Architects Overview

Almost three times the proportion for all occupations, 21 percent, of architects are self-employed. In order to obtain a license, architects must earn a professional degree in architecture, have at least 3 years of work, training and passing all divisions of the Architect Registration Examination. Competition is keen for this career, especially for employment in the most prestigious firms.

Nature of the Work for Architects

Architects are responsible for designing the places that people need in order to live, play, work, learn, meet, worship, shop, meet and eat. All are licensed professionals trained in the science and art of designing buildings. It is their responsibility to develop concepts for structures and then go on to turn those concepts into plans and images.

In addition to the general look of the building, architects also must take into consideration factors that will make the building functional, secure and economical and fits the needs of the people who use them. They may be involved in all phases of a construction project. Their responsibilities require certain skills such as engineering, designing, supervising, managing and communicating with builders and clients. Persuasive skills are also helpful, as architects need to clearly communicate their visions.

With a client, the architect will discuss all requirements, objectives and budget of the projects. Sometimes, architects provide a variety of predesign services, including selecting a site, preparing cost analysis and land-use studies, specifying the requirements the design must meet and conducting feasibility and environmental impact studies.

After architects discuss and agree on a proposal, they develop the final construction plans that demonstrate details of construction and the building’s appearance. They also must complete drawings of structural systems, such as heating, air conditioning, electrical systems, plumbing and communications systems. In some cases, the plans will include building materials and interior furnishings. Architects are required to follow zoning laws, building codes, fire regulations and various other ordinances, like requiring easy access for people who are disabled. Using the traditional paper and pencil for creating design and construction papers has been replaced by computer-aided designing and drafting (CADD) and building information modeling (BIM) technology. Often, architects are required to make continual revisions based on the clients needs and budget constraints.

Sometimes, architects assist clients in hiring a construction crew and negotiating their contracts. They may visit building sites to ensure that contractors are following the design, using the specified materials, adhering to the schedule and performing quality work. The job is only complete when all construction is finished, construction costs are paid and mandatory tests are conducted.

Collaboration is a large aspect to this career, as a great deal of time is spent coordinating information with urban planners, engineers, landscape architects, interior designers and other professionals. Some specialize in one phase of work, while others specialize in designing one type of building, such as schools, housing or hospitals. Plan and predesign services or construction management are two other specializations.

Architects spend a lot of time in comfortable offices developing reports and drawings, communicating with clients and working with other architects and engineers. Travel is sometimes required in order to oversee the progress of a project. Approximately 1 in 5 architects work longer than 50 hours per week. Long hours and work during nights and weekends is necessary to meet deadlines.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Architects

In most states it is required that architects hold a professional degree in architecture from one of the 117 schools of architecture with degree programs accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). Graduation from a non-accredited program may be sufficient for entry-level jobs in some states.

Students with no architectural background can earn their professional degree through a 5-year Bachelor of Architecture degree program. Others decide to earn a masters degree after completing a bachelors degree in a different field. This can take as long as five years or as little as one year, depending on the extent of previous training in architecture.

Educational background and preference determine which type of degree to pursue. Those who are sure of their career choice should pursue the 5-year professional degree as this will allow them the fastest entrance into employment. Most programs include courses on building design with an emphasis on CADD, architectural history and theory, technology, structures, construction methods, math, physical sciences, professional practice and liberal arts.

Postprofessional degrees are also offered to those who already have a bachelors or masters in architecture or other areas. Continuing education beyond the professional degree in not mandatory, but it is encouraged in order to learn teaching, research or other specialties.

Graduates are required by all State registration boards to have at least three years of a training period before they are allowed to take a licensing exam. The Intern Development Program, a program of the American Institute of Architects and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) is the standard for State trainings. These standards require board training from under the supervision of a licensed architect. Completing an internship during school might count towards part of the three year training period.

Between graduation and licensure, graduates usually work in the field under the supervision of a license architect. In order to become licensed, a graduate must complete a period of practical training and pass all the divisions of the Architect Registration Examination.

Continuing education is also required in some states in order to keep a license. These requirements vary depending on the State, but often involve completing a certain number of credits biennially or annually through formal university classes, workshops, self-study courses, conferences or other sources.

Good communication is key to this career, as architects must communicate their vision to clients and builders. Artistic and drawing ability is helpful, but understanding spatial relationships and visual orientation are more important. Creativity and the ability to work independently and as part of a team are also essential qualities. In order to successfully use CADD programs, computer skills are also required.

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards offers architectural certification. Only after an independent verification of the applicants educational transcripts, professional references and employment record is certification awarded. A growing number of architects are pursing certification because it makes it easier to become licensed across States, as it is the primary requirement.

Advancement in this career may lead to more complex assignments or taking a managerial position. Eventually, some architects become partners in a firm. Still, 21 percent go on to establish their own practices.

Employment and Job Outlook for Architects

Employment for architects is projected to increase by 16 percent in the next decade, which is faster than average for all occupations. These openings will be due to a growing population in the Sunbelt States, the need for more healthcare facilities as baby boomers retire, as well as more educational facilities.

It has become common practice for architecture companies to outsource the drafting of construction documents for large-scale residential and commercial projects to architecture firms oversees. This continuing trend has a negative impact on employment growth for lower-level interns and architects who would normally be assigned to these projects.

Employment openings at architectural firms will also be due to workers who transfer to other careers or retire. Competition for entry-level positions is to be expected as a large number of students are graduating with an architectural degree. Internships and the ability to distinguish themselves from others with their creativity will help individuals gain employment.

The knowledge of “green” design, or sustainable design, is a growing demand. Concerns about the environment and rising energy costs have led more new buildings to be built green.

Emplyoment for architects is directly related to the activity of the construction industry. Employment is also location specific, as some parts of the country will not need new buildings or structures.

Earnings and Salary for Architects

The median annual wage of wage-and-salary architects is $70,320. The highest 10 percent earn more than $119,220, while the lowest 10 percent earn less than $41,320. The middle 50 percent earn between $51,480 and $91,870. Architects beginning their internships should expect to earn significantly less.

While an architect is attempting to establish their own practice, they may go through a period when their expenses outweigh their income. Changing business conditions may cause the earnings of partners in established firms to fluctuate.

Often, firms will pay fees and tuition for employees who continue their education.

Scroll to Top