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Architect Career Guide

What is an architect?

An architect is a professional who designs buildings, houses, and other structures. They combine art with science by creating designs that look aesthetically pleasing and provide functional spaces for the users. Aside from design, they also consider safety, sustainability, and economics in their plans. Their work influences the cities and neighborhoods we live in, shaping our living environment in profound ways.

Their role in society is significant. As creators of the built environment, they contribute to the cultural character of a place and the quality of life for the people living there. These professionals have a direct impact on the sustainability and resiliency of our communities. By designing efficient buildings, they are instrumental in efforts to conserve natural resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Duties and responsibilities

An architect is responsible for translating the needs and dreams of a client into a feasible, safe, and aesthetically pleasing design. This starts with meeting clients to discuss and understand their requirements and creating initial design blueprints, often using computer-aided design (CAD) software.

Additionally, they prepare cost estimates and construction timelines. They also ensure that the design complies with regulations and safety codes. During the construction phase, these professionals often supervise the work to make sure that it matches their design and resolves problems that may arise.

Work environment

Architects usually split their time between an office environment and construction sites. In the office, they meet with clients, create and refine designs, and prepare documents. They also spend time visiting project sites to review project progress and verify that construction follows the design plans. This can sometimes involve working outdoors and in all types of weather.

Their work requires collaboration with various professionals, including civil engineers, urban planners, interior designers, and construction workers. The degree of interaction varies depending on the specific project and firm.

Typical work hours

Most architects work full-time, often more than 40 hours weekly. They may need to work extra hours as they often face client deadlines and approval-related timelines. The need to visit construction sites can lead to work outside normal business hours.

While the field can involve periods of intense work to meet deadlines, it also provides moments for creative contemplation and design. Their schedule balances between these pressures and needs, contributing to a unique and dynamic work rhythm.

How to become an architect

This career guide section outlines how to become an architect. We identify the necessary steps from obtaining an education through gaining the required experience to securing licensure.

Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree

The foundation for an architecture career starts with a bachelor’s degree, typically in architecture or environmental design. These programs provide students with an understanding of architectural theory, building design, and construction methods. They also teach essential skills such as drafting, model creation, and computer-aided design software utilization.

Step 2: Complete an internship

After obtaining the necessary academic qualification, aspiring architects typically participate in internships to gain practical experience. These internships are often facilitated through the university and take place in architectural firms where students work under the supervision of experienced professionals. Internships provide the chance to apply classroom knowledge in real-world settings.

Step 3: Pursue a master’s degree (optional)

While not required, some individuals choose to pursue a master’s degree in architecture. This advanced degree allows individuals to specialize in a specific area of architecture, such as environmental design, urban planning, or historic preservation. Additionally, it may make applicants more competitive when seeking job opportunities.

Step 4: Fulfill the Architectural Experience Program (AXP)

The Architectural Experience Program, conducted by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), is a necessary step in becoming a licensed architect. It requires completion of approximately 3,740 hours in different areas of architectural practice. This program helps individuals gain practical experience.

Step 5: Pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE)

The Architect Registration Examination, administered by the NCARB, is a requirement for licensure in all states. This exam assesses a candidate’s knowledge and skills in areas such as site planning, project management, construction documentation, and architectural design. Passing the ARE serves as the final hurdle before becoming a licensed professional.

Step 6: Obtain state licensure

Once the education, work experience, and exams are completed, individuals can apply for licensure through their state’s architectural licensing board. It’s important to note that the requirements can vary from state to state, so individuals should research the specific requirements in their state.

Step 7: Consider becoming certified

While not required, many choose to seek certification from NCARB. This certification can make architects more marketable to employers and clients and make it easier to become licensed in multiple states.

Step 8: Stay up-to-date with continuing education

Even after becoming licensed, they should continue learning throughout their careers. Many states have continuing education requirements for architects to keep their licenses. Additionally, continued learning helps professionals stay current on emerging trends, technologies, and best practices in architecture.

How much do architects make?

Architect salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. The complexity of projects, their reputation, and the prestige of the architectural firm can greatly impact compensation.

Highest paying industries

  • Building Equipment Contractors – $120,980
  • Building Finishing Contractors – $117,620
  • Civic and Social Organizations – $115,870
  • State Government – $113,490
  • Oil and Gas Extraction – $111,780

Highest paying states

  • California – $107,680
  • New York – $106,910
  • Massachusetts – $104,720
  • Texas – $103,940
  • Illinois – $102,750

Browse architect salary data by market

Types of architects

This career guide section highlights the various career types and areas of specialization for architects. Below, we explore the unique attributes and responsibilities of each job title.

