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What is an Architect?

Architects design homes, offices, stores, and other buildings and projects. They may perform environmental impact studies, feasibility studies, and similar research such as cost analysis and design requirements before developing blueprints and construction plans for their clients' approval.

Once a plan is in place, an architect must construct drawings of the proposed building to include all components such as plumbing, heating, electrical, and air conditioning; all plans must meet local and state building codes as well as fire regulations and disability access codes.

Architects use building information modeling (BIM) and computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) extensively but must also rely on hand-drawn blueprints and designs for their final product. Once a project is under construction, they may visit the construction site to ensure the project is meeting the requirements as set forth in the submitted and approved plan.

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Steps to Take to Become an Architect

Becoming an architect will take several years, as you will need to complete your degree in architecture and then work in the field before you qualify for an architectural license. The profession relies heavily on knowledge of mathematics and physics but because it also encompasses designs, knowledge of architectural art, and history of architecture. While there are other paths you might take to pursue a career as an architect these are the most common steps required to enter the field:


Step 1: Earn your Bachelor's degree

Your four-year degree in architecture will give you a solid foundation of knowledge needed to be an architect. Your coursework will be heavy in mathematics classes such as calculus, algebra, geometry, physics, computer programs used in the field, and history and art classes that pertain to building designs. You'll also learn about construction materials and the rules and regulations of building codes and designs. Your degree program must be accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB).

Step 2: Complete an Internship

All architects are required to complete a three-year paid internship working in the field of architecture. Your internship will give you valuable hands on experience as you learn to put your knowledge into practice. Note that most schools offer an internship as part of the architect degree curriculum so you may complete a portion of this requirement before you graduate from your bachelor degree program. You should be aware of the requirements in your state so you can verify your internship accordingly, as you will have to show proof of your supervised work. Most states follow the Intern Development Program (IDP) set forth by the American Institute of Architects which is divided into four experience areas, totaling 5,600 hours of work experience.

Step 3: Become Certified and Licensed

All states require architects to be licensed, and the requirements vary from state to state. For example, Michigan requires an accredited degree, three years of experience, and passing all sections of the Architect Registration Examination of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) before you are eligible to apply for a license.

Step 4: Earn Your Master's Degree

Although you can become a licensed architect with your bachelor degree, experience, and licensure; architecture careers are competitive. In addition, you must take continuing education classes to maintain your licensure, so it's an excellent plan to incorporate these requirements into a graduate degree in architecture to stay on top of new developments in the field.

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What Does an Architect Do?

Although architects spend the majority of their time in an office, there are also other locations they commute to as part of their job. They often meet with building contractors to visit worksites and ensure the project is being built to their specifications, and they may meet with the clients for the same reason.

In the office, they may spend their day on the computer using design programs such as CADD to prepare their designs and may also do portions of the design by hand. They supervise workers in various aspects of the project, compile estimates and contract documents, and may also manage construction contracts. They must also look for future clients, so a portion of their time is spent giving presentations and marketing for new clientele. If an architect is a member of a large company, they’ll likely spend time in meetings to discuss the company's current and future business projections.

Because an internship is a large part of becoming a licensed architect, most working architects also spend time mentoring others, typically doing design work and similar tasks. They must also stay current on new technology and other changes within the field and must complete specific continuing education to meet their licensing renewal requirements.

Skills to Acquire

Architects must have a diverse range of talents and skills in order to complete their education and successfully enter the career field. Although many required skills can be learned in college, some skills, such as the ability to imagine a future project, are innate. Here are some of the skills an architect must have or learn in order to be successful in their chosen profession:

  • Analytical skills to determine the specific requirements of each project
  • The ability to imagine and create in three dimensions
  • Drawing and design talent to showcase architectural ideas
  • Creativity to design a practical and visually pleasing project
  • Ability to understand buildings and the final environmental impact of a project
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Ability to interact with a diverse range of populations
  • Excellent project management and organizational skills
  • Outstanding mathematical aptitude
  • General business and negotiating skills
  • Computer literacy, especially with CADD and similar building programs
  • People skills to interact with clients, contractors, and business associates

Alternative Paths

Becoming an architect is a long process, but there are a few ways to shorten it and even some alternative paths. If you realize architecture is your dream job while still in high school you can take college level courses in mathematics, drafting, and similar required subjects such as CADD to get a head start on your degree. You can also take College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams on subjects you know to earn college credits and shave time off your required education.

If you already have a Bachelor's degree in architecture or a related subject such as construction management or architectural history, you may apply to a Master of Architecture program and streamline your educational requirements; make sure the program is accredited and your degree in architecture is accepted by NAAB before you enroll . Applicants who do not possess a NAAB-accredited first professional degree in architecture must provide an evaluation of their education equating it to the NAAB guidelines; it may or may not be accepted.

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) has a new Certificate Portfolio Program that allows those with experience in the field, but no degree, to submit an online portfolio of work documentation to satisfy the board's educational requirement.

Keep in mind you will still need to meet the three-year internship requirement so you should have a clear understanding of what is required so you can maintain documentation of all experience that meets this requirements.

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Architect Career & Salary

Where Might You Work?


Most architects are employed in one of three areas: at a large architectural firm, at a midsized architectural firm, or are self-employed at their own firm. Here's a brief look at each:

Large firms: if you dream of working in a major architectural firm you will most likely work in one of the large metropolitan areas such as Houston or New York City. In these firms an architect usually works in one area of the field, so you might work solely on the initial design aspect, the production of blueprints, specifications, or the legal building codes required for each design. Because of the company’s size, there is a good chance of promotion within a large architectural firm.

