Learn About Being an Architect
Updated January 26, 2023
What does an architect do?
Architects develop plans for homes, offices and other types of structures. They can design both indoor and outdoor spaces, working on private projects or public jobs. They’re tasked with translating the client’s ideas into a three-dimensional construction that will meet all of the project’s specifications. An architect’s plans include all elements of the building, including heating, venting and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, electrical wiring, door and window placement, appliance placement and more. An architect’s responsibilities include:
Meeting with clients and assessing the project’s purpose, requirements and budget
Providing cost estimates, approximate timelines and services such as site selection and environmental impact studies
Developing construction plans, which include scaled drawings and structure specifications using computer-aided design and drafting, building information modeling or hand drawings
Drafting and negotiating construction contracts
Assisting clients as they collect construction bids and choose contractors
Visiting construction sites to make sure contractors are following the architectural plans accurately
Architects are usually full-time employees, though their hours may vary. As they’re approaching pending deadlines, architects may work a significant number of overtime hours. Some architects are self-employed, which gives them more flexibility to adjust and determine their schedules, though they still need to meet construction and client deadlines. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.
Common salary in the U.S.: $110,628 per year
Some salaries range from $27,000 to $249,000 per year.
Architects must have an extensive educational background. The following requirements are necessary to acquire the appropriate knowledge and experience for the duties:
Architects must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Most architects pursue a five-year Bachelor of Architecture program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board. This program includes courses on architectural design, integrative design, graphic representation, environmental systems, structural systems, construction methods, CADD, building systems and more.
Many architects elect to obtain a master’s degree in architecture after earning their bachelor’s. This can take anywhere from one to five years, depending on the course load and the student’s previous training.
Architecture graduates must complete an internship before practicing independently. The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards manages the Architectural Experience Program, which helps candidates complete, track and report the necessary internship hours. Interns must complete at least 3,740 hours spread across six key experience areas:
Programming and analytics
Project planning and design
Project development and documentation
Construction and evaluation
Architectural internships usually last at least three years. In some states, a portion of your internship hours may take place in an associated occupation, such as general contracting.
NCARB also developed the Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure, which integrates architectural education and internship experience, allowing students to begin gaining paid internship hours while still in school. Candidates can begin logging experience hours as soon as they’ve earned a high school diploma or equivalent.
Architectural interns manage many of the same tasks as architects. They might prepare drawings on CADD, construct models, investigate building codes, research building materials and draft architectural documents. Their supervising architect will evaluate the intern’s work, make the necessary edits and finalize the plans.
Candidates must pass the Architect Registration Examination provided by the NCARB before working independently as architects. The exam includes the same six divisions emphasized in the AXP. Each state has its own specific requirements for licensure. All require that candidates pass the ARE. Some require additional experience or a supplementary exam as well.
After you have completed all the necessary testing, you can submit your NCARB record to the jurisdiction you intend to work in and receive your license. You cannot practice as an architect until you have obtained this licensure. Most states require continuing education to maintain your licensure.
As a licensed architect, you’re eligible to receive NCARB certification. An NCARB certificate allows you to include the initials “NCARB” after your name. Architects that maintain NCARB certification can more easily obtain registration in both U.S. and Canadian jurisdictions. To maintain certification, you must:
Submit an Annual Renewal Report outlining your professional activities
Pay an annual renewal fee
Maintain at least one valid registration in the U.S. or Canada
Architects need a specific skill set to excel in this field. Important qualities for architects include:
Critical-thinking skills: Architects must have strong analytical skills with the ability to carefully reason through complex issues such as what building materials can withstand the environmental conditions for a particular project.
Organizational skills: Architects handle many parts of each project and may balance multiple projects at once. They need to stay organized as they manage contracts, records, timelines, budgets and other aspects of each project.
Technical skills: Modern architects use BIM and CADD technology to draft and design their projects. A solid knowledge of this technology and a high comfort level with computer programs are valuable.
Visualization skills: Architects need excellent spatial reasoning and visualization skills. They must be able to accurately determine how the parts of a building will fit together and what they will look like upon completion.
Communication skills: Architects share their plans with clients, contractors, apprentices and other architects. They need to know how to convey these ideas clearly using writing, presentations and oral communication.
Creativity: Architects have a very creative job, where they’re often tasked with developing innovative and original ideas. Creativity is essential for those who develop artistic aspects of a project.
Architect work environment
Architects spend the majority of their time in an office environment. They work on models, sketches, computer designs, project reports and client contracts in this setting. An architect will typically use their office space to meet with clients and contractors as well. This office may be within a professional building or the architect’s home for those who are self-employed.
Architects may also travel occasionally. They might visit potential sites for a new project to assess the shape and orientation of the land. Once a project is underway, architects may visit the construction site as well to review progress.
How to become an architect
Architects must proceed through a very specific career path to operate professionally in this field:
Complete your education. Architects need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in architecture. This takes about five years to complete.
Finish an internship. An architectural internship consists of more than 3,700 hours of work. Interns could receive pay, and in some states, students can intern while still in school.
Obtain licensure. All jurisdictions require that architects pass the ARE to gain licensure. Some states have additional testing requirements to obtain a license.
Get an NCARB certificate. Though not required, this is a valuable step that will increase your employability and make it possible to gain licensure faster in new jurisdictions.
Pursue continuing education. Most states require continuing education to maintain licensure. Review the requirements in your area and create a plan to maintain your education throughout the year so you’re always current with your license renewals.
Prepare your resume. Draft a resume that details your recent work experience. If you’ve recently completed your internship, include your experience on your resume, detailing the responsibilities you held and the projects you assisted with.
Find local opportunities. Research architectural job postings in your area. Networking through those you worked with as an intern may help you identify valuable opportunities.
Architect job description example
Our residential design company is seeking a licensed architect with experience designing luxury homes in the Phoenix area. The ideal applicant is familiar with the climate, design trends and home buying market in the area. Your responsibilities will include consulting with home buyers and contractors, drafting architectural plans and delivering scale models. You will work closely with each client to make adjustments as needed and create the family’s dream home.
Additional tasks may include drafting contracts, collaborating with contractors and periodically visiting construction sites to supervise progress. If you have a passion for residential design, we want to add you to our team.
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