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10Ways

to Make a Living from Your Art

Quick Start Guide

01

What Is an Architect?

In the simplest terms, an architect is a licensed professional who designs and organizes spaces, and conceives and plans the construction of buildings, for the purpose of human occupancy or use. Architects may conceive and design offices, houses, skyscrapers, ships, landscapes, and even entire communities. For example, Maya Lin sculpted the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC, but also has designed single-family residences throughout her career. Architecture is a highly-skilled profession that calls for both technical and artistic talent. 

But, like in most careers, many architects specialize in more than just the design and construction of living and working spaces. With the right experience, they are qualified to teach at the secondary level in a college or university setting. They may also assist communities or companies transition to more sustainable and carbon-neutral living environments through research and philanthropy. They work together with contractors and project managers on construction projects, and oversee communicate with clients and design teams. 

Architects at all levels of experience must also stay up-to-date with design trends, technology, new products and materials, and constantly work to remain educated about changes within the industry. While traditional competencies like planning, design, rendering, and planning remain essential, skills like programming, coding, data mining, and knowing how to build a spreadsheet have become an expected part of a modern architect’s skillset.

02

What Does an Architect Do?

Ask any professional architect what he or she does for a living, and you will get a variety of nuanced answers. An architect’s role and responsibility often hinges on where they work, who they work for, where they live (metro vs. rural, for example), and what area of architecture they specialize in. Architects that work for a small firm may not attract business from clients seeking to build large skyscrapers, commercial offices, or high-rise buildings, but may have ample opportunity to contribute to smaller, noteworthy projects. Architects that work for large firms typically live and work in larger metropolitan areas, and they are most likely part of a large team that consists of design architects, production architects, principals, contract administrators, and spec writers. 

Design architects are responsible for the design aspects of a project, which includes making computer-generated images of projects, sketching freehand, and creating presentations for clients. Design architects are artistic. They can draw well, and have a thorough knowledge of software like Adobe Photoshop, SketchUp, and 3D Studio VIZ, as well as CAD design software.  Design architects in larger firms must enjoy working in a team environment, but must also understand that they will not be involved in every phase of a project. Since this is the work that most architects like to do, competition can be stiff, and a strong portfolio showing artistic skills is imperative. 

A production architect who works for a large firm usually works exclusively on the production of construction drawings or blueprints, which are used by a contractor to build the building. They spend their days modifying or correcting plans with BIM and CAD software, which gives them the chance to see and understand how a building is built and how all the various details fit together.  Some architects like this type of work, others do not, as production architects do not actually design buildings and the work can be repetitious. 

A principle or partner/owner at a large architecture firm are typically involved in the final designs and planning of projects.  Principles plan the direction of the firm, come up with strategies related to budgeting, financial planning, and marketing, as also determine which projects the company will focus on.  In a small or medium-sized firm, principals may oversee the design work and make modifications or suggest changes. They will work as project managers, overseeing staff during all stages of a project.  They may also train interns or inexperienced architects as they work to earn their license. 

A contract administrator typically works on projects that are in the process of being built. They may answer questions by the builder about the construction drawings, coordinate modifications and corrections to the drawings, and visit job sites, but also sit in front of a computer much of the time.  Contract administrators must keep their cool under pressure, as they are usually on the front lines when things go south. Because the job requires a great deal of knowledge and skill, most contract administrators are senior architects with years of experience. 

Some architects are spec writers. These architects spend much of their time compiling project specifications, which are descriptions of quality standards and materials used in a project. For example, which steel should be used to frame a building, or which paint is best for use outdoors.  They must enjoy writing technical manuals and researching best-practices and are typically highly-trained and experienced architects.  They may not like to draw and have little artistic talent, but they enjoy understanding the raw materials used in building a structure. 

Owners or sole practitioners of architect firms do much the same work at principles at large or mid-size architect firms. However, as with most companies, he or she has the full responsibility for every aspect of a project. The rewards and flexibility of starting a firm are enticing to some, but can be difficult and time-consuming, as well as stressful for many others. They usually work long hours and wear many hats, and work can be sporadic until they have acquired a reputation and body of work. Still, many architects thrive in this environment and can’t imagine working for someone else.  They are usually very talented and artistic individuals with drive and determination, as well as an eye for even the smallest details.

