How to Become an Architect

By TACP Staff on August 12th, 2019

An architect is a steady hand that blends science and art to design and construct private and public buildings, rooms, complexes, and more. Becoming an architect takes hard work and perseverance, but it’s a journey made worthwhile thanks to high levels of career satisfaction, job opportunities, and salary.

1. Learn the Basics of Architecture

Architects primarily focus on designing, conceptualizing, and erecting buildings used by human occupants, though they will occasionally be tasked with designing the surrounding landscape, as well. The path to becoming an architect is often arduous, but the journey can be as rewarding as the destination if pursued properly.

Architects must have the mindset and skills to work both mathematically and scientifically, as well as creatively.  An architect must also be capable of meeting with and engaging clients in a fluid, social, and professional manner. The duties of a typical architect are numerous, though they all follow a central line of thinking. The typical ‘day’ in the life of an architect includes meeting with clients with prepared materials to discuss a project or projects, cost estimations, revisions, and deadlines.  An architect will meet with and prepare documents for building contractors, manage construction contracts, prepare scaled drawings, prepare structural specifications, and seek new work through presentations. An architect will work with pen-and-paper as well as Computer-Automated-Design & Drafting programs (CADD) in order to prepare drawings and documents. One popular piece of software is the Building Information Modeling (BIM) that most professional architects are expected to utilize.

The further up the ladder an architect climbs, the more people they will typically delegate tasks to.  Because of this fact, becoming a successful architect can also require the ability to work well with others in a managerial capacity.  Architects must also possess strong communication skills, engineering abilities, business aptitude, and design talent.  They must be able to conceptualize and visualize structures before they are even drawn, so creativity is essential to success.

As architects are the brains behind many of the structures we see in everyday life, it makes sense that talented architects are always in demand. In growing cities and in states with economic surplus, architecture jobs will always be in demand. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were over 133,900 professional architects on the job as of 2018. The expected job growth for this position going forward is projected at eight percent, between the years 2018 and 2028.  Architects typically work in offices, travel to meet with clients or contractors in the field, construction sites, or from home.

2. Earn a Degree in Architecture

To pursue a career in architecture, most architects will begin by tailoring their high school education as much as possible by focusing on classes like physics, geometry, and pre-calculus. High school is just the beginning, however, as becoming an architect requires at least a bachelor’s degree from an architecture school, prior to entering the field or moving on to pursue their masters of architecture.

By earning a bachelor’s degree, a student will learn the history of the field, while also pursuing advanced methods that will be required as part of the job. Common concepts architects learn while in school include parametric construction concepts, spatial reasoning, contract negotiations, lateral systems, truss analysis, typographies, and codes and specifications. A master’s degree will take an additional two to three years of schooling beyond earning a bachelor’s, and includes an in-depth study of spatial dialects, structural design methods, computer-aided design, environmental engineering, and technology for architects.

In 2016, DesignIntelligence reported the highest-rated undergrad architecture schools in America were Cornell, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, and Virginia Tech. Students pursuing a graduate degree in architecture were best-served considering the traditional Ivy League schools like Harvard, Cornell, Yale, and Columbia. Despite earning a degree from one of these institutions, students will be required to pursue even further education before professionally entering the field.

To enter the field, an architect must serve as an intern under a previously licensed architect. This internship can last up to three years. After the internship period is over, an architect must become both certified and licensed in the state they wish to work in order to offer their services professionally. This is accomplished by passing the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), which is an exhaustive test that covers seven key areas in the field:

  • Site Planning & Design
  • Programming, Planning, and Practice
  • Schematic Design
  • Building Design and Construction Systems
  • Construction Documentation & Services
  • Building Systems
  • Structural Systems

Thirty-four states currently require architects to hold a degree in architecture from a school accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB).  In those states that do not have this acquirement, individuals can apply for licensing with eight to thirteen years of experience, in addition to a high school diploma or GED. Even so, most individuals in these states still obtain a degree in architecture.

Once serving in the field as a professional, The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that an architect can immediately expect to see a better-than-average salary. Architects, on average, made roughly $76,000 per year in 2015, which translates to earning nearly $37 per hour.  Of course, location, years of experience, education, and company size all determine yearly/hourly wages.

3. Build Your Brand and Professional Connections

Architects do almost all their brand-building after they complete their education. That is to say, architects are advised to use their internship opportunities — which is required in a degree program anyway, to build a professional network to utilize at a later time. Firms like GenslerAECOM, Jacobs, and Perkins+Will are some of the top architecture firms in the country. Internships and entry level positions at these and other well-known or smaller companies are coveted and can be instrumental in the launching of a career.

Though the field is growing, there are only about 100,000 professional, working architects in the United States. The size of the employment pool is small enough that the industry can be considered ‘tightly knit’ and competitive.  Still, some of the best ways that burgeoning architects can ingratiate themselves in the field is by attending networking events. During the year in places like New York City and Miami, Florida, there are architecture conferences that focus on the future of the industry. Attending industry conferences can be the first step toward landing an internship or an entry level position at an elite firm in the area. Attending these conferences is also a great way for employed architects to stay on top of their game. Architecture is beholden to the rapidly changing world of style and technology and it is at these conferences that new technology is often first displayed.

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