Architecture involves the study and transformation of the constructed environment, from the scale of furniture to the scale of the city. The goal of an architectural education is to develop a synthetic thought process of critical thinking and creative problem solving. Creative thinkers must address all aspects of the built environment in its cultural, social, and ethical context.
Architects meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world with a broad range of skills and professional design services. Architects work in many different ways, interacting with clients, users, colleagues, consultants, community groups, and contractors.
Aspiring architects should learn as much as possible about the field of architecture, by talking to architects and by visiting architectural offices. The profession is changing rapidly: some offices are diversifying their services to assist clients through interior design, project consultation, master-planning, construction management, and facility management. Other offices are specializing in certain building types or professional services, such as historic preservation or educational facilities.
Architectural offices have a broad range of sizes and “personalities” reflecting different business priorities and goals. Different firms appeal to different types of clients and recruit different types of staff members. Successful and respected architecture firms range from small offices with less than 10 employees to large corporate firms with hundreds of staff architects in branch offices around the world.
Architecture firms often partner with each other for different projects. In addition to professional skills, understanding the importance of teamwork and communication are keys to success in the business world.
Possible Career Paths
An architectural education, with its emphasis on problem solving through analytical and creative thinking, is an excellent preparation for many different career paths within architecture, and in other fields, such as real estate development, construction, consulting, multimedia design, industrial design, product development, law, and computers.
Depending on personal strengths, skills, and interests, different architects within a firm may focus on marketing, client presentations, programming consultation, design, technical issues, construction details and specifications, construction administration, interiors, or project management within the office. Teamwork maximizes these diverse skills.
Architects may also make important contributions to the quality of the built environment by working in construction companies, by working with building product companies, by developing specialized expertise as a consultant to other architecture firms, or by working directly for clients such as developers, hotel chains, or for government.
Compensation and Rewards
As a profession, architecture tends to follow trends in the economy. Both booms and recessions can seriously affect architecture practice. Client fees are highly competitive, and the salary structure of the profession can fluctuate. Beginning salaries for architecture interns also fluctuate widely, depending in part on geographical location, demand for building activity, availability of applicants, and, most important, the capability of the individual applicant. An intern architect typically earns $39,500–$50,500 per year (Almanac of Architecture & Design, 2006). Because a new graduate may work as an intern architect for approximately three years before taking the licensing exam and becoming a registered architect, the salaries are for interns, not registered architects. Remember, your entire educational experience requires approximately eight to nine years of combined formal schooling and internship. Essentially, your internship salary allows you to earn an income while completing the last two or three years of your education. Compensation varies by the areas in the firm in which you work. Principals in firms earn a range of $80,000–$155,000 annually, while partners earn $140,000–$220,000, although these ranges are composites of a range of firm sizes.
Nevertheless, architects have the gratification of seeing each different project evolve from an abstract idea into a permanent reality transforming the daily lives and well-being of the project’s users. The work of an architect is unique, lasting, and meaningful.
Steps to Licensure
To protect the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens, each state has regulations for the licensing of architects. Before a person can claim the title architect, most states require three components for a license, often referred to as the “three E’s”:
- Education: a professional degree (B. Arch, M. Arch, D. Arch)
- Experience: the completion of the Intern Development Program.
- Exam: passing the nationwide Architect Registration Exam.
Many architects hold a license in more than one state. A system of national reciprocity has been established by the National Council of Architecture Registration Boards (NCARB). While these requirements describe most states, each state is different, and licensing laws can be revised.
Intern Development Program
The preparation to become an architect involves academic education as well as an internship period in the profession. Education and practice offer complementary learning experiences. While not required in every state, the Intern Development Program (IDP) is a national program that structures the learning goals for the internship period.
Typical IDP requirements include time spent in different aspects of professional work, such as design, project management, construction administration, and community service.
Even before one’s first job, architecture students, in professional degree programs should enroll in the IDP program through NCARB. As a result, students will receive up-to-date information about requirements, which include a time limit on reporting experience. Furthermore, employment while in school will often count toward IDP credit.
Architect Registration Exam
Even though different states have different licensure laws, the Architect Registration Exam (ARE) is a single national exam recognized by all states. It is developed and administered by NCARB. The specific exam content is modified over the years, but typically addresses building design/materials and methods, building planning, building technology, construction documents and services, general structures, lateral forces, mechanical and electrical systems, pre-design, and site planning.
The ARE is divided into different sections, which can be repeated. Many states will allow individuals to take some portions of the exam immediately after graduation. In general, however, completion of IDP provides important knowledge and skills for the licensing exam.
For the most up-to-date information regarding particular state requirements, contact NCARB. In Canada, similar standards for examination and internship are developed by the Canadian Architectural Certification Board (CACB).
In general, it is best to pursue professional architectural education in the country in which one intends to practice and be registered. However, in the past several years discussions regarding reciprocity between countries (such as essentially exists between the United States and Canada) have been promising and may lead to increased portability of credentials among countries in the future. Nevertheless, international educational and licensure credentials are governed by complex regulations.