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Learn the Basics of Architecture

Architects primarily focus on designing, conceptualizing, and erecting buildings used by human occupants, though they will occasionally be tasked with designing the surrounding landscape, as well. The path to becoming an architect is often arduous, but the journey can be as rewarding as the destination if pursued properly. 

Architects must have the mindset and skills to work both mathematically and scientifically, as well as creatively.  An architect must also be capable of meeting with and engaging clients in a fluid, social, and professional manner. The duties of a typical architect are numerous, though they all follow a central line of thinking. The typical 'day' in the life of an architect includes meeting with clients with prepared materials to discuss a project or projects, cost estimations, revisions, and deadlines.  An architect will meet with and prepare documents for building contractors, manage construction contracts, prepare scaled drawings, prepare structural specifications, and seek new work through presentations. An architect will work with pen-and-paper as well as Computer-Automated-Design & Drafting programs (CADD) in order to prepare drawings and documents. One popular piece of software is the Building Information Modeling (BIM) that most professional architects are expected to utilize. 

The further up the ladder an architect climbs, the more people they will typically delegate tasks to.  Because of this fact, becoming a successful architect can also require the ability to work well with others in a managerial capacity.  Architects must also possess strong communication skills, engineering abilities, business aptitude, and design talent.  They must be able to conceptualize and visualize structures before they are even drawn, so creativity is essential to success. 

As architects are the brains behind many of the structures we see in everyday life, it makes sense that talented architects are always in demand. In growing cities and in states with economic surplus, architecture jobs will always be in demand. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were over 112,000 professional architects on the job as of 2015. The expected job growth for this position going forward is projected at seven percent, between the years 2014 and 2024.  Architects typically work in offices, travel to meet with clients or contractors in the field, construction sites, or from home.

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Earn a Degree in Architecture

To pursue a career in architecture, most architects will begin by tailoring their high school education as much as possible by focusing on classes like physics, geometry, and pre-calculus. High school is just the beginning, however, as becoming an architect requires at least a bachelor’s degree in architecture, prior to entering the field or moving on to pursue their masters of architecture. 

By earning a bachelor's degree, a student will learn the history of the field, while also pursuing advanced methods that will be required as part of the job. Common concepts architects learn while in school include parametric construction concepts, spatial reasoning, contract negotiations, lateral systems, truss analysis, typographies, and codes and specifications. A master's degree will take an additional two to three years of schooling beyond earning a bachelor’s, and includes in-depth study of spatial dialects, structural design methods, computer-aided design, environmental engineering, and technology for architects. 

In 2016, DesignIntelligence reported the highest-rated undergrad architecture schools in America were Cornell, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, and Virginia Tech. Students pursuing a graduate degree in architecture were best-served considering the traditional Ivy League schools like Harvard, Cornell, Yale, and Columbia. Despite earning a degree from one of these institutions, students will be required to pursue even further education before professionally entering the field. 

To enter the field, an architect must serve as an intern under a previously licensed architect. This internship can last up to three years. After the internship period is over, an architect must become both certified and licensed in the state they wish to work in order to offer their services professionally. This is accomplished by passing the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), which is an exhaustive test that covers seven key areas in the field:

  • Site Planning & Design
  • Programming, Planning, and Practice
  • Schematic Design
  • Building Design and Construction Systems
  • Construction Documentation & Services
  • Building Systems
  • Structural Systems 

    Thirty-four states currently require architects to hold a degree in architecture from a school accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB).  In those states that do not have this acquirement, individuals can apply for licensing with eight to thirteen years of experience, in addition to a high school diploma or GED. Even so, most individuals in these states still obtain a degree in architecture. 

    Once serving in the field as a professional, The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that an architect can immediately expect to see a better-than-average salary. Architects, on average, made roughly $76,000 per year in 2015, which translates to earning nearly $37 per hour.  Of course, location, years of experience, education, and company size all determine yearly/hourly wages.

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    Build Your Brand and Professional Connections

    Architects do almost all their brand-building after they complete their education. That is to say, architects are advised to use their internship opportunities — which is required in a degree program anyway, to build a professional network to utilize at a later time. Firms like Gensler, AECOM, Jacobs, and Perkins+Will are some of the top architecture firms in the country. Internships and entry level positions at these and other well-known or smaller companies are coveted and can be instrumental in the launching of a career. 

    Though the field is growing, there are only about 100,000 professional, working architects in the United States. The size of the employment pool is small enough that the industry can be considered 'tightly knit' and competitive.  Still, some of the best ways that burgeoning architects can ingratiate themselves in the field is by attending networking events. During the year in places like New York City and Miami, Florida, there are architecture conferences that focus on the future of the industry. Attending industry conferences can be the first step toward landing an internship or an entry level position at an elite firm in the area. Attending these conferences is also a great way for employed architects to stay on top of their game. Architecture is beholden to the rapidly changing world of style and technology and it is at these conferences that new technology is often first displayed.

    Get to Know Our Experts

    David Businelli

  • Title:
    Partner
  • Company:
    Studio 16 Architecture
  • Where:
    Staten Island, NY
  • Experience:
    20+ years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    I got interested in Architecture back in elementary school and kind of made the decision to be an architect before even getting into high school. I had some architecture books, but I only leafed through them a bit and just thought that I’d study it when I went to college. I went to City College of New York’s School of Architecture and Environmental Studies. I got what was a good solid education in how to be a professional architect. I started working for a firm here on Staten Island in 1988, Nicholas J. Salvadeo, AIA, P.C, before I graduated, and that’s when I got the dose of reality and I just thought to myself, ‘I’m not going back for a fifth year degree. I’m not going back for a Bachelor’s Degree of Architecture,’ because I didn’t think it necessary. My boss had gone through an apprenticeship program, and he didn’t even have a degree. So, I never did my fifth year degree – what is known as a Bachelor of Architecture. In 1996, I wound up buying the firm after I got my license; back then the firm was Salvadeo Associates Architects. Nick Salvadeo retired in late 1996 and passed away in 2005. I rebranded it in 2008 as Studio 16 Architecture PLLC.

