Architects Career Information
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Significant Points· More than 28 percent were self-employed—about four times the proportion
for all professional and related occupations.
· Licensing requirements include a professional degree in architecture, a period of practical training and the passing of all divisions of the Architect Registration Examination.
· Architecture graduates may face competition, especially for jobs in the most prestigious firms; experience from working in a firm during school and knowledge of computer-aided design and drafting technology are advantages.
Nature of the WorkPeople need places in which to live, work,
play, learn, worship, meet, govern, shop, eat. These places may be private or
public; indoors or out; rooms, buildings, or complexes, and together comprise
neighborhoods, towns, suburbs and cities. Architects—licensed professionals
trained in the art and science of building design—transform these needs into
concepts and then develop the concepts into building images and plans that can
be constructed by others.
Architects design the overall aesthetic and functional look of buildings and other structures. The design of a building involves far more than its appearance. Buildings also must be functional, safe, and economical, and must suit the needs of the people who use them. Architects take all these things into consideration when they design buildings and other structures.
Architects provide professional services to individuals and organizations planning a construction project. They may be involved in all phases of development, from the initial discussion with the client through the entire construction process. Their duties require specific skills—designing, engineering, managing, supervising, and communicating with clients and builders.
The architect and client discuss the objectives, requirements, and budget of a project. In some cases, architects provide various predesign services—conducting feasibility and environmental impact studies, selecting a site, or specifying the requirements the design must meet. For example, they may determine space requirements by researching the number and type of potential users of a building. The architect then prepares drawings and a report presenting ideas for the client to review.
After the initial proposals are discussed and accepted, architects develop final construction plans. These plans show the building’s appearance and details for its construction. Accompanying these are drawings of the structural system; air-conditioning, heating, and ventilating systems; electrical systems; plumbing; and possibly site and landscape plans. They also specify the building materials and, in some cases, the interior furnishings. In developing designs, architects follow building codes, zoning laws, fire regulations, and other ordinances, such as those requiring easy access by disabled persons. Throughout the planning stage, they make necessary changes. Although they have traditionally used pencil and paper to produce design and construction drawings, architects are increasingly turning to computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) technology for these important tasks.
Architects may also assist the client in obtaining construction bids, selecting a contractor, and negotiating the construction contract. As construction proceeds, they may visit the building site to ensure the contractor is following the design, adhering to the schedule, using the specified materials, and meeting quality work standards. The job is not complete until all construction is finished, required tests are made, and construction costs are paid. Sometimes, architects also provide postconstruction services, such as facilities management. They advise on energy efficiency measures, evaluate how well the building design adapts to the needs of occupants, and make necessary improvements.
Architects design a wide variety of buildings, such as office and apartment buildings, schools, churches, factories, hospitals, houses, and airport terminals. They also design complexes such as urban centers, college campuses, industrial parks, and entire communities. They also may advise on the selection of building sites, prepare cost analysis and land-use studies, and do long-range planning for land development.
Architects sometimes specialize in one phase of work. Some specialize in the design of one type of building—for example, hospitals, schools, or housing. Others focus on planning and predesign services or construction management, and do minimal design work. They often work with engineers, urban planners, interior designers, landscape architects, and other professionals. In fact, architects spend a great deal of their time in coordinating information from, and the work of, others engaged in the same project. Consequently, architects—particularly at larger firms—are now using the Internet to update designs and communicate changes for the sake of speed and cost savings.
During the required training period leading up to licensing as architects, entry-level workers are called interns. This training period, which generally lasts 3 years, gives them practical work experience which aids interns in preparing for the Architect Registration Examination (ARE). Typical duties may include preparing construction drawings on CADD, building models, or assisting in the design of one part of a project.
Working ConditionsArchitects usually work in a comfortable environment. Most of their time is spent in offices consulting with clients, developing reports and drawings, and working with other architects and engineers. However, they often visit construction sites to review the progress of projects.
