How can architecture become a stressful profession?


While many people think of architecture as a dream job, according to a 2016 Architects’ Journal student poll, one out of every four architecture students in the UK has had mental health concerns. When the study was repeated in 2018, the percentage had risen to one in three. In the United States, data from 17 states was utilised in a 2012 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find that Americans in the architecture and engineering professions are the sixth most likely to commit suicide among all occupations.

According to the CDC study, those who do the backbreaking task of bringing an architect’s idea to life are at an even higher risk of suicide. Construction workers came in second among all occupations, followed by installation, maintenance, and repair employees, who came in third.

ABS notes that “surprisingly, these early situations are emblematic of the issues that still plague many persons in the architecture profession today,” and it has a number of beneficiary testimonies on its website.

“While some architects achieve great distinction in their field and enjoy enormous financial success, a large percentage of them face a variety of difficulties. It’s a sobering fact that (on average) one out of every 20 members of the architectural profession will need our assistance at some point in their careers.”

The ABS now invests over £1 million per year to assist over 500 architectural professionals and their families, and provides email and phone support to people who have worked in the UK architecture industry for at least a year.

Inside a sacrificial culture

In 2017, the ABS and the RIBA began working together to raise awareness about mental health issues among architects and students. The RIBA polled over 2,100 UK architecture students on mental health between May 2017 and March 2018. Melissa Kirkpatrick, an architectural student at the University of Sheffield, is analysing the findings for her master’s dissertation.

According to Kirkpatrick, the most common cause of student upset is an instructor’s insensitivity. “This mentality inside architecture, where students are expected to suffer for their art or their project, where it’s a competition of who stays up the latest and works the hardest, is one of the things that creates poor mental health.”

The conclusions of the RIBA study echoed her own undergraduate experience. “I was never diagnosed with any mental health issues, but I was obviously stressed, as were so many others,” she adds. “It was expected that you would be extremely anxious, and you were required to be, and if you had a nervous breakdown, that was okay and part of the design process.”

Creating a better equilibrium

To foster work–life balance, Kirkpatrick suggests that architectural schools provide mental health workshops for students, train teachers to encourage more positive interactions with students, and withdraw 24-hour access to studio facilities, which is typically marketed as a benefit by schools. “Students will transfer their terrible habits and expectations of what life should be like as an architect into their working lives, and things will never really change,” Kirkpatrick says if those training the next generation of architects do not reform the culture. “However, this does not have to be the case.”

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