    One thing I didn’t do is go to Europe. The conventional wisdom is that you have to go to Europe. You have to go to Italy. You have to see all that stuff; you have to sketch it out. You must do it. You have to go to grad school. You have to have the fifth year degree. I didn’t do any of that, yet I got the cover of Contract magazine in February of 2003. And I’ve had many, many awards, and my work has been published, and I’ve written published articles, and on and on. So the non-conventional path is what I chose. I’m doing the kind of work that some of the heavy-hitters are doing, and I didn’t do any of the stuff that they did. I guess, initially, buildings were kind of fascinating to me, and now it’s just that whole creative process that gets you going and the bottom line is that without buildings, we don’t have society. So as far as a profession that’s vital to society, its architects and physicians, and lawyers. You can’t function without the three of them, and we’re the only ones that create space, and when you create really cool spaces and fun spaces and stuff that people love, that impacts their lives. That’s what drives everything.

    Advice

    Make sure you choose an accredited program

    You definitely have to go to an accredited school if you have any hope of licensure. Now you can take the path of going and getting an undergraduate degree, and then going on and getting a graduate architecture degree – like they offer at Columbia and Harvard, and several other places, but definitely go to an accredited program – it’s the best way to ensure that you have the career you want. Going the route of the apprenticeship and all that, it’s a lot more difficult, and I’m not sure how many states will even allow that anymore.

    Try to work in the field

    It’s important to get your feet wet and work in your chosen profession. If you can get a job – even if it’s not as an architect – in an office, do it. Also try to vary your experience between small firms and big firms. The more architecture and work environments you can expose yourself too, the more you will learn about the profession. By working at big firms and small firms, you get to see both worlds.

    Don’t go into an interview or job worried about demands/perks

    Don’t go in there thinking about what time you’re going to leave every day or asking about vacation or demanding a certain salary because likely, none of that is going to happen. You’re going to work for a low salary like everyone else starting out of school and you’re going to be stuck with the general drafting tasks. But you look for the firm that will give you the most responsibility, whether that is doing the drafting and some field measuring or whatever the case may be.

    Don’t be too picky about job offers

    You will have a little flexibility, but you’re looking at the job market – if there’s not a lot of jobs out there, you have to grab what you can get. Hopefully, it’s a good fit and if you don’t have any experience working in an office, you don’t know whether it’s going to be a good fit until you walk in the door. I didn’t – my first job I worked for an architect and develop and I started doing drafts and it turned out to be a good fit and I was there for two summers, but when I walked into Nick Salvadeo’s office, I didn’t know what to expect. When I would tell people I applied, they’d say ‘oh that’s a very tough office; it’s going to be hard to survive.’ I was scared to death. But I’m still here. I’m five feet away from the place I first sat.

    Carl Handman

  • Title:
    President
  • Company:
    Eyerman, Csala, Hapeman & Handman, LLC
  • Where:
    Forty Fort, PA
  • Experience:
    20+ years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    I attended Syracuse University, where I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture. I spent my fourth year of the five-year program studying at The Architectural Association in London. It was a great year, and I learned a lot from not only from my classes but also from traveling around the British Isles and Europe. After I returned, I spent two summers interning in a small firm in Wilkes-Barre called Bohlin & Powell Architects and I worked for them after graduation. I stayed at the firm for six years until I opened my own firm at the age of 29 in 1980. After ten years of being the sole proprietor of my own firm, I joined Eyerman, Csala, Hapeman & Handman, which is where I still work today. In 2011, I joined the faculty at Marywood University’s School of Architecture as an adjunct professor. I am still an adjunct professor there today, and I teach third-year design studio as well as other upper-level classes.

    What I enjoy the most about my job is when I have a “good client” who not only understands what they are trying to create but is also willing to listen to feedback and let me be the professional. I also get a lot of satisfaction out of learning that the client and I are pleased with the finished product. It is always nice to know when you have done a good job meeting the needs of the client and creating a lasting structure. When the profession gets tough is when you have clients that don’t want to listen to your reasoned advice and when you work with contractors who think they know more than the architects about building design and structure.

    Advice

    Don’t wait to explore until it’s too late

    Make sure to travel while you are still young, and if you have the opportunity to visit a new city, state or country, do it. Don’t wait for ‘next year’! Also, make sure to keep your eyes open during your travels and daily life. There might be interesting architecture in your hometown!

    Be detail-oriented

    A ‘great’ design can be ruined if your architectural details are sloppy, while an ‘ordinary’ and ‘low budget’ project can be made special with some carefully considered & executed details. A good architectural program should offer both academic/formal education in the history, theory and design of architecture, as well as non-academic/practical education in the art and science of actually constructing buildings.

    Don’t start sketching on a computer

    It’s always better to start sketching with your hands instead of a computer program. You may use a computer program a lot during your time as an architect, but if you spend all your time on the computer program, you won’t understand how to sketch with your hands and really start from scratch on a project.

    Architect Infographic