By very definition, architecture is the “art or practice of designing and constructing buildings.” Art is involved, but architecture also blends in science and math; a combination of all the STEM subjects intertwined without being a classic STEM field.
The word ‘architecture’ can mean different things to different people. The reality is, architects design aesthetically pleasing, highly functional, structurally sound spaces for people to live, work, and play in.
What Architects Do
Architects design buildings for people to live, work and play in. Whether they are creating a private home or a public building, they have to make them safe, secure, and efficient both functionally and economically. Architects may be asked to design one room or an entire building.
The job description of an architect may vary depending on the employer or their specialization. Generally speaking, architects meet with their prospective client where they determine the scope and requirements of the project. From there, the architect will give a cost and time estimate, and the client will decide whether or not they want to move forward. Once everything has been agreed upon, the architect will draw up a detailed rendering either hand-drawn or through a computer program such as CADD.
Just because their plans are drawn and approved doesn’t mean that job is over for the architect. In fact, the job isn’t over until the last nail has been hammered, and the building is deemed inhabitable.
Types of Architects
Architects don’t just build structures; there are other facets when architecture is necessary. When people think of an architect, they most commonly think of residential, industrial, or commercial architects. Here are a few more types of architects:
- Landscape Architects focus on outdoor areas such as gardens, public outdoor spaces, golf courses, and college campuses. Landscape architects earned a median salary of $64K in 2015. Similar to building architects, landscape architects need to know how to use CADD, have an eye for detail, and have decent mathematical skills.
- Software Architects use the latest technology to design software systems. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2015, software architects earned over $119,000 annually. Software architects need to have a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field, minimally. Most have multiple certifications, along with a graduate degree in the field.
- Naval Architects use engineering to design and develop new ships and boats. The median salary range for naval architects is $60K-$122K annually. To qualify for a naval architect, you must have a master’s degree in naval architecture.
Successful Architect Skills
It takes more than a good artist or a great carpenter to find success as an architect. There are certain skills necessary to getting ahead, not only in architecture school but within the profession, as well.
- Creative: Lego’s and Minecraft only hold so much clout, after that there needs to be some semblance of inventiveness in order develop unique and functional architectural designs. Architects don’t necessarily have to be highly visionary, but they definitely need to have some of those creative juices flowing through their veins.
- Analytical: Critical thinking skills are important for architects. They need to have a deep understand of design, the reason behind it and the problems they may encounter.
- Organized: Because architects are knee-deep (or deeper) in projects, they need to be able to keep track of all their contacts, who is doing what, and all the intricacies that are aligned with the project.
- Visual: Words can’t always convey meaning, particularly when it comes to architecture. So, while an architect needs also to be highly communicative, they also need to be visual. And, combine the two. So the client can explain what they want, and the architect, through both visual aid, and communication, can achieve their client’s wishes.
- Technical: In this day and age, tech know-how is a must in many careers. Architecture is no exception due to programs in Computer Aided Design and Drafting (CADD), and other related software programs. Sure, it can still be done by hand, but with technology, it’s a much more precise concept.
How to Become an Architect
- Get a Bachelor’s Degree. The program must be accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB). Most programs are five years.
- Complete a required internship. The Intern Development Program places graduates within design firms, allowing them a paid three year internship which is a pre-licensing requirement.
- Get licensed in your state. Each state has varying requirements, but getting a bachelor’s degree and completing an internship are common across the United States. The Architect Registration Examination is a 7-part pass/fail exam covering topics taught during school and the internship.
- Get professionally certified. Certifications are voluntary but recommended. Most architects choose to get and maintain their certifications through the NCARB.
- Depending on the program, a master’s degree in architecture can take one to five years to complete. There are also post-professional programs which allow the graduate to teach, research, or specialize.
- Maintain your certification through continuing education courses. Architects have to be licensed, and these need to be nurtured through classes in a variety of subjects. NCARB offers many continuing ed classes.
- Continue gaining experience and earn promotions
In the world of architecture, internships are a huge deal. It’s that middle ground between student and architect, where you’re probably more of an architect in training. Having an internship is the only way you can move on and get your state license allowing you to be a practicing architect. Listed are some key points when considering your internship:
- Identify your skills and highlight them within a kick-ass resume. Even if you don’t have any architecture experience yet, you have learned a lot in your studies; it’s time to brag about them. In fact, consider bragging about all your accomplishments, architecturally related or not.
- Build your network, especially add your professors because you never know what they do when they aren’t teaching budding architects. Also, grow your social media presence, and connect with other architects on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
- When applying for an internship, narrow down the type of environment you want to work in. Do you want a huge firm or a small one? A symphony or a one-man band? Also, think about what part of the field you plan to work in, residential, commercial, dog houses, and narrow down your search that way, as well.
- Do your research. All it takes is a quick search in your favorite search engine (like Google) to find out information on firms you have an interest in, or who have an interest in you.
- Start your search early. Waiting until the last minute not only adds stress, it also will make it more difficult to find open positions. Which also adds to the stress.
And, some last words. Do not offer to work for free just to snag an internship. Your time, brain, and ideas are worth actual money. The green kind that pays bills and affords you dinner and a movie. Never sell yourself short.
Cost of Architecture School
When searching for an architecture program, it’s important to keep in mind that it must be accredited. From there, you need to decide between private and public, or out-of-state versus in-state. In-state is usually significantly less expensive than attending college through an out-of-state program. Financial aid can help lower the cost of school so make an appointment to speak with the school’s financial aid counselor.
- Undergraduate: Keeping in mind the various elements going into a school, an undergraduate degree in architecture can cost between $15,000-$60,000 annually including the cost of tuition, books, and other associated fees.
- Master’s Degree Programs: Master’s degree programs for architecture can last anywhere between one year and three, depending on which school you decide to attend. These graduate programs can cost anywhere between $14,000 to $38,000 per year.
School is expensive. Becoming an architect is extremely costly. There's a reason it used to be considered a wealthy mans profession. But, don’t let yourself fall victim to sticker shock, there are scholarships available specifically for people heading into the field of architecture.
- Simpson Strong-Tie, Inc. offers merit-based scholarships for students going into architecture, structural engineering, and construction management. They have up to 68-$2,000 scholarships for students in programs with participating universities.
- The Payette Sho-Ping Chin Scholarship is specifically for women entering architecture. It is a $10,000 award for a female student entering their third or final year of college.
- Architects Foundation offers a couple of scholarship opportunities.
- ZGF Scholarship is for fifth-year students, or those entering graduate school who demonstrate a talent in architecture.
- Tile Contractors Association of America Scholarship is a $5000 annual scholarship award for high-achieving third or fourth-year architecture students.
- He may have painted one of the most famous ceilings in the world, but Michelangelo was known for much more than the Sistine Chapel. He is considered one of the greatest architects that ever lived.
- Louis Henri Sullivan is considered the “Father of Skyscrapers”, incorporating both geometric shapes and organic elements. He worked out of Chicago, but one of his most famous structure is in St. Louis; The Wainwright Building built in 1890. He had a major influence on another great, Frank Lloyd Wright.
- Antoni Gaudi was partial to curved lines, and vibrant colors. His work decorated Barcelona, Spain. He gained worldwide recognition in the 1960’s but had been working consistently throughout the century.
- Canadian Frank Gehry used irregular forms, and far-out shapes which led the postmodern era of architecture. He designed Los Angeles Walt Disney World’s concert hall and the Guggenheim Museum in Spain.
- Frank Lloyd Wright is considered to be the most famous architect, not only in the US where he’s from, but worldwide as well. Wright was partial to the Prairie School of architecture which used horizontal lines to blend with the landscape. One of his many famous structures was Fallingwater, built over a waterfall in Pennsylvania.
Architect Job Outlook
The employment of architects is expected to grow about 4% through 2026. This is slower than average for most occupations. Demand for architects knowledgeable in ‘green’ or sustainable design will rise as people become more environmentally aware.
Architecture is a popular degree which means jobs and internships will have a high level of competition. Those who know CADD and BIM, with experience in sustainable living, will have the edge over their competitors.
Industries with the highest level of employment
Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services
Residential Building Construction
Federal Executive Branch (OES Designation)
Local Government (OES Designation)
Nonresidential Building Construction
States with the highest level of employment
architects is $78K. Entry level will bring home over $47K while architects with extensive experience will earn over $134K annually. Some firms will pay for the continuing education requirements, so that’s a bonus. Most architects work full or overtime. The job may hold a good deal amount of stress, particularly when a deadline is looming.
Industries with the highest salary
Lessors of Real Estate
Scientific Research and Development Services
Computer Systems Design and Related Services
Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services
States with the highest salary