Put simply, an architecture assistant can be defined as any person who is carrying out architectural work under the supervision of a registered architect and/or practice, having not yet qualified themselves.
Today, almost every architect has gone through the “rite of passage” of being an assistant before they can become qualified and licensed. The amount of time required varies between countries and states, but the practical experience it provides is invaluable and greatly aids in a young architects development.
That said, as we will discuss below, not every assistant aspires to be an architect, with many aiming for and remaining in this position for the duration of their careers.
So here we’re delve into the life of the assistant, looking at:
- Who is an architectural assistant?
- How to become one?
- What does one do?
- Expected salaries
- Required skills
- CV’s & cover letter’s
Who is an architectural assistant?
Generally speaking an architecture assistant is anyone who is not a qualified architect and carrying out architectural work under the supervision of someone who is. There are however a few exceptions to this with architectural technicians and interior designers who equally may work beneath architects if employed under the same company umbrella.
As a general rule of thumb most assistants tend to be students who are currently studying architecture, and are in the process of carry out part of their mandatory practical experience in practice. For further guidance on this you should approach your national architecture body.
There are however also assistants that have never been to university and found a route into the profession via an internship, apprenticeship, or junior role, through to people coming across from other professions such as naval, engineering, or landscape backgrounds.
How to become one?
As mentioned above most architectural assistants will be students of architecture who are on their way to becoming a registered architect, however that said there are also a number of assistants who have not studied a degree in architecture and have therefore gone straight into the role following school or college.
As described below a lot of the skills needed to become an assistant are taught and acquired through architecture school. However those who will not be pursuing that direction will need to be more self-directed in the subjects that they take at their current institution, and/or be self taught in their own time.
In any instance you should speak to your academic adviser and choose a course that where possible includes in part or full, elements of architectural design, history/theory, mechanics and computer aided design.
Leaning AutoCAD and 3D software is key, and you should aim to get as much experience in this area as possible. This can be done while either still in school, or via summer internships and employment with architectural and engineering firms.
If necessary even unpaid experience (maybe a couple of days a week) would be better that nothing and provide valuable work experience.
Further to this, any type of experience that can be gained in design and construction will greatly benefit you in finding an assistant role. Your aim should be to put yourself ahead of as many other applicants as possible, the more skills you have the better prospect you will become.
Some students struggle with demonstrating these skills via their school / college work, and so many find time outside of their education to develop and build a suitable portfolio.
Furthermore joining one or more of the professional architecture organisations, such as the American Institute of Architecture Students or The Royal Institute of British Architects (USA & UK) will provide you with a direct connection to the industry. Students can often join at a reduced fee.
What does one do?
Assistants can and often will work on all stages of a design and construction project, assisting the project architect’s with layouts, plans, sections, elevations, admin, correspondence …anything that may be required, and that is within their remit.
Their role can be vast and varied, and may involve anything from producing a set of room layouts to detailing of wall and floor junction (providing they are capable). The scope and type of projects they work on can also be very diverse, where one week they could be working on a new build residential property for a private client, and the next a masterplan for a social housing project.
This of course is completely dependant on the type of practice they work for, but the point is, there should be a lot of variation and a lot to learn.
Predominantly the assistant works as a second-hand to the project architect and will often be the liaison between them, the client and the various consultants involved in the project, drawing up plans and making amendments.
We explain here that assistants are not required to be registered with any sort of governing body, whereas an architect is, but will however often (as their experience grows) carry out very similar, if not the same tasks, and these may include:
- Design tasks
- Produce 3D models
- Produce physical models
- Work as a liaison between the client and architect
- Create schematic diagrams
- Prepare detailed working drawings
- Research materials, methods, and construction techniques
- Inspect projects during construction
- Prepare inspection reports
As an architecture assistants knowledge and experience grows, they must know the basic principles and practices of:
- Construction materials and methods
- Architectural law and ethics
- Building codes
- Engineering processes
- Business protocols
This is even more important for those looking to take their final exams in a bid to become a qualified architect.
