Architects Gone Rogue!

Practicing architects and students of architecture are notorious for changing direction or leaving the field to venture into other creative industries. But that doesn’t mean those hours in the studio were a waste. Indeed, whatever their reason for leaving the profession, these trained architects often find that the urge to improve their environment persists throughout their professional life. Here, we will take a look at some amazing people who have left architecture while maintaining a focus on the interaction between people and their environment.

Before co-founding design firm ISSSStudio in 2006, Igor Siddiqui studied architecture at Yale University. “Signing up to study architecture when you are 18 years old is such a gamble. I knew so little about it, but it seemed like a slightly saner version of art school,” says Siddiqui. “I am not sure that I ever found sanity in architecture school, but what I did very quickly discover was the rigor of thinking and making, the incessant questioning of givens, and endless potential for meaningful engagement and contribution. In a way, the architecture curriculum served as a gateway to so many other things like theory, philosophy, art.”


Igor Siddiqui and Solar Floral. Image Source


ISSSStudio’s Bayou-luminescence installation “fuses material surface, structural volume and lighting effects into an immersive spatial experience.” Image Source

Siddiqui recognized that he would be able to use these skills in ways he found more inspiring, but he says he will never be a non-architect, in practice or in philosophy. ISSSStudio continues to design small buildings in addition to art, digital media, installations, and products, all of which find their “intellectual starting point” in architecture. He describes his work as a means of exploring the themes associated with architecture in other forms, but he has not stepped away from architecture entirely; he teaches at the University of Texas in Austin, where he hopes to expand the creative thinking of today’s architecture students.

Pinterest, a website that allows users to “pin” links or photos to a virtual inspiration board, was co-founded by another Yale University architect-gone-rogue, Evan Sharp. He attributes his crossover capability to the critical thought that he established in architecture school, stating that it’s “more about the way that architects look at the world than a specific skill set. Great architects, perhaps more than most designers, tend to look at the larger problems that need to be solved rather than the discreet design process.”


Evan Sharp on Pinterest. Image Source

Perhaps it is this reason that architects tend to look broadly at the big picture, making it easy to step out of the proverbial “box” (no doubt designed by an architect-gone-box-maker!).

Kim Knollenberg and graduate of Philadelphia University and architect-gone-organic-farmer, describes her transition as the result of one particular project. Early in her career, she says, she was “lucky enough to literally live on a site three to four days a week for about four months during construction. I was up every morning with the guys with tools, working through today’s major problems and putting out fires by the hour. I loved it.” It was then that Knollenberg discovered she was meant to be outdoors and hands-on.


Kim Knollenberg. Image Source


Kim Knollenberg. Image Source

The desire to create structures and shelters is related to the physicality of our bodies, yet today the practice of architecture is almost entirely separate from the physical process of building. Knollenberg’s experience on that project highlighted her desire to feel connected to others through the creation process. “I wanted to be a vital part of a community on a ‘hold it in your hand’ level,” she explained. “So I looked into what my other passions were and how I could fulfill my desire to connect, and stumbled into farming.”


Bruce Rowe Pottery Image Source


Dave Galbraith, founder of Yelp. Image Source

Siddiqui, Sharp, and Knollenberg are just a few examples of some incredible architects working outside the industry; others include Bruce Rowe, architect-gone-ceramics-maker, and Dave Galbraith, the founder of Yelp and architect-gone-digital-business-strategist. If you are also considering “going rogue” (as I have many times!), consider your unique talents and interests in addition to what you’ve gained from your study of architecture—the distinct ability to think broadly, strategically, and creatively. Go forth, go rogue!


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