03

Architecture Degrees & Education Requirements

Architects design buildings where people live and work, which requires a great deal of knowledge and holds a great deal of responsibility. As a result, becoming an architect requires years of education and training. To be employed, and to refer to oneself as a professional architect, individuals must be licensed, which requires the person to hold a degree in architecture. All practicing architects must earn at least a bachelor’s degree from a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board

Most Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch) degree programs take five years to complete and may be divided into two tracks; the first two years providing a general education, and the last two-plus years more architecture-intensive.  B.Arch programs help students gain a deep understanding and knowledge of architecture’s traditions, techniques, methods of inquiry, and modes of production, so that they can emerge with the skills necessary to meet the demands pertaining to a career in architecture, as well as speak intelligently about the role of architecture in society.  A B.Arch degree also qualifies graduates to take the state professional licensing exam after completing a required internship in an architectural office. 

Curriculum varies from program to program but usually consists of general education requirements, such as math, science, and English. Coursework also includes studio classes and lectures in the art of architecture, architectural design, introduction to building and structural systems, introduction to the history of architecture, introduction to architectural concepts and drawing, modern architecture, architecture in other cultures, design art and design technology (including computer software and CAD), and electives.  Besides coursework, students learn analytical skills, communication, and negotiating skills, they learn how to manage construction, choose materials, create plans, and building laws and safety regulations in the state they wish to work.  Outside of class, they must also have design talent, engineering ability, social awareness, and a business attitude in order to succeed in this field. 

Architects who graduate with a B.Arch and go on to take the state professional licensing exam may wish to continue their education and earn a Master’s degree in architecture, which allows them to specialize in a particular field, such as designing sustainable structures, urban design, or landscape architecture.  However, an advanced degree in architecture is not required to work in this field if you are already a licensed architect. A master’s degree is necessary for individuals who have earned a pre-professional certificate in architecture or an unrelated degree, but who want to obtain a professional degree in architecture. 

The postgraduate master’s program in architecture allows graduates to deepen their knowledge about architecture, provides studio experience in designing structures, as well as the opportunity to come up with designs that address issues affecting architecture – both modern and traditional. Students will be given complex problems to solve that will require drawing on the technical, aesthetic, and environmental knowledge learned while in school. All this allows aspiring professional architects to become great architects who are in touch with the evolving trends in this field.  Keep in mind that an advanced master’s degree in architecture is necessary if you want to consult, teach, or go into research. 

Keep in mind too, that in order to gain licensure and work in the field as a professional architect, you must complete three to five years of internships.  In a larger design firm, you will likely do menial work and sit at a desk all day, possibly drafting on a computer. However, you may also work as part of a large design team or do some creative work. Internships are invaluable when it comes to learning side-by-side with the people you will work with every day after graduation. Internships are also great for networking and gaining that valuable work experience so necessary to enter the field of architecture.

04

Architecture Jobs & Job Description

Completing a degree in architecture can be wonderfully rewarding. Despite the many years earning a degree, many new graduates find themselves unsure about where to begin or what area of architecture attracts them most.   An integral part of a degree in architecture is the development of practical design skills, which means a large proportion of time spent on studio-based projects, like drawing, digital illustration, and architectural modeling. Some programs will concentrate on the practicalities of the industry, which others focus on management, as well as building the skills necessary to running a building site.   While most students will go on to become licensed architects and practice professionally, there are alternatives, such as set design, graphic design, spatial design, building surveying, housing policy, and conservation and environmental work. 

Architects must also have good communication skills and presentation and public speaking skills, they must be able to network and build rapport with business and technology leaders, they must be innovative and creative, have leadership skills, be able to make clear and correct decisions, be good negotiators, be able to manage their time and work well under stress, and be assertive, take the initiative, and avoid conflict (if possible). 

Although most people think that all architects do is sit behind a computer or a drafting table and draw buildings, there is much more to the field of architecture than meets the eye. Some of the areas of architecture overlap, and some fields stand alone, but all are vital to our society. 

Landscape Architecture involves designing outdoor places, including public areas and infrastructure, like designing gazebos and retaining walls. They are involved in environmental restoration, storm water management, designing recreational areas, golf courses, and the gardens and lawns that surround the very college you attend. Landscape architects also work with homeowners and other private businesses to design compelling outdoor areas. Because you work outside with trees plants, and other living materials, you must have a thorough knowledge of horticulture and how to integrate living plants into your settings. 

