What Does an Architect Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Nusha Ashjaee © The Balance 2019 

Architects design structures such as houses, apartment complexes, shopping centers, office buildings, and factories. In addition to considering their physical appearance, they also make sure these structures will be functional, safe, economical, and suit the needs of the people who will use them.

The majority of the time, architects work in an office. There, they meet with clients, draft plans, work on cost estimates, file permit applications with municipal building departments, and help clients set up agreements with contractors. Architects also visit construction sites to check the progress of projects and make sure contractors are building them according to their plans.

Architect Duties & Responsibilities

This job generally requires the ability to do the following work:

  • Lead and develop projects from early concept through design development
  • Prepare drawings, specifications, and construction documents
  • Design and document commercial and industrial building projects
  • Consult with clients to determine their requirements
  • Coordinate preliminary architectural studies for major new structures and alterations to existing structures and site development
  • Organize and manage permit documents
  • Work with teams across business lines, in remote locations, and coordinate with subcontractors
  • Resolve complex design issues with innovative and practical solutions
  • Modify existing plans and elevations to fit client and sales needs

Architects begin designing a project at the planning stage of development. They first meet with the client to determine their requirements for the project. In determining a design plan, architects must consider other items such as the site, environment, culture and history, which may be subject to local and federal regulations, building codes, and local planning and zoning laws. The architect also needs to consider the type of building materials to use that fit the client's requirements as well as the budget.