Architects plan and design houses, office buildings, and other structures.
Architects typically do the following:
- Meet with clients to determine objectives and requirements for structures
- Estimate the amount of required materials, equipment, and construction time
- Prepare structure specifications
- Direct workers who prepare drawings and documents
- Prepare scaled drawings with computer software and by hand
- Prepare contract documents for building contractors
- Manage construction contracts
- Visit worksites to ensure that construction adheres to architectural plans
- Seek new work by marketing and giving presentations
People need places to live, work, play, learn, shop, and eat. Architects are responsible for designing these places. They work on public or private projects and design both indoor and outdoor spaces. Architects can be commissioned to design anything from a single room to an entire complex of buildings.
Architects discuss the objectives, requirements, and budget of a project with clients. In some cases, architects provide various predesign services, such as feasibility and environmental impact studies, site selection, cost analyses, and design requirements.
After discussing and agreeing on the initial proposal with clients, architects develop final construction plans that show the building’s appearance and details for its construction. Accompanying these plans are drawings of the structural system; air-conditioning, heating, and ventilating systems; electrical systems; communications systems; plumbing; and, possibly, site and landscape plans. In developing designs, architects must follow state and local building codes, zoning laws, fire regulations, and other ordinances, such as those requiring easy building access for people who are disabled.
Computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) and building information modeling (BIM) have replaced traditional drafting paper and pencil as the most common methods for creating designs and construction drawings. However, hand-drawing skills are still used, especially during the conceptual stages of a project.
As construction proceeds, architects may visit building sites to ensure that contractors follow the design, keep to the schedule, use the specified materials, and meet work-quality standards. The job is not complete until all construction is finished, required tests are conducted, and construction costs are paid.
Architects also may help clients get construction bids, select contractors, and negotiate construction contracts.
Architects held about 107,400 jobs in 2012, with two-thirds employed in the architectural, engineering, and related services industry. About 1 in 5 were self-employed.
Architects spend much of their time in offices, where they meet with clients, develop reports and drawings, and work with other architects and engineers. They also visit construction sites to ensure the client’s objectives are met and to review the progress of projects. Some architects work from home offices.
Although most architects work full time, many work long hours, especially when facing deadlines. Self-employed architects may have to work long hours, too, but they have more flexible work schedules.
There are typically three main steps to becoming a licensed architect: completing a professional degree in architecture, gaining relevant experience through a paid internship, and passing the Architect Registration Exam.
Earning a professional degree in architecture is the typical path to becoming an architect in all states. Most architects earn their professional degree through a 5-year Bachelor of Architecture degree program, intended for students with no previous architectural training. Many earn a master’s degree in architecture, which can take 1 to 5 years to complete, depending on the extent of the student’s previous training in architecture.
A typical program includes courses in architectural history and theory, building design with an emphasis on computer-aided design and drafting (CADD), structures, technology, construction methods, professional practices, math, physical sciences, and liberal arts. Central to most architectural programs is the design studio, where students apply the skills and concepts learned in the classroom to create drawings and three-dimensional models of their designs.
Currently, 35 states require that architects hold a professional degree in architecture from one of the 123 schools of architecture accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). State licensing requirements can be found at the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.
All state architectural registration boards require architecture graduates to complete a lengthy paid internship—most require at least 3 years of experience—before they may sit for the Architect Registration Exam. Most new graduates complete their training period by working at architectural firms through the Intern Development Program (IDP). Some states allow a portion of the training to occur in the offices of related careers, such as engineers and general contractors. Architecture students who complete internships while still in school can count some of that time toward the 3-year training period.
Interns in architectural firms may help design part of a project. They may help prepare architectural documents and drawings, build models, and prepare construction drawings on CADD. Interns may also research building codes and write specifications for building materials, installation criteria, the quality of finishes, and other related details.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All states and the District of Columbia require architects to be licensed. Licensing requirements typically include completing a professional degree in architecture, gaining relevant experience through a paid internship, and passing the Architect Registration Exam.
Most states also require some form of continuing education to keep a license, and some additional states are expected to adopt mandatory continuing education. Requirements vary by state but usually involve additional education through workshops, university classes, conferences, self-study courses, or other sources.
A growing number of architects voluntarily seek certification from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). Certification makes it easier to become licensed across states. In fact, it is the primary requirement for reciprocity of licensing among state boards that are NCARB members. In 2012, approximately one-third of all licensed architects had this certification.
Analytical skills. Architects must understand the content of designs and the context in which they were created. For example, architects must understand the locations of mechanical systems and how those systems affect building operations.
Communication skills. Architects share their ideas, both in oral presentations and in writing, with clients, other architects, and workers who help prepare drawings. Many also give presentations to explain their designs.
Creativity. Architects design the overall look of houses, buildings, and other structures. Therefore, the final product should be attractive and functional.
Organizational skills. Architects often manage contracts. Therefore, they must keep records related to the details of a project, including total cost, materials used, and progress.
Technical skills. Architects use computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) technology to create plans as part of integrated building information modeling (BIM).
Visualization skills. Architects must be able to see how the parts of a structure relate to each other. They also must be able to visualize how the overall building will look once completed.
The median annual wage for architects was $73,090 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,600, and the top 10 percent earned more than $118,230.
Some firms pay tuition and fees toward continuing education requirements for their employees.
Most architects work full time and many work long hours, especially when facing deadlines. Self-employed architects may have more flexible work hours.
Employment of architects is projected to grow 17 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.
Architects will be needed to make plans and designs for the construction and renovation of homes, offices, retail stores, and other structures. As campus buildings age, many school districts and universities are expected to build new facilities or renovate existing ones. Demand is expected for more healthcare facilities as the baby-boomer population ages and as more individuals use healthcare services.
Demand is projected for architects with knowledge of green design, also called sustainable design. Sustainable design emphasizes the efficient use of resources, such as energy and water conservation; waste and pollution reduction; and environmentally friendly design, specifications, and materials. Rising energy costs and increased concern about the environment have led to many new buildings being built with more sustainable designs.
With a growing number of students graduating with architectural degrees, strong competition for internships and jobs in the field is expected. Competition for jobs will be especially strong at the most prestigious architectural firms. Those with up-to-date technical skills and training in sustainable design could have an advantage.
Employment of architects is strongly tied to the activity of the construction industry. Therefore, these workers may experience periods of unemployment when there is a slowdown in requests for new projects or when the overall level of construction falls.
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