Is Architecture Hard? – How difficult is it to study and get a degree?

Does architecture have to be such hard work? It’s a fair question...
Is being an Architect Hard

Becoming an architect certainly isn’t easy, but once qualified – is architecture hard?

The Austrian-American architect Richard Neutra once said, confirming a popular perception of his profession: ‘I am simply submerged in work from five in the morning to eleven at night.’ Why would anyone choose a job that seems to require such intense commitment?

Does architecture have to be such hard work? It’s a fair question, and many prospective architects are put off when they start thinking about the answer.

Though architecture can be a wonderful career, it’s not an easy one – so this article will give you the lowdown on the challenges you’re likely to face during the beginning, middle and end of your career, and compares architecture to other notoriously ‘hard’ professions like medicine and engineering.

If you’re not sure whether you’re cut out for architecture, you can also try our quick quiz (link below) to find out whether it’s likely to suit you or not.

Is architecture hard?

In short – yes! Architecture students spend more time and money on their training than almost any other profession. After graduation, competition for jobs is fierce and young architects often find themselves doing years of menial work for low pay, putting in much longer hours than they’d like.

And things don’t always get better higher up the ladder: salaries tend to increase in small increments, and many senior architects feel burdened by their heavy legal responsibilities.

While architecture can be a long and extremely gratifying career, there’s no denying it is tough from start to finish. 

is architecture hard

Is it harder than engineering?

The comparison between architecture and engineering in terms of difficulty is subjective and depends on various factors, including personal interests, strengths, and educational or professional experiences. However, here are some perspectives to consider:

  1. Nature of the Work:
    • Architecture: Focuses on the design and aesthetics of buildings, taking into account functionality, human experience, context, and the environment. It often involves a balance between the artistic and the practical.
    • Engineering: Focuses on the technical and functional aspects of structures, systems, and processes. Engineers aim to ensure that designs are efficient, safe, and reliable, often using mathematical models and scientific principles.
  2. Educational Path:
    • Both fields require a rigorous educational foundation. Architecture programs often include design studios, history, theory, and technology courses. Engineering programs emphasize mathematics, physics, and discipline-specific courses (like civil, mechanical, or electrical engineering).
    • Both disciplines require professional licensing in many regions, which may involve additional education, internships, and examinations.
  3. Problem-Solving:
    • Architects often work with abstract concepts and must think about spatial relationships, user experience, and aesthetics.
    • Engineers typically use a more analytical and quantitative approach to problem-solving, often applying scientific and mathematical principles.
  4. Interdisciplinary Overlap:
    • In the realm of building design and construction, there’s significant overlap between architecture and engineering. For instance, structural engineers and architects often collaborate closely to ensure a building is both aesthetically pleasing and structurally sound.
  5. Personal Aptitude and Interest:
    • Some people might find architectural design more challenging due to its subjective nature, where there might not be a “right” answer. Others might struggle with the concrete mathematical and analytical aspects of engineering.
    • An individual’s background, skills, and passions play a significant role in determining which field might be “harder” for them.
  6. Scope and Specialization:
    • Both fields have various specializations. For example, a biomedical engineer might find architectural design challenges less familiar than, say, a civil engineer would. Likewise, an architect specializing in urban planning might be more attuned to certain engineering challenges than an architect focused solely on residential design.

In conclusion, neither field is universally “harder” than the other. The perceived difficulty largely depends on individual strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Both professions are demanding and require a combination of creativity, technical knowledge, and dedication – see our article Structural Engineer vs Architect for a more thorough comparison of the two careers.

…but surely not harder than medicine?

Comparing architecture to medicine in terms of difficulty is, again, subjective and varies based on individual strengths and passions. Both professions are esteemed and require extensive education and dedication. Here’s a perspective on their differences:

  1. Nature of the Profession:
    • Architecture: As mentioned, it deals with the design and aesthetics of buildings, emphasizing functionality, context, and user experience.
    • Medicine: Focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases. It directly impacts human lives, requiring practitioners to make critical decisions often under pressure.
  2. Length and Intensity of Education:
    • Medicine typically demands a longer educational path, often involving undergraduate studies, medical school, residency, and possibly further specializations. The content is also vast, covering anatomy, physiology, pathology, and various other specialized areas.
    • While architecture also demands rigorous training, its duration might be shorter compared to the extensive years required in medical education and training.
  3. Emotional and Ethical Challenges:
    • Medical professionals often deal with high-stress situations, including life-and-death decisions. They also regularly encounter emotional and ethical dilemmas.
    • Architects, though dealing with significant responsibilities especially in terms of safety and public welfare, might not face the same immediate and acute emotional stresses routinely present in medical professions.
  4. Work Environment:
    • Medical professionals might have longer and more unpredictable hours, especially during their early careers or in certain specialties.
    • Architects also have demanding schedules, especially when approaching project deadlines, but may have more regular hours compared to some medical professions.
  5. Personal Aptitude and Interest:
    • Medicine requires a keen interest in biology, human anatomy, and interpersonal communication. The ability to handle stress, make swift decisions, and manage the emotional weight of patient care is crucial.
    • Architecture, as previously described, demands a balance between the artistic and practical. The ability to envision space, design, and manage projects is essential.