Midsized and small architectural firms: These firms can be found in cities of all sizes throughout the country. In a smaller or midsized company, you will most likely be involved in projects from conception to completion. You might meet with clients, visualize and create the building concept, and supervise interns and junior architects on various aspects of each project. On the down side, the smaller the company, the less likely you are to advance in your career.

About 20% of architects are self-employed. Like all small business owners, running your company will require long hours and hard work with a tight budget. It will take time to build your business and you should plan to take several years for your business to break even and begin making an income. If you plan to eventually own your own architectural company, you should include basic business courses in your college curriculum, so you are prepared to handle the dad-to-day business aspects of running a company.

Potential Career Paths

There are five basic types of architects (excluding landscape architecture and interior design). Within each career path there are multiple positions possible, depending on the size of the company in which you are employed. Here are the five types of architects, followed by specific architecture careers within each:

Residential Architect:
meet with clients who wish to have a custom home built; visualize the layout and design the home, cost of materials, services, and give time estimates for the project completion

Commercial Architect:
design public and private commercial buildings while implementing safety regulations, building codes, and similar specifications required in public buildings

Green Design Architect:
focus on creating ecologically friendly buildings that have a minimal impact on the environment

Urban Designer:
architecture on the scale of neighborhoods and cities; focus is on groups of buildings and street networks

Industrial Architect:
create buildings designed with commercial industries in mind to facilitate the future function of the building itself

Architectural roles within a large firm:

Project Manager:
in charge of all aspects of a project; supervises the staffing, planning, and organization of each project to ensure it stays on target

Specifications Writer:
creates the written documentation for each project, providing builders with material specifications and requirements for each project

Sustainability Consultant:
reduces the impact the building will have on the environment and on natural resources

Design Architect:
starts the project from a rough schematic through design development

Technical Architect:
puts the building together on paper, looking for technical details that need to be remedied before the building begins

Architect Salaries

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Architect $50,000 $66,000 $89,000
Architectural Technologist $43,000 $60,000 $143,000
CAD Technician $37,000 $48,000 $66,000
Interior and spatial designer $40,000 $56,000 $60,000
Urban designer / City Planner $46,000 $60,000 $76,000
Building Surveyor $32,000 $57,000 $176,000
Commercial/residential surveyor $35,000 $47,000 $70,000
Construction manager $51,000 $78,000 $125,000
Estates manager $48,000 $81,000 $146,000
Higher education lecturer $60,000 $69,000 $100,000
Historic buildings inspector $44,000 $55,000 $57,000
Landscape architect $47,000 $63,000 $78,000
Planning and dev. surveyor $41,000 $66,000 $100,000
Production designer $43,000 $51,000 $62,000
Structural engineer $51,000 $66,000 $98,000
Exhibit designer $39,000 $50,000 $70,000

**Salary info provided by PayScale

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Career Outlook

Architect employment is projected to have a slower than average growth rate in the next 10 years, with only a 4% increase compared to 7% in all occupations. That being said, there are certain niche areas that are expected to grow: schools of all levels, health facilities, and sustainable buildings. Energy conservation is becoming a key component of new buildings and "green" energy from wind and solar are expected to be in demand for future buildings as well as retrofitted old construction projects.

Architecture careers are competitive and that is the main reason you should continue your education once licensed. Because the education and experience required to become an architect is extensive, you can, for the most part, expect your income to rise in direct proportion to your level of experience.

In 2017 the median annual income for architects was $78,500. The lowest 10%, reflecting those with the least experience, earned $47,480. The highest 10%, reflecting those with the most experience and education, earned over $134,600.

Location also has an impact on the income of an architect as well; cities such as Los Angeles and New York report income that is considerably higher than average while Minneapolis, Las Vegas, and Seattle are lower than average.

Advancing From Here

Advancing in the field of architecture requires a combination of experience and knowledge. Those wishing to pursue a management position within a firm should consider earning their Master's degree in architecture with a minor in business. Other advancements are available as you work your way up the levels of major firms.

You can also advance your career by focusing on a specific area of the field and furthering your education to reflect your interest. Here are some examples of specialty areas within the field of architecture:

  • Historic preservation: renovation and restoration of historic sites and homes to modernize while retaining the original form
  • Solar design: integrating solar power within a new or existing building design
  • Naval architecture: design of marine structures
  • Architectural history: focus on previously built environments within cities
  • Urban design: looking at the entire area when designing a subdivision or neighborhood
  • Sustainability: building with the focus on making the least impact on the environment and natural resources

As technology advances, there will be a need for architects who are able to incorporate new technology into future construction projects. For example, "Smart" homes are becoming more popular and will most likely be a specialization for future architects. Likewise, new building materials such as hempcrete are expected to become the future norm.

As you progress through your education you should stay on top of new developments and breakthroughs in areas that have an impact on building. This will give you a feel for future career advancement opportunities and help you prepare to take advantage of new innovations within the field of architecture.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What do architects do?

Architects use computer aided design and technical skills to design homes, offices, stores, and other buildings and projects.

How long does it take to become an architect?

It can take many years to become an architect. You can work for architectural and engineering companies with a bachelor's degree but a master's degree is recommended. All states require architects to be licensed. The requirements for each state will vary. Architecture graduates are required to take continuing education classes to maintain licensure.

What skills should architects have?

Architects should have excellent written and verbal communication skill and people skills. They also need a range of technical skills such as drawing, design, mathematical aptitude, project management, CADD and similar building programs.

How much do architects make?

Architects make between $50,000 to $89,000 annually.

What is the job outlook for architects?

The Bureau of Labor Statists predicts that from 2020 to 2030 architect careers are expected to grow by 3%.

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