How to become an architect

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Architects planning on blueprintDo you ever gaze up at skyscrapers or look admiringly at beautiful buildings and marvel at how they were built? Do you wonder how these buildings are put together so that they’re safe, functional and aesthetically pleasing? It all starts with the work of an architect.

Architects plan and design buildings and other structures*. They’re responsible for everything from estimating materials, equipment, costs and construction time for a project to preparing scaled drawings of the project to visiting worksites to ensure that construction adheres to architectural plans.

Architecture is not only an exciting and challenging field, but it’s also one that is growing. Employment of architects is projected to grow 24 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations.

If the idea of building a career as an architect sounds rewarding, here’s more information on how to enter the field:

Education and training
In order to become an architect, you must complete a professional degree in architecture, participate in training and pass the Architect Registration Exam.

There are 123 schools of architecture accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board, and most states require that a professional degree is earned from one of these schools. However, some states may allow graduation from a nonaccredited program. Most architects earn their professional degree through a five-year Bachelor of Architecture degree program, while others may earn a master’s degree, which can take one to five years to finish, depending on the amount of previous training completed.

Once you graduate, you will need to get at least three years of training under your belt before you can take the next step — getting licensed. Graduates usually receive this training through an internship at an architectural firm. All states require architects to be licensed, and you can’t get licensed until you’ve earned a professional degree, participated in practical training and passed the Architect Registration Examination. Most states also require some form of continuing education to keep a license.

Important qualities
Beyond getting the proper education and training, it’s important that those interested in becoming an architect possess certain qualities that will ensure their success in the field. Such qualities include:

  • Analytical skills — understanding the content of designs and the context in which they were created.
  • Communication skills — the ability to share ideas, both orally and in writing, with clients, other architects and workers who help prepare drawings.
  • Creativity – creating designs that are both pleasing to the eye and functional.
  • Critical-thinking skills – providing solutions to unanticipated challenges.
  • Technical skills – skilled at using computer-aided design and drafting programs to create plans as part of integrated building information modeling.

Work environment
While architects spend much of their time in offices, they do venture out to construction sites occasionally to review the progress of their current projects. When they’re in the office, they’re consulting with clients, developing reports and drawings and working with other architects and engineers. A typical workweek is about 50 hours, which may include evenings and weekends when deadlines are looming.

While it takes a lot of training to get there, once you become an architect, you have the opportunity to earn an enviable salary. As of May 2010, the median annual wage of architects was $72,550. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $42,860 and the top 10 percent earned more than $119,500.

*All information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. 

  1. For your “How to become an architect” article, you forgot the MOST important quality needed. This is even more important than all the book learning and passing any test or licensing requirement.
    The most important thing any Architect needs to know is: just because you can draw it on a piece of paper does NOT mean it will actually work in the physical world. You can make anything work on paper, but you when physically build the structure as drawn, things often will have to be adjusted, sometimes majorly.
    The best preparation is to work in the construction trades for 5 years, devoting time to learn about all the mechanical aspects (Plumbing, HVACR, electrical and framing) of a structure. You will learn at least twice as much as the top rated school/college/university can ever teach you, and it will teach you a thousand times more than any book can.
    I can not tell you how many times, as a Licensed Master Plumber, I have had to call the architect and/or engineer out to a job in order to have the drawings changed because the drawing, though textually correct, did not work as designed. Most times it was because the structural load points could not work as drawn even though everything was text book perfect. I have had whirlpool tubs in the design, yet the flooring and beams under the tub would barely support the tub, as it is required to be installed by the manufacturer, without water or a person in it.
    I have also been involved in specialty installations where the engineer confused point loads and spanned loads. The strut he chose would handle the load we needed if that load was spanned across the strut, but we were point loading and the strut failed to hold the load under testing. The load data was available from the manufacturer of the strut. The strut we would have been required to use was not possible to install due to design layout. In the end, the engineer made a few hundred dollars off of my work, and had to revise the plans to my specifications instead of what he was taught would work from some book.
    Another huge failure by architects and engineers is they are oblivious to the mechanical needs of a structure. For some reason architects and engineers seem to believe that Plumbers and HVACR Mechanics can magical install our materials anywhere. There are load beams we can not pass through, and nothing in the drawing accounts for where ducts and pipes must go. They also fail to find out all the installation information for other equipment in order to design everything so it all works together.
    I am amongst the growing number of professionals who are working to require less school/text book learning and much more on-the-job training, which will include working one year in EACH of the construction trades, before being able to design any structure.
    Architects, and especially engineers, are paid far better then those of us in the construction trades, yet we are required to do 75% of their jobs. We have to correct their problems and all they do is “sign-off” on our hard work, yet they get paid for our work while it costs us time, and often money.
    Architects and engineers rarely take responsibility for their errors, and consistently pass the necessary design work (“field adjustments”) onto the construction trades even though they are paid to do the actual design work.
    Sorry about my rant, but it is sickening that architects and engineers charge so much money yet most of the work is done for them by lower paid trades.
    I do appreciate the information you did give so I can see what I need to finish in order to get my architect license.

  2. Your article is so very informative! I read it knowing I could not want to be an architect and it confirmed my beliefs. I liked the format and the discussion of skills. I can use each category in another field easily. Thank you!

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