Architects may occasionally be under stress, working nights and weekends to meet deadlines. In 2009, almost half of all architects worked more than 40 hours a week, in contrast to about 1 in 4 workers in all occupations combined.
Architects held about 129,000 jobs in 2009. Approximately 3 out of 5 jobs were in the architectural, engineering, and related services industry—mostly in architectural firms with fewer than five workers. A small number worked for residential and nonresidential building construction firms and for government agencies responsible for housing, community planning, or construction of government buildings, such as the U.S. Departments of Defense and Interior, and the General Services Administration. About 1 in 4 architects was self-employed.
All States and the District of Columbia require individuals to be licensed (registered) before they may call themselves architects and contract to provide architectural services. During this time between graduation and becoming licensed, architecture school graduates generally work in the field under supervision of a licensed architect who takes legal responsibility for all work. Licensing requirements include a professional degree in architecture, a period of practical training or internship, and a passing score on all divisions of the Architect Registration Examination (ARE).
In most States, the professional degree in architecture must be from one of the 113 schools of architecture that have degree programs accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). However, State architectural registration boards set their own standards, so graduation from a non-NAAB-accredited program may meet the educational requirement for licensing in a few States. Three types of professional degrees in architecture are available through colleges and universities. The majority of all architectural degrees are from 5-year Bachelor of Architecture programs, intended for students entering university-level studies from high school or with no previous architectural training. In addition, a number of schools offer a 2-year Master of Architecture program for students with a preprofessional undergraduate degree in architecture or a related area, or a 3- or 4-year Master of Architecture program for students with a degree in another discipline.
The choice of degree depends upon each individual's preference and educational background. Prospective architecture students should consider the available options before committing to a program. For example, although the 5-year Bachelor of Architecture program offers the fastest route to the professional degree, courses are specialized, and if the student does not complete the program, transferring to a program offered by another discipline may be difficult. A typical program includes courses in architectural history and theory, building design, structures, technology, construction methods, professional practice, math, physical sciences, and liberal arts. Central to most architectural programs is the design studio, where students put into practice the skills and concepts learned in the classroom. During the final semester of many programs, students devote their studio time to creating an architectural project from beginning to end, culminating in a three-dimensional model of their design.
Many schools of architecture also offer postprofessional degrees for those who already have a bachelor's or master's degree in architecture or other areas. Although graduate education beyond the professional degree is not required for practicing architects, it may be for research, teaching, and certain specialties.
Architects must be able to communicate their ideas visually to their clients. Artistic and drawing ability is helpful, but not essential, to such communication. More important are a visual orientation and the ability to conceptualize and understand spatial relationships. Good communication skills, the ability to work independently or as part of a team, and creativity are important qualities for anyone interested in becoming an architect. Computer literacy also is required for writing specifications, for two- and three-dimensional drafting, and for financial management. Knowledge of CADD is essential and has become a critical tool for architects. Most schools now teach students CADD programs and methods that adhere to the National CAD Standards.
All State architectural registration boards require architecture graduates to complete a training period—usually 3 years—before they may sit for the ARE, the third and final requirement for becoming licensed. Every State, with the exception of Arizona, has adopted the training standards established by the Intern Development Program, a branch of the American Institute of Architects and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). These standards stipulate broad and diversified training under the supervision of a licensed architect over a 3-year period. Most new graduates complete their training period by working as interns at architectural firms. Some States allow a portion of the training to occur in the offices of related professionals, such as engineers or general contractors. Architecture students who complete internships in architectural firms while still in school can count some of that time toward the required 3-year training period.
Interns in architectural firms may assist in the design of one part of a project, help prepare architectural documents or drawings, build models, or prepare construction drawings on CADD. Interns also may research building codes and materials or write specifications for building materials, installation criteria, the quality of finishes, and other, related details.