Industrial Architects work on industrial projects like bridges, hydroelectric dams, and other large industrial projects. It is important to have a solid understanding of engineering principles to be successful in this area. In fact, because these types of projects encompass advanced knowledge of engineering and science, many budding architects who find they are most interested in industrial structures will double major or even switch majors and become civil engineers instead. 

Commercial or Public Architects specialize in larger ventures for state government and business (non-residential). They design public buildings, airports, malls, libraries, and more. The buildings they design are not only functional, but they are also aesthetically pleasing. Many architects prefer this area of work, especially if they live in a large city and work for a larger architecture firm. Although artistic, they are typically very adept in engineering and construction fields. 

Green Design Architects help to safeguard water, air, and the earth by choosing eco-friendly building materials and practicing green and sustainable construction methods. These design features may include water-saving plumbing, energy-efficient lighting, heating and cooling systems, and appliances, using alternative power sources, such as solar or the wind, and using locally harvested wood and stone. 

Residential Design Architects (sometimes called Domestic Architects) design for and work on condos, apartments, single-family homes, remodels, and other similar projects. They approach the various elements of home design somewhat differently than some other fields of architecture in that they tend to be more focused on the aesthetic appeal rather than construction or engineering aspects. 

Self-Employed Architects might plan and design houses, office buildings, factories or any other structure where people live, work, shop, eat, learn, or play. However, because they are self-employed, they typically have full-reign over projects; from start to finish. They meet with clients, prepare all preliminary estimates and specifications, they may work with computer software or by hand to draw plans, they manage construction contracts, conduct the business side of the business, and seek new work through networking, marketing, and advertising. 

Restoration Architects specialize in the conservation, restoration, and preservation of historic buildings and monuments in order to prevent deterioration. They may take a project from conception to completion, and will often work on projects of various sizes and scale. 

Architectural Historians study and write about the history of architecture. They are typically employed by universities and other postsecondary institutions, archival centers, museums, government agencies, non-profits, and as freelance consultants and writers. They might manage downtown revitalization projects, conduct historical research and evaluation for historic sites, or provide technical support to a community in regards to preservation programs. 

Lighting and Sound Architects are concerned with the design of lighting systems, which may include electric light, natural light, or both. The design process takes into account the amount of light needed in a particular situation, kind of human activity, distribution of light within a space, and the color of light and how it affects the environment. Sound or acoustic architects, on the other hand, are concerned with enhancing or improving the quality of music in a recording studio or concert hall, achieving good acoustics in theaters, restaurants, or even an airport, and also suppressing noise in homes and office buildings.  Sound architecture is a branch of acoustical engineering. 

Architecture Teacher/Professors are responsible for educating university and college students on the basic principles of architecture. By remaining current of all trends and methodologies of architecture, professors create lesson plans and lecture on architectural design concepts and the history of architecture.

05

Typical Work Environment

Most architects work full time during regular business hours in an office or studio. However, there are often times when they must work overtime to meet deadlines, meet with clients, or develop plans and drawings with other architects and engineers.  They also travel to visit construction sites and oversee the progress of projects.  Self-employed architects have more flexible schedules but are also expected to be available to meet with clients and other professionals involved in a project.  They also spend a great deal of time searching for clients by marketing and advertising their services.  About 69 percent of all architects are employed in architectural, engineering or related services.  About one in five are self-employed.

06

Architect Salary & Job Outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for architects in May 2016 was $76,930.  Architects just out of college and newly-licensed earned about $46,000, with the highest 10-percent earning more than $129,000.  Because the field is ever-changing with new technologies and ways to incorporate architecture design into buildings, homes, and other structures, many companies will pay tuition and fees toward continuing education. 

The BLS states that employment for architects is projected to grow seven percent from 2014 to 2024, or about as fast as average for all career fields.  In part, demand stems from school districts and universities building new facilities or renovating existing facilities, and new construction or expansion of healthcare facilities. Architects knowledgeable in ‘green design’ will also see employment gains as more and more companies, government agencies, cities, and other industry seek the use of sustainable design practices, environmentally-friendly designs and materials, and water and energy conservation. 

However, there are large numbers of students graduating with degrees in architecture and competition is fierce for internships and jobs.  Graduates who are up-to-date with technical skills, CADD and BIM, and have experience or knowledge in sustainable design will have an advantage in the marketplace.  And, as employment can be tied to the construction industry, some architects may see times of slowdown when overall construction levels fall.  This is particularly true for architects in small firms, smaller towns, or those who are self-employed with ties to construction firms.

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