Residential architect

Designing private residences, from single homes to apartment complexes, falls under a residential architect’s area of expertise. They work closely with clients to fully realize their vision while ensuring functionality and adherence to local building codes. Balancing aesthetic preferences with practical needs is a pivotal aspect of their daily responsibilities.

Commercial architect

Commercial architects design public and commercial spaces like shopping centers, restaurants, schools, and office buildings. Unlike their residential counterparts, they are typically tasked with accommodating high-usage loads and complying strictly with regulations related to public safety and accessibility.

Urban designer

An urban designer’s domain revolves around large-scale city planning. They shape urban environments by designing the arrangement of buildings, public spaces, and transportation systems. The goal is to create cities that are not only attractive but also functional and sustainable.

Green or sustainable architect

Focusing on environmentally friendly design, green architects specialize in energy efficiency, sustainable material use, and eco-conscious building processes. They strive to create structures that minimize negative environmental impacts and promote sustainable living.

Industrial architect

Industrial architects design factories, warehouses, and other industrial facilities. They must consider operational efficiency, safety standards, and the extensive regulations that govern industrial infrastructure. Aspects such as equipment layout, workflow design, and space optimization also play essential roles in their work.

Landscape architect

Landscape architects bring their expertise to outdoor spaces, designing everything from parklands and green spaces to residential yards. They incorporate elements of aesthetics, sustainability, and functionality, often working with environmental elements like plants, water, and rocks to design spaces that blend the built environment with the natural one.

Top skills for architects

This section outlines the primary skills and traits needed for career success as an architect. To excel in the architectural field, a specific set of hard and soft skills are needed, accompanied by certain traits that allow a thorough understanding of design principles, regulations, and mathematical precision.

Analytical skills

Accuracy in architectural design requires an analytical mind. Architects must be capable of analyzing the needs of clients and stakeholders and transforming these needs into a functional, aesthetically pleasing design. They should be able to anticipate potential issues and devise solutions to address them.

Understanding of building methods

A deep comprehension of various construction methods and practices is necessary. This knowledge helps them develop designs that are not only beautiful but also structurally sound and implementable. They should understand the properties of different construction materials and how to use them appropriately in the building process.

Problem-solving skills

Problem-solving skills are paramount. Tasks such as identifying and addressing design flaws, overcoming construction obstacles, and dealing with budget restrain demand advanced problem-solving abilities. Employing creativity and strategic thinking to reach effective solutions is crucial.

Vision and creativity

These professionals essentially shape the world we live in, and thus, they must possess remarkable vision and creativity. They should be able to visualize the entirety of a project even before it starts and infuse innovative design ideas to meet clients’ aesthetic and functionality requirements.

Communication and negotiation skills

The essence of architecture lies in communication. Architects must be able to communicate their ideas and designs clearly and effectively to clients, construction teams, and other stakeholders. They must also have negotiation skills to manage project requirements, timelines, and budgets with different parties involved in a project.

Knowledge of regulations and laws

A sound understanding of construction and architectural design’s legal aspects and regulations is indispensable. Professionals in this role should stay updated on changes in building codes, zoning laws, and fire regulations to ensure their designs adhere to all pertinent regulations and standards.

Architect career path options

Architects, after gaining significant experience in the field, often see a wide variety of advancements and shifts available in their career paths. The range of possibilities, from scaling up their design capabilities to stepping into management roles, enables them to have dynamic careers.

Among the options is their potential to become a lead designer. In such a role, they’d oversee the design phase of large-scale projects. This would expand their scope of influence and allow them to make more impactful contributions to their architectural practice.

Some professionals may show a knack for details and organizational coordination, making them excellent candidates for the role of project architect. This role focuses on administration, coordinating the project team, and ensuring all parts of the project align, from conception to construction.

Alternatively, those who wish to pass on their experience and wisdom may take up academic careers, becoming lecturers or professors in architecture. By choosing this route, they shape the next generation of architects, imparting their knowledge and inspiring fresh ideas.

Beyond the confines of traditional architecture roles, professionals in this field can also move into urban planning or landscape architecture. In these expansive roles, they would be able to effect significant change at a broader scale, redesigning city structures or green spaces for better living environments.

Finally, with sufficient experience and an established reputation, they may decide to set up their own practices, allowing full control over their architectural vision. Taking the leap into entrepreneurship, they can build their architectural legacy and make lasting impacts on the built environment.

The architectural field is experiencing exciting changes. The serious global concerns of climate change and rapid urbanization significantly influence these trends. As a result, architects’ designs must not just be aesthetically pleasing but also sustainable and adaptable to changing circumstances. They often integrate renewable energy features, natural materials, and innovative construction technologies that lower carbon emissions.

Technology is also transforming how these professionals work, and digital design is becoming the norm. With the aid of Building Information Modelling (BIM), they can map out the minutest detail in their designs to increase accuracy, efficiency, and collaboration among team members. These three-dimensional models open up enormous possibilities as they can simulate real-world conditions, providing architects with critical information about their designs’ impact, costs, and sustainability at the earliest stages of their creations.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of architects is forecasted to grow by 5 percent through 2032, faster than the average for all occupations. Job opportunities are predicted to rise due to the need for sustainable, environmentally friendly design. Still, competition is expected to remain tight due to the large number of students graduating from architecture programs.

Architect career tips

Understand building codes and regulations

Deepening your grasp of building codes and zoning regulations in different jurisdictions can amplify your value. This area of knowledge measures your capability to produce work that meets legal guidelines while still demonstrating creativity. By recognizing these stipulations, you can effectively navigate the design process to augment productivity and deliver compliant and innovative projects.

Master relevant software

Staying current with architecture-related software is essential to remaining competitive in this field. Sophisticated design applications like AutoCAD, Revit, and SketchUp are frequently used in contemporary design and planning. Mastery of these platforms enables you to design more efficiently, allowing you to provide clients with enhanced visuals that better communicate your design intent.

Promote sustainable design

Focusing on sustainable design aligns you with global efforts to alleviate environmental stress and can differentiate you in a crowded market. Familiarize yourself with eco-friendly material options, energy-efficient systems, and green building standards such as LEED. Offering sustainable design solutions can attract clients who prioritize environmental stewardship, presenting a unique opportunity to stand apart from the competition.

Build a professional network

Maintaining a robust professional network can provide support, present opportunities, and enhance your industry knowledge. Connecting with architects, builders, engineers, and other prominent entities in the field is beneficial.

  • American Institute of Architects (AIA)
  • The architect’s newspaper
  • The International Union of Architects

Commit to continuous learning

The architecture industry is constantly evolving, pushing architects to continually enhance their knowledge base. Trends and regulations change, technology progresses, and new materials become available. Upgrading your expertise is, therefore, imperative.

  • Attending architecture workshops and seminars
  • Enrolling in online courses to learn updated software or architectural styles
  • Reading architecture-related books and publications
  • Earning additional certifications such as LEED professional credentials

Where the architect jobs are

Top employers

  • Gensler
  • Stantec
  • Perkins+Will
  • Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Top states

  • California
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Illinois
  • Florida

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Archinect
  • American Institute of Architects


What personal qualities are needed to be a successful architect?

A successful architect should have a creative imagination and an eye for detail to interpret and translate the client’s ideas into functional and aesthetically pleasing designs. Good communication and management skills are also essential to coordinate with different stakeholders involved in a project.

What licenses or certifications are required for an architect?

After obtaining a professional degree in architecture, one must complete a paid internship, typically lasting three years. Once this is finished, they need to pass the Architect Registration Examination to obtain licensure. The specifics of these requirements can vary slightly by state.

What are the typical professional affiliations of an architect?

Many architects join professional organizations such as the American Institute of Architects or the Architects League to stay connected with the industry. These affiliations help them network, stay updated with the latest field developments, and access professional development resources.

What is the role of technology in an architect’s job?

Technology plays a vital role in an architect’s job. They frequently use computer-aided design and drafting and building information modeling for creating designs and construction drawings. Technology also aids in energy analysis and other aspects of building performance.

Is teamwork critical in architect’s work?

Absolutely. Architects often work in teams with other architects and engineers. They may collaborate with landscape architects, interior designers, and other professionals. Therefore, being a good team player and having strong collaboration skills are key to success in this role.

What are the work environments like for architects?

Most architects work in offices, but visits to the client’s sites or construction sites are common to check progress or solve issues. Depending on the project, they may also need to travel to attend meetings with clients or to inspect buildings and construction sites.

What is the most challenging aspect of being an architect?

One of the significant challenges architects face is balancing the aesthetical design element of a project with practical and structural requirements. They have to ensure that the building is visually appealing and functional within budget and timeframes. Additionally, hedging between client’s desires, building codes, and city planning regulations can be challenging.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being an architect?

One of the most rewarding aspects of being an architect is seeing your ideas transform into tangible structures that people interact with every day. There’s remarkable satisfaction in knowing your creativity and technical skills contribute to shaping the physical landscape and enhancing people’s lives.

What continuing education requirements are common for architects?

Most states require architects to keep their licenses active by participating in continuing education. These requirements vary by state but typically involve learning about new design techniques, construction methods, codes, and regulations. They can fulfill these credits through professional development seminars, online courses, or workshops.