After completing their on-the-job training period, interns are eligible to sit for the ARE. The examination tests a candidate's knowledge, skills, and ability to provide the various services required in the design and construction of buildings. The test is broken down into 9 divisions consisting of either multiple choice or graphical questions; States give candidates an eligibility period for completion of all divisions of the exam that varies by State. Candidates who pass the ARE and meet all standards established by their State Board become licensed to practice in that State.
Most States require some form of continuing education to maintain a license, and many others are expected to adopt mandatory continuing education. Requirements vary by State, but usually involve the completion of a certain number of credits annually or biennially through workshops, formal university classes, conferences, self-study courses, or other sources.
A growing number of architects voluntarily seek certification by the NCARB, which can facilitate an individual's becoming licensed to practice in additional States. This practice is known as “reciprocity.” Certification is awarded after independent verification of the candidate's educational transcripts, employment record, and professional references. Certification is the primary requirement for reciprocity of licensing among State Boards that are NCARB members. In 2004, approximately one-third of all licensed architects had NCARB certification.
After becoming licensed and gaining experience, architects take on increasingly responsible duties, eventually managing entire projects. In large firms, architects may advance to supervisory or managerial positions. Some architects become partners in established firms, while others set up their own practices. Graduates with degrees in architecture also enter related fields, such as graphic, interior, or industrial design; urban planning; real estate development; civil engineering; and construction management.
Job OutlookProspective architects may face competition for entry-level positions, especially if the number of architectural degrees awarded remains at current levels or increases. Employment of architects is projected to for all occupations through 2010 and additional job openings will stem from the need to replace architects who retire or leave the labor force for other reasons. However, many individuals are attracted to this occupation, and the number of applicants often exceeds the number of available jobs, especially in the most prestigious firms. Prospective architects who gain career-related experience in an architectural firm while in school and who know CADD technology (especially that which conforms to the new national standards) will have a distinct advantage in obtaining an intern-architect position after graduation.
Employment of architects is strongly tied to the level of local construction, particularly nonresidential structures such as office buildings, shopping centers, schools, and healthcare facilities. After a boom in nonresidential construction during the 1980s, building slowed significantly during the first half of the 1990s. This trend is expected to continue because of slower labor force growth and increases in telecommuting and flexiplace work. However, as the stock of buildings ages, demand for remodeling and repair work should grow considerably. The needed renovation and rehabilitation of old buildings, particularly in urban areas where space for new buildings is becoming limited, is expected to provide many job opportunities for architects. In addition, demographic trends and changes in healthcare delivery are influencing the demand for certain institutional structures, and should also provide more jobs for architects in the future. For example, increases in the school-age population have resulted in new school construction. Additions to existing schools (especially colleges and universities), as well as overall modernization, will continue to add to demand for architects through 2010. Growth is expected in the number of adult care centers, assisted- living facilities, and community health clinics, all of which are preferable, less costly alternatives to hospitals and nursing homes.
Because construction—particularly office and retail—is sensitive to cyclical changes in the economy, architects will face particularly strong competition for jobs or clients during recessions, and layoffs may occur. Those involved in the design of institutional buildings such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and correctional facilities will be less affected by fluctuations in the economy.
Even in times of overall good job opportunities, however, there may be areas of the country with poor opportunities. Architects who are licensed to practice in one State must meet the licensing requirements of other States before practicing elsewhere. Obtaining licensure in other States, after initially receiving licensure in one State, is known as “reciprocity”, and is much easier if an architect has received certification from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.
Median annual earnings of wage and salary architects were $60,300 in May 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $46,690 and $79,230. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $38,060, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $99,800. Those just starting their internships can expect to earn considerably less.
Earnings of partners in established architectural firms may fluctuate because of changing business conditions. Some architects may have difficulty establishing their own practices and may go through a period when their expenses are greater than their income, requiring substantial financial resources.
Related OccupationsArchitects design buildings and related structures. , like architects, are also engaged in the planning and coordinating of activities concerned with the construction and maintenance of buildings and facilities.
Information about education and careers in architecture can be obtained from:
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