Although there are many areas to focus on, excel in and become specialised within, general skills that should be acquired and maintained are:
- 3D modelling
- Physical modelling
- Plan drawing
- Report writing
- Drawing preparation
- Building specification
- Inspect the work of others
- Analyse situations accurately
Expected salary …How much does one make?
It hopefully comes as no surprise that an assistants salary will vary from practice to practice, state to state, and country to country, and also takes into account your level of experience.
For this reason it is very difficult to give a global or national average figure for what you should expect, however your relative governing architecture body (AIA, RIBA, RAIC, etc) should produce annual reviews of its members salaries and provide a summary report of the averages for each of its key locations.
That said for a newly graduated student, we believe the starting wage provides a good and above average income, that should increase as you progress within your practice and gain more experience.
We’ve had many conversations with students who seem to be under the common misconception that larger practices pay better, which whilst in some instances that may be the case, on the whole it is completely dependant on the practice itself as appose to its size.
As long as your chosen practice pays at least the national average for your region, then whats important is the work and experience they can offer you, you need to be getting maximum returns on the time you are investing into working there, and so choose carefully.
A lot of the skills that are required to be a successful architectural assistant are taught during architectural school, and these include knowing:
- How to use CAD software
- How to draw plans, elevations and sections
- How to make models
- How to use 3D software
- Understanding scale
- Construction details
- Building codes and regulations
- General rules of thumb
- Properties of materials
- Structural possibilities and limitations
- Sustainable strategies
- Concept development
- Design strategies
- Presentation skills
- Knowing how to read buildings
- Architecture theory and history
- Communication and presentation skills
- Team working
Some you will already know from just general life experience and/or a part time job, such as:
- Being polite
- Carrying out set tasks
- Time keeping
- Compassionate to others
- Work ethic
…and some you will learn and build on whilst working as one, such as:
- A deeper understanding of construction detailing
- Knowing the right building codes and regulations
- Speaking to and managing consultants
- Liaising with clients
- Working with authorities
- Knowing procurement routes
- Working with contractors
- Learning about materials
- Working with a construction budget
- Running and managing a project
- Practice admin
Ultimately, the aim of the assistant is to become as efficient in procuring a building possible, with most aiming for and becoming a fully qualified and registered architect.
CV & cover letter
When applying for an assistant role you need to make sure that submit both a CV (curriculum vitae) and a small sample portfolio. These can be combined together into one document or submitted separately, but both need to successfully communicate both yourself and your ability.
There are many templates that can be used to base the design and content of your CV on, and we’ve linked some of our favourites below: here and here
For the portfolio portion of your application you should submit only your best and most relevant work, and this should include between two to six pieces (no more), that best demonstrates your skill, ability, and what you can bring to the practice should you be successful.
Under no circumstance (unless asked to) should you overload your application with too much material, this will only dilute your best work and more often than not cause the employer to lose interest.
An architectural assistants duties could be summed up as being similar to an architects but with a reduced level of responsibility. Much like an architect, this also comes with a level of intense hard work that at times can be very frustrating. However that said, for the majority of the time it can be incredibly rewarding, exciting and creative.
When making the transfer from architecture school into what people like to call the “real world”, it can be a bit of culture shock in that the architecture school environment is very different from the practice environment. In practice there are real clients, real budgets and real consequences to the decisions being made and the work being done.
With this in mind, the step up (and it is a step up) should not be feared but you should anticipate that it will take time for you feel comfortable in this new setting and perform at your best. As a rule, most practices expect a three month grace period of learning the protocols, ways of working, and reaching the level expected. However during this time you must be constantly showing development and your potential, don’t just “turn it on” at the last minute.
For those who love design and the built environment, we honestly think that there is no other career that will do, except perhaps actually being a registered architect.
It is a challenging and rewarding profession that can be immensely satisfying, and suitable for anyone with a artistic sensibility, good communication skills and/or technical proficiency.
…We’d love to hear from you if you have any questions