What is it like to be an Architect?

Introduction

Do you love buildings and admiring how things are built? Do you think about environments and how people interact with them? Then maybe you should also be thinking about a career in architecture and becoming an architect?

…Here we take a look at what it takes to become one and provide an insight into the world of architecture and its profession.

Architects in general need to have a strong passion for what they do. As mentioned here, it takes dedication in both becoming and working as an architect, and having a passion and desire for what you do really helps a young architect to progress and grow.

An architect needs a keen eye for detail (the small things matter) and the ability to think holistically as well as having an interest in design and the ability to communicate it clearly.

Whether it is through sketching, computer aided design and/or spoken word, communication also forms a large part of the profession and is key in presenting ideas and methods to clients, contractors, and fellow architects and colleagues.

Architects of course need to have a passion for buildings and the environments they sit within, but also for the people that inhabit them. The spaces an architect creates are almost always for people, and understanding how people will live, work and interact with them is vitally important.

If you have a genuine interest in the built environment and design, then being an architect can be a very exciting occupation and one that can bring a great amount of enjoyment.

…Not many people can honestly say that they enjoy their jobs, but for the most part an architect can.

Being able to design and develop objects, that go on to be built, used and inhabited, is incredibly powerful and brings a great sense of achievement.

If you enjoy creative projects, taking pride in the process of making things, and making design decisions, then being an architect can be a very rewarding education and profession.

How do you become an architect & what type of education do you need?

You may or may not be aware that you are required to have a license to practice architecture; you need at least a bachelor’s degree in architecture from an accredited school.

In the US, most students enroll in a 5 year bachelors of architecture in a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board. There are a number of programs across the country but you have to be accepted into the architecture program in most schools. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be good at math, but you do need to have fairly good grades and have good SAT or ACT scores. It’s also helpful to have taken physics and a drafting or design class in high school.

Once enrolled in college, you’ll take classes in architectural theory, construction technology, and building structures. You may also, depending on the school you attend, take classes in visual arts, architectural history, and art theory. Most students also learn computer-aided design and drafting. As you can see, the curriculum is quite varied and dependent on your chosen school of architecture.

Bachelors of architecture programs require students to be a part of design studio, to show the skills they are learning in designing and building models. These programs are rigorous and require discipline and organization to get the most benefit out of them.

The design studio is one of the main components of the architectural education and as described below, is also one of the most enjoyable.

In these studios students will be required to do individual and grouped design and research projects, to develop creative problem solving and team working. The structure of this however depends on the program you are enrolled upon.

You may also opt to go on and earn a master’s degree in architecture. In the US, for those who earn a bachelor’s in architecture, there is a 1-year program to earn a master’s degree. As another option, you can enroll in a 2-3 year master’s program to become a licensed architect. Many masters’ programs offer courses in freehand drafting, construction law, and architectural design.

Design studio experience

As mentioned above, working within a design studio is an essential part of your education, and helps prepare you for working in a real professional environment with others. It also offers the opportunity to gain instant feedback on your work from your peers and tutors.

It takes hours of dedicated work in the studio but most students really enjoy the time spent creating and discovering new ideas. For some there are long hours which may mean some sleepless nights but if you try to treat school like a full time job and work during the day, there will be no need for the last minute rush and the dreaded all-nighter!

The stories you may here about having to work into the early hours of the night and/or all the way through it, are simply caused by a lack of planning and poor time management. Some students will also try to blame their tutors for last minute changes and alternations; however these are almost always only last minute because the student has presented their draft work last minute.

Plan ahead and use your time efficiently, and you’ll be absolutely fine.

Do I need an Internship?

Another way to prepare for the working world is to get a good internship working for an architectural firm. This is a great way to experience what you’ll be doing after you get your degree and your certificate.

You can do this during the summer while earning your degree. You may not actually get to do much drawing or designing but you can get invaluable experience in the field of architecture through just being in the office, on site, and in general discussion with architects.

What is it like working as an Architect?

Still interested in becoming an architect? Once you finish school, what is it like working in the real world? To become an architect in the US, you must get your certification by passing the Architect Registration Exam. And this takes time working first. You must work for about 5,000 hours under a licensed architect doing specific types of work in the state where you want to be licensed.

Then it depends largely on the type of work you do. Some architects work for small firms and others for large ones.

In a small firm, you get to see all the sides of the business due to there being fewer people to divide the work between. You get to participate in more of the stages of the design process ranging from the initial consultation to supervising construction of the finished product. In the words of one architect, “It’s engaging, all consuming, varied, never predictable, and infuriating (when a client won’t pay).”

In a large firm on the other hand, you most likely will specialize in one aspect of the design process. Your work environment can be different depending on if you are working on residential or commercial projects and if you work in the private sector or public sector.

Because you have to have a license to practice architecture, you’ll need continuing education throughout your career through courses and professional development.

In general though, most architects have a diversity of projects they work on and a diversity of tasks. It’s not all drawing designs all day, it’s creatively solving problems. The main thing you are trying to accomplish is getting each project built and solving the problems that come with it along the way.

You have to be a generalist in that you know a little about many different aspects of the design and building process. Some architects choose to develop specialties in key areas such as sustainability, engineering systems, detailing, business, politics, building materials etc...

You will work with clients and deadlines on a day to day basis. Juggling deadlines on several projects is a common aspect of the job. Another part of it is sending and receiving emails, communicating with clients, and working on the details of each project. It may seem labor intensive at times but it can be really enjoyable too.

Another architect shared, “There’s a moment when the right ideas coalesce, the right ideas find each other and there’s a clarity. I never know when it will happen or how this works, but it does.”

Many architecture offices incorporate the studio experience into the office, making it easy to design whether that be on the computer or hands on drawing and building models. Some architects design their own space to work in too. After all, what the office looks like can make an impression on the client and affect your creativity.

How much does an architect make?

When deciding on a career, it’s important to balance a good salary with a job you enjoy. After all you’ll be working all day and you want to do something that you don’t dread. An architect makes a good salary. Your salary does depend on your area of specialization and where you live because pay varies from region to region. Many architects are able to pay for a good lifestyle and enjoy their jobs as well. Although in the beginning, before becoming a licensed architect, the pay is often less but as you practice in the profession, the opportunities open up.

Conclusion

In becoming a successful architect there is certainly a level of confidence required in your notions and abilities, however this does come with experience. The common misconception that you need to be good at math and drawing, this is much less relevant that it was perhaps 10 or 20 years ago, as technology has developed, so have the skills of the architect.

…however the ability to do quick and basic math will always be required

Good communicator skills and the ability to solve problems are key, and as with the above these will also be in constant development throughout your education and career.

An architect is competitive, resilient, motivated, disciplined, and persistent. Many architects are pessimists, so being positive in the face of disappointment and frustration is a good character trait to develop. There will be days when you don’t design at all and days when clients reject what you’ve designed. This is when you can put that positivity into play.

You also need to be resilient and take the up’s and down’s with a grain of salt. Not every project will turn out great and that’s ok. There will always be other projects.

There are lots of good resources out there on becoming an architect. A recommended book that can be found on amazon is Architect? A Candid Guide to the Profession by Roger Lewis which gives a realistic view of what it’s really like to be an architect. Another book that is highly recommended is inside: Architecture and Design: A Guide to the Practice of Architecture (and what they don’t teach you in architecture school) by Ryan Hansanuwat. This book is geared more for the recent graduate looking to find a job in architecture and outlines how to get a job in architecture and what it is like working for an architecture firm.  

There are also great videos on life as an architect for you to check out so you can learn more about the wonderful world of architecture.

Good luck, and please let us know how you get on…