Both fields have their unique challenges, and the perceived difficulty of one over the other largely depends on an individual’s aptitudes and passions. Some may find the emotional weight and vast knowledge required in medicine more challenging, while others might be more daunted by the design complexities and technicalities of architecture.

How is being an architect difficult?

In this section, we’ll look in more detail at some of the reasons why being an architect can be tough.

You need a wide variety of skills

One of the hardest things about being an architect is that you have to be a master of all trades.

As well as the creative aptitude needed for designing buildings, you should have a solid understanding of math and physics; as well as the ability to do focused and solitary work for hours at a time, you should have the social skills to develop good relationships with clients and contractors.

Very few people are such incredible all-rounders that they can cope with the many and various demands on them. 

Qualification takes a lot of time and money

In the US, UK and many other countries, an architecture degree takes at least seven years to complete (five in school and two on placements), whereas the average student spends just three or four years at university.

Predictably, the fees are prohibitively expensive for some – and architecture courses have hidden costs, too, such as materials and software.

Moreover, the pressure of an architecture qualification can be intense, with ‘crits’ (in which you present and defend your work to tutors and peers) a compulsory component of most courses. All-nighters are common as deadlines loom, and sleepless nights can soon take their toll.

is architecture hard

Licensure takes even more time and money

After all this, by law you still have no right to describe yourself as an architect. Architecture graduates can work in the field as so-called architectural designers, but those wishing to gain full licensure and the professional title architect must take additional exams (such as the ARE in the US, and RIBA Part 3 in the UK).

This involves yet more time and expense, as well as taking on extra legal responsibilities. On the plus side, though, architects with full licensure have more job opportunities and greater earning capacity.

Working as an architect isn’t always a bed of roses

Architecture seems glamorous from the outside but it’s a competitive profession, with many more qualified applicants than jobs. Young architects tend not to be paid very well, and find access to more creative work severely restricted until they have a few years of experience under their belt.

Hours are often long and unsociable, including evenings and weekends. And unfortunately, this doesn’t even balance out with increased seniority; working for yourself is one of the only ways to take control of your work-life balance as an architect, and of course this just means trading one set of stresses for another! 

Architects have to deal with a lot of regulations

Licensed architects bear legal responsibility for the safety of their buildings, which is more than some people care to handle.

On top of this, building regulations change from country and country and even (within the US) from state to state, so a licence to practice is not a licence to practice anywhere. If you move, you may have to retrain before you can start signing off on buildings (though if you’re lucky, an employer might foot the bill for this retraining). 

is architecture hard

Is studying architecture hard?

Studying architecture can be challenging for several reasons, but the experience varies widely among individuals based on their interests, strengths, and educational environment. Here are some aspects that many find challenging when studying architecture:

  1. Interdisciplinary Nature:
    • Architecture is inherently interdisciplinary. Students must gain competency in art, history, material science, structural principles, environmental systems, and more. This wide-ranging curriculum means students must juggle different types of thinking and learning, from the abstract to the highly technical.
  2. Design Studio Culture:
    • The design studio is central to architectural education. These courses require long hours of work, both independently and in group settings. Students must develop original designs, create detailed models, and frequently present and defend their ideas in critiques.
    • The open-ended nature of design problems means there’s rarely a single “right” solution, which can be challenging for those accustomed to more black-and-white academic assessments.
  3. Technical Demands:
    • Beyond the conceptual and artistic facets, architecture students must also master various technical tools and software. Programs like AutoCAD, Rhino, Revit, and various rendering software become essential. Learning these can be time-consuming, and staying updated with technological advancements is a continuous process.
  4. Theoretical Understanding:
    • Architecture is not just about constructing buildings but also understanding the theories and philosophies behind those designs. Students dive into architectural history, theory, and even sociology to understand how built environments shape and are shaped by human behavior.
  5. Physical and Mental Demands:
    • The long hours in studio, often involving all-nighters, can take a toll on students’ physical and mental health. The culture, while collaborative, can also be competitive, adding another layer of stress.
  6. Practical Application:
    • Apart from theoretical knowledge, students must consider practical constraints in their designs, such as budget, building codes, sustainability, and client needs. This requires a balance between vision and real-world limitations.
  7. Feedback and Criticism:
    • Public reviews or “crits” are a staple of architectural education. Students present their work to professors, practitioners, and peers, receiving direct feedback. While this process is crucial for growth, it can also be emotionally challenging, especially for those not accustomed to public critique.
  8. Continuous Evolution:

In summary, studying architecture is indeed demanding due to its blend of artistry, technical proficiency, and theoretical depth. The challenge, however, is also what makes it a rich and rewarding field for many.

It calls for a commitment to continuous learning and a passion for both the tangible and intangible elements of space and design.

To sum up…

So is architecture hard? …there’s no doubt that architecture isn’t easy!

It can take the best part of a decade to qualify and get licensed; it’s a competitive field in which salaries can be low and hours long; and architects are affected by all kinds of stresses, from demanding clients to 6AM starts. But it’s also a deeply satisfying career; when Neutra described the long hours he worked, he was describing an all-consuming labor of love.

If you’re not afraid of a little – OK, a lot of – hard work, you may find yourself equally enamored with architecture.

FAQs about is architecture hard…

Is architecture a hard degree?

As discussed above, architecture requires a combination of technical skills, creative problem-solving, and an understanding of a wide range of subjects.

However, the level of difficulty will vary from person to person and will depend on a number of factors such as the individual’s aptitude, motivation, and the specific program or school they are attending.

Some of the challenges that students of architecture may face include:

  1. Heavy workload: Architecture programs often have demanding course schedules and may require students to complete a large number of projects, papers, and exams.
  2. Technical skills: Architecture involves the use of specialized software and tools, and students may need to learn and master these skills in order to complete their coursework.
  3. Creativity: Architecture involves the creation of original designs, and students may need to develop their creative problem-solving skills in order to come up with innovative solutions.
  4. Interdisciplinary study: Architecture involves the study of a wide range of subjects, including engineering, construction, and design. Students may need to learn and understand principles from these fields in order to succeed in their studies.

While architecture can be a challenging field of study, it can also be extremely rewarding for those who are interested in the field and willing to put in the necessary work and effort.

Is architecture an easy job?

While a degree in architecture can be challenging, it is different from the actual job of an architect in terms of the specific challenges and responsibilities involved.

Architects are responsible for designing and overseeing the construction of buildings and other structures, and they must consider a wide range of factors such as functionality, aesthetics, sustainability, and safety.

Specific challenges of an architecture job will depend on the individual project and the work environment, as a professional, some of the challenges of working as an architect may include:

  1. Heavy workload: Architects may work long hours and face tight deadlines in order to meet project requirements.
  2. Technical skills: Architects must be proficient in computer-aided design (CAD) software and may need to use specialized tools and equipment in order to complete their work.
  3. Creativity: Architects must be able to think creatively and come up with innovative solutions to complex problems.
  4. Coordination: Architects must be able to work effectively in a team and coordinate with other professionals, such as engineers and contractors, in order to successfully complete a project.

Is it hard to succeed in architecture?

Architecture can be a competitive field, and success in the field may depend on a number of factors such as education, experience, skills, and networking. Here are a few considerations for those seeking to succeed in architecture:

  1. Education: A professional degree in architecture, typically a Master of Architecture (M.Arch.), is typically required in order to practice as an architect. It can be helpful to attend a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) in order to ensure that your education meets industry standards.
  2. Experience: Gaining practical experience through internships or entry-level positions can be important for building a strong portfolio and developing the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the field.
  3. Skills: Architects must be proficient in computer-aided design (CAD) software, and they should have strong communication, problem-solving, and teamwork skills.
  4. Networking: Building relationships with other professionals in the field, such as through industry events or professional organizations, can be important for finding job opportunities and staying up-to-date with industry trends.

Is a degree in architecture hard?

It’s certainly not easy, but whether it’s hard really depends on what you’re good at and what you enjoy. Student architects should be as comfortable with math and science as with designing and drawing, and this is a combination of skills not found in many people.

However, you don’t have to be brilliant at both of these things – you just have to be prepared to work hard on them. For a long time. And be resilient enough to handle a group of people pulling apart your work in crits

Do architects get paid well?

This also depends – primarily on your qualifications, your experience, where you’re based, and the kind of firm you work for.

The take-home: being fully licensed, at least halfway through your career, and working in a major city is likely to push up your earnings considerably.

If you’re based in the US, this article gives an overview of the average salary for an architect in each state. If you’re in the UK, this RIBA survey indicates how much you can expect to earn at various stages of your career.

Is it hard to become a successful architect?

Our article Nine Ways to Be a Successful Architect shares some advice on how to excel in the field, but the reality is that most architects will only ever be good, not magazine-cover great.

For every Richard Rogers or IM Pei, there are millions more whose names will never be known. That said, success can be defined in many different ways, and plenty of architects have made a quiet difference to society by designing well-functioning homes, schools, hospitals and more.

If you equate success with this social contribution, rather than fame and fortune, then yes, lots of architects are successful.

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