How to become an architect
Architects are professionals who devise, design, and finally oversee the construction of buildings. It is a creative and challenging profession that combines the knowledge of sciences and humanities, so as to make buildings both functional and esthetically appealing. Becoming an architect, regardless of whether one is a domestic or international student, requires creativity, education, being informed, responsibility, precision, and readiness to take long hours to finish a design project on schedule.
What does an architect do
Architecture is one of the oldest human activities that has developed through centuries following the needs of people, but also cultural trends. This is why this discipline requires serious project management, and often artistry. Modern architects are required to know the rules of construction, to understand the materials used, as well as to possess a sense of esthetics and to understand the role of a building in society (e.g. as part of an architectural whole of a city). Accordingly, the architect’s process comprises the following stages:
- Predesign– this stage primarily involves research, because it is important to collect as much information about the project as possible through interviews with the client. The first step is analyzing the demands and performing feasibility analysis, i.e. whether the demands can be realized or not.
- Building design – the basic idea is elaborated through sketches. In this stage, the architect designs several solutions so as to reach the best one. He uses advanced information modeling software for that purpose, in order to present ideas as clearly as possible. The client, thus, gets an insight into the initial concept, both of the interior and the exterior.
- Design development – after certain ideas are adopted, the architect moves on to more detailed design. It largely involves the design of space, i.e. basic elements, such as storeys and rooms. This is also the stage in which the dimensions and the selection of the materials is discussed. When the architect possesses this information, it is easier for him/her to reach a more precise estimate of the construction costs.
- Construction documents – this is a moment when it is necessary to finalize the documents process and clearly define information such as types of materials that will be used, electrical installations, lighting design, mechanical systems, etc. The documents serve to give the contractors clear instructions regarding the construction, thus avoiding mistakes.
- Obtaining construction permits – each building requires a construction permit. The documentation that needs to be collected in this process depends on the requirements defined by the city, or the country in which the construction is planned. The architect is an important part of this process, because whether the specified standards will be met or not depends entirely on the precision of his/her design.
- Selection of contractor – unless a contractor is determined in advance, usually the negotiations will be held with several construction companies where each will present their terms. The most important parameters include duration of construction, as well as the price. The company’s reputation, i.e. their track record also plays an important role in the selection of a contractor. The cheapest offer is not necessarily the best, because construction quality is more important than the price.
- Construction administration – in this stage, the architect (usually architectural technologist) oversees the construction process to make sure that all the standards defined by the project are met. Contractors often need additional information regarding the design, especially if they encounter technical problems. In that case, it is important to reach a solution that will be as close to the initial project as possible. In these situations, it is necessary to possess good people skills in order to solve challenges that emerge on the construction site through conversation.
- Estimate of completion date – it is necessary to perform quality control of the construction works and record potential modifications that need to be done. In some cases, the object needs to be tested to ensure safety (e.g. bridge durability).
These stages can be implemented in most projects that professionals will encounter during their career as architects, but each project has its own particularities. This is why the job of an architect is extremely creative, dynamic, and responsible. In order to do it well, one needs quality education.
What are architect educational requirements?
To work professionally as an architect in the USA, one needs to obtain a degree approved by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). These include accredited college and university programs, where after finishing high school, one can study architecture:
- Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.) is a 5-year undergraduate program and one of the requirements is passing the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) and obtaining a license. Given that learning is focused on architecture-related courses, this program is for students who are certain that they want to work as architects. It is also possible to graduate earlier, and obtain a Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree, but this degree is not approved by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), which means that it is necessary to enrol in master’s studies afterwards.
- Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) is a postgraduate program that lasts between 1 and 5 years, and as such, complements the bachelor’s degree. Thanks to M.Arch, students who studied other disciplines can become architects.
- Doctor of Architecture (D.Arch.) represents further training in the field of architecture, and the program lasts 3-4 years (it is shorter for those who possess a master’s degree). At the end of the program, students choose a final thesis, which usually represents an architectural solution for a project.
- Ph.D. in Architecture lasts 4-7 years, and is designed for students who want to engage in scientific work, or teach at university level. In this case, the focus is on academic work, and research activities that lead to new theories, or research of existing theories through one’s PhD dissertation.
To obtain a license to work as an architect in the USA, all states demand that students complete an architectural internship that usually lasts three years. As a rule, the programs are organized by NCARB in partnership with architecture firms. During internship, students work, at first, on entry level projects, preparing documents, developing 3D models, studying details, and contributing to teamwork in general.
NCARB monitors the work of interns to make sure that they have acquired adequate skills and knowledge of architecture during internship. As part of that process, interns write reports on their progress and the areas they have worked on. After this period, candidates are ready to take the ARE test and obtain a license to work as full-time architects.
Even after obtaining the license, many states prescribe professional training in order to maintain one’s license. The specifics depend on the state, but it usually means attending professional conferences and additional training programs.
After obtaining a license, many architects decide on obtaining different certificates so as to possess a wider scope of knowledge and be as competitive on the market as possible. Many of these certificates refer to project management, as well as additional training in the use of design and 3D modeling software.
Types of careers in architecture
After completing formal education, professional training, and obtaining a license, architects can choose between different career options. There are several areas of architecture where they can work, and these are the most popular ones:
Building surveyor – unlike other areas where buildings are designed from scratch (design and drafting), in this case, the focus is on maintaining and improving existing buildings. Projects commonly involve monitoring facilities, analyzing the quality of workmanship, and proposing solutions that should meet the highest safety standards. Examples include the restoration of old buildings and bridge safety assessment.
Planning architect – instead of working on a single building, a city planner looks at a bigger picture and thinks about the design of entire settlements. It is a highly creative and responsible job, where the architect’s vision influences the appearance of a whole city, and consequently, the quality of life of its residents. Working as a successful planner requires creativity, and familiarity with the local laws and regulations.
Landscape architect – while many areas of architecture focus on buildings, landscape architecture focuses on the environment and green areas, usually in urban environments. These experts design city parks, children’s playgrounds, campuses, and other open spaces. The main challenge is to create a functional whole using elements such as the positioning of green areas, footpaths, bodies of water, and buildings.
Site architect – this line of work involves overseeing the construction of a building, i.e. monitoring construction works. Site architects not only oversee each segment of construction on a daily basis, but also solve problems on the fly by giving instructions to construction workers. This way, the quality of construction works is ensured, and potential mistakes in project implementation are avoided.
The knowledge possessed by architects can be applied in almost every industry. Thus, in addition to the construction of houses and buildings, architects are needed in large systems such as the army (to design training courses, military bases, etc.), as well as capital projects, such as the construction of dams, bridges, and thermoelectric power plants. It is clearly a very responsible position, so the median annual salary of an architect is $82.000, but, depending on the experience and the position, it can exceed $136.000.