. It was probably about a month and I had multiple opportunities on the table.
Did you have any internships?
Answer: Yes. Freshman year I interned at Frank Lloyd Wright Studio. Every summer I interned at an architecture firm.
If you lost your job tomorrow, would it be difficult to get a similar or better job?
Answer: No, absolutely not.
Advice For Success
What advice would you provide to someone on how to become an architect?
Answer: Internships without a doubt. Only the really big firms want to hire someone with no experience and you become kind of a pure draftsman. As a young person, if you can get an internship and a job at a small firm, you’ll experience baptism by fire, but you’ll gain the best experience.
Nature of Job and Schedule
Describe what you do
Answer: I generally work to provide clients with a design of a building that suits their needs. It could be a residential (e.g. someone that wants a 3 bedroom/2 bathroom design) or office build out. The design must be balanced with construction techniques, costs, and zoning/building code restrictions.
As the owner of the company, I don’t do much of the drafting. Half of my time is spent doing sales and administration. I do a lot of delegating.
You come out of architecture school not knowing much about real world architecture, so your first year is spent doing a lot of drafting, which is not designing. Drafting is taking hand sketches and putting them into the computer. After a couple years of experience, you will start doing some design work.
What technology is used to complete the designs?
Answer: Most offices use one of two computer aided drafting programs. One is AutoCAD (which is 2-D) and one is Revit. Revit is more for building information modeling. We do relatively small scale residential stuff and we use AutoCAD. Occasionally, we do also use SketchUp since someone in our office is a whiz with that software. SketchUp is used if someone just wants to quickly see what their building is going to look like from a 2-D drawing.
Describe your daily and weekly schedule
Answer: My schedule is unique, being the owner of the business. It’s hard to say day-to-day, but I probably spend half of each day with potential clients and talking with them about what they want to accomplish. About a quarter of each day is spent reviewing employees’ work and another quarter is spent working on the jobs I handle myself.
The non-owners of the business spend a lot of their time designing (e.g. things like making sure stairs have the correct rise and run).
At some architecture firms they work 60 hours a week, but it depends on the firm. My people work 40 hours a week, and I probably work 60 hours a week as the owner.
What parts of your job are repetitive versus parts that require new duties?
Answer: Generally every project is unique and has its own challenges/requirements, unless you’re someone like a Starbucks architect working on 20 Starbucks stores each year [repetitive in nature], but there are not many of those roles. However, I do a lot of small scale residential design and sometimes you feel like you’ve designed every type of bathroom, so you feel like you’re not designing much new, but there are always some new challenges to deal with.
Describe the setting you work in most
Answer: I generally work in the office. Architecture is a very visual and graphic profession. Doing the job by telecommuting and over the phone is difficult. Architects should plan to be at the office most of the time. However, email has changed communication with clients. When I started in architecture most meetings with a client were in person. More often now you email out a drawing and the client responds via email.
Describe the nature and frequency of working with other people while doing your job
Answer: Larger projects generally require a team, so its a pretty collaborative effort. Smaller projects, such as renovations or additions, can be a one-man job, so it might just be an architect and owner working together. Regardless of the size, there is a fair amount of communication that happens with the owners throughout the project.
Does your job require travel?
Answer: Most of my projects are in Chicago, Oak Park, and River Forest [nearby suburbs of Chicago]. I certainly travel but most is local and related to sales efforts. Once a project gets going, there isn’t much travel that’s necessary. Most of my projects are smaller scale. With larger projects, you might be expected to be on job site weekly or even daily. Architects have a role from the start of a project through the very end.
What is the most enjoyable or rewarding part of your job?
Answer: I’m an extrovert and enjoy meeting with and talking to people. This includes helping people to realize what they want to do for a project. I think there’s a lot of aspects people can enjoy about architecture. l also enjoy putting together a great set of drawings that are clear and comprehensive for a client. Others might enjoy the actual design aspect more.
What is the most challenging or stressful part of your job?
Answer: Probably dealing with municipal regulations. I used to say Oak Park was really easy to get a permit, but all of the sudden there have been lots of obstacles. There are a lot of gray areas in the building codes, and clients often want to push the codes to their edge.
Does your job provide work/life balance?
Answer: Yes. At other places it depends on the firm. My experiences in architecture have always included work/life balance. I never had to work 60 hours a week at other firms.
How much time off do you take from work?
Answer: Atmost places you start with a couple weeks of vacation time. Being the business owner, I do get to take a lot of time off, but I end up working most weeknights and some weekends to make up for it.
Any interesting/enjoyable perks of your job?
Answer: Being a business owner of any business is a perk. But otherwise there are not any special perks of being an architect, unless you want to do a remodel yourself, then you have an edge.
Why did you pick your job?
Answer: I have been drawn to architecture from a pretty young age. I remember being at Giordano’s when I was a kid and sketching up houses, tree houses, etc. In high school I took a drafting class, too. I think I’m one of the lucky ones who has always had this path in mind.
What would you do if you had to change careers?
Answer: A lawyer. I enjoy the law and when looking at building codes I have to put my lawyer hat on. There’s something about exploiting the code/walking that edge and pushing the envelope while still remaining within the code. That’s essentially what lawyers do.