Thet Hnin Su Aung
9 mins read
The ten books on Architecture by Vitruvius (translated)
Hyper-specialists tend to focus on a niche – for example Wallmakers, who specialise in designing with mud, waste, and natural materials. Working in one specific area for a prolonged period inevitably enhances your knowledge and makes that niche your ‘core competence’. As a result, you become adept at conjuring systematic approaches to design work in that area. Having your own systematic process to design means greater efficiency, not just in projects but also in dealing with clients. Hyper-specialist architects also tend to have a more focussed approach to design solutions owing to the depth of their knowledge. Over time, working and excelling in a particular niche can help hyper-specialist architects clearly define their personal brand. This comes in handy when reaching out for new job opportunities or finding clients.
On the other hand, a hyper-specialist may end up being less experimental with design, preferring to cling to a set and established process. This could result in a lack of creativity and stagnation of skills, leading to difficulties in taking on projects that may involve delving into unfamiliar territory. There will also be less exposure to the other niches in architecture, resulting in less awareness in those fields. This can potentially become a drawback when your clients want well-rounded advice across multiple areas.
It is rare for architecture graduates to become hyper-specialists right after school. This is because architecture schools do not train their students to specialise in a single building typology. Professionals typically pick a specialization after spending considerable time working in the industry and understanding which type of work they naturally gravitate towards.
Generalist architects are more common than hyper-specialists since architecture schools prepare graduates to have a fair amount of knowledge in a variety of subjects, and it is generally easier as a career. According to Forbes, being a jack of all trades may actually lead to better success. As a generalist architect works across many areas, the knowledge gained can help one to be an all-round expert. This quality, combined with industry experience, allows the generalists to adapt to different environments and take on challenging projects easily. In addition, they are also able to adjust to new shifts – cultural, social and more – in the market. Being able to come up with fresh ideas for solving various design problems and advising clients across multiple areas of focus enhances a generalist’s value. The skills accumulated over the years are also transferable, allowing ease in securing jobs.
The downside, however, is that a generalist architect might struggle to follow a systematic design process. Or they may not follow one at all! When extensive knowledge of a specific area becomes necessary, it gets rather challenging for a generalist. In such a case, clients tend to consult with an expert instead. This also means that a generalist architect can be at a disadvantage in competition within a specialized market. For example, some building typologies require diverse functions and intricate planning due to their design requirements, and a hyper-specialist architect who has well-honed skills in the area could be favoured for the project.
Why does the hyper-specialist/generalist dichotomy exist in the field of architecture? Unlike in the past, projects in the current age are larger in scope and far more complex in both design requirements and functions. Building technology is rapidly developing, which, in turn, creates pressure for faster completion of the projects. Overall, the profession is slowly but surely splitting into different specialisations to cater to various demands. Most firms typically employ a greater number of generalists than hyper-specialists, and most firms themselves are generalist. However, some do employ a good mix of both for a smoother experience with clients.
Which one are you?
There is no clear cut winner in the hyper-specialist versus generalist debate. It greatly depends on the person and the nature of the job. First, gauge your interests. Are they extensive and spreading across different fields? Do you have and value transferable skills? If the answer to both is ‘yes’, and you like working with dissimilar projects and collaborating with different professionals, then being a generalist might just be for you.
If being a specialist interests you, ask yourself if you have the dedication and inclination to follow a single career path in the future. Commitment and subject-area expertise are both key for becoming a hyper-specialist. You like digging deeper into a particular domain, letting your curiosity take you down a rabbit hole, then you will enjoy specializing.
While the training to become a generalist is usually taken care of by architecture school itself, becoming a hyper-specialist involves extra effort. There are now numerous online courses offering in-depth study of various niches. For example, you can get a certification on computational design specifically or opt for a growing field like Building Information Modelling (BIM). These certifications are based on skills, not just knowledge, and may pay off better in the job market. Of course, continuing the education with a master’s degree is another popular option, though it will take longer. Most universities offer a broad choice of courses in post-graduate studies, allowing you to choose from many career options.
For more career insights, check out Novatr’s Resources page.
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