What Is An Architect & How To Be One?

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When was the very first time you heard the term architect? And more importantly did you know what it meant, or what they did? Chances are you were very young, and you didn’t have a clue! But still even now, can you say that you fully understand what is meant by the term “architect”?

When considering a career path in architecture it’s important to be able to identify and understand exactly what you are aiming for, and so in this post we will look at:

  • What is an architect

  • Who can be an architect

  • How to be an architect

  • How is the architectural profession regulated

  • What does an architect do

  • Why someone would use an architect

What is an architect?

In defining the term architect, the simplest explanation; is a trained, accredited and registered (this is very important) professional, who is qualified to design, plan, advise and aide in the procurement of both the private and public built environments.

This covers both the aesthetic and technical fields, and is carried out through impartial and creative thinking no matter how small of large the project is.

The actual word “Architect” was derived from the Latin word architectus, which originates from the Greek word arkhitektn, where arkhi means chief and tecketn means builder. So the architect is defined as the Chief Builder.

This term “chief builder” has moved and adapted through time, but is still extremely accurate in describing the architects holistic role during a construction project from inception through to completion.

The architect is required to play many roles and characters during this process, and at any one time can be called upon to be a designer, manager, businessmen, maker, adviser and a mediator to name a few.

They represent and are the one constant and consistent part of a project.

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Who can be an architect?

In theory anyone, but an architect’s decisions can and will affect the safety of the public and for this reason they are required to undergo and complete a lengthy and rigorous set of academic and practical training tasks.

How to be an architect

The most common method of this is through a certified course with a university or college followed by practical experience. However some choose to complete their training part time whilst working in practice, under the supervision of a registered professional.

In the UK for example, all routes of the qualification are broken down into three parts; a degree(Part I), a masters degree (Part II) and then a professional diploma (Part III), over a minimum seven year period.

Whereas in the US the process differs slightly, with students most commonly required to complete a Bachelor Degree, followed by an internship, and concluded via a state specific professional examination.

How to be an architect in the UK

Part I in the UK, is an honours degree in architecture. This is a ‘normal’ three year degree that develops a broad range of skills and architectural understanding, comprising of design skills, construction methods, theory and architectural history.

Following successful completion, the next step is to take the first of the required (minimum) two years out in practice. This is carried out under the guidance of a registered architect in line with the RIBA requirements, and enables the student to experience a more hands-on approach to architecture.

Part II, is a Masters, Diploma or BArch degree normally taught over a two year period, where it aims to enhance and build upon the students aesthetic and technical knowledge whilst obtaining a deeper understanding of complex projects.

This is then followed by the student’s second (again minimum) one year experience within an architecture practice, under the supervision of a register architect. Here they will start to take on more responsibility, and gain greater exposure to live projects in preparation for the final portion of studying, Part III.

It is worth noting that it is quite uncommon for a student to go straight into a Part III course within just one year of completing Part II, unless they have already gained sufficient experience.

Part III is the final part of the UK based architectural student’s processional training, and is the professional examination that must be completed and passed in order to be legally registered as an architect.

Often running part time for 9 months to a year, the course covers project management, English law, regulations, contracts and methods of procurement's, rounding off all of the previous years’ experience.

How to be an architect in the USA

In the US all the academic studying is combined into a 5 year Bachelor Degree program, that covers and develops the same skill sets and knowledge acquired via the UK part I and II system. 

This is then followed by an internship program with a registered practice which typically lasts for a three year period. Again, as with the above UK system, this enables aspiring architects to gain the valuable hands-on experience required, under a licensed professional.

Finally the student must sit and pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) for their specific state or the state they plan to practice in.

It is the general assumption that once this is all completed, the student is then ready to enter back into the profession as a qualified professional with the capability of running and managing their own projects and small practice.

Only after this point, can they call themselves an architect.

How is the architectural profession regulated?

While it is not a statutory requirement for all buildings to be designed and procured by a registered architect, when they are, the process is strictly regulated by the Architects governing body for their country or state (USA). This ensures that high standards and quality of work are maintained. 

In the UK, it is under the ‘Architects Act 1997’ that statutory law protects the title from unqualified persons using it, and this led to the establishment of the Architects Registration Board (ARB) who are in place to protect and regulate the title.

What this means, is that with the few exceptions of a Landscape architect, golf course architect and naval architect, only a registered architect can practice under the title. This gives the client, reassurance that the services offered will be carried out to a high and professionally regulated standard.

More information on the ARB and also the RIBA can found here:

What (and who) is the ARB?

What (and who) is the RIBA?

In the US the title is protected under individual state law and nationally over scene by the National Council of Architectural registration Boards (NCARB)


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What does an architect do?

We cover this in greater detail here, and it can and will of course vary from practice to practice, as some will be more design focused and others more technical but:

They can work on a variety of buildings; whether it is a new build, an extension, refurbishment (or both), or even the restoration and conservation of an old and/or grade I, II and II* listed buildings, there will always be an interest and speciality. 

They can bring value to a project, by helping to define what is important and key in generating a successful outcome ...maximising the impact, functionality or marketability of a building and/or structure.

They can serve as a trusted adviser; with a creative understanding of materials, aesthetics, cultural and physical contexts, the clients design brief requirements are translated into an effective and affordable design solution that works with the practical considerations of the site.

They can develop solutions and propose ways that can reduce construction costs whilst maintaining design integrity and property value.  

They can oversee a project from inception to completion, and will advise and work with the necessary additional construction professionals and consultants such as engineers to ensure a successful delivery.

They can work with a diverse range of collaborators who can cover a variety of areas of expertise including engineers, landscape architects, sustainable energy consultants and contractors/builders.

They can project manage; as a project develops the team required to procure it will grow, and an architect will need to become part of and overlook a larger team of people in order to complete a project. Communication and collaboration are important skills every architect must have.

 Kew House by  Piercy & Company , Photography by  Jack Hobhouse

Why someone would use an architect

As registered professionals, architects are required to be competent in their work and maintain a high level of understanding. This is maintained through what is called Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

CPD learning often comes in the form of lectures, seminars and workshops that are delivered by other construction professionals and bodies. This ensures that an architect is kept up to date with all of the latest legislation, construction techniques, and materials to name a few …maintaining their knowledge and skill sets that are relevant to their professional work.

Another key benefit is that all registered architects must hold and maintain the adequate and appropriate professional indemnity insurance (PII). The level of insurance is dependent on the type of work the architect carries out, but they are expected to always have the cover for the highest size and nature of the projects they undertake.

In the UK, there is a minimum requirement of £250,000 set out by the ARB that every practicing architect will at least hold.

If you are thinking about becoming an architect and would like to know more and / or have any questions, then please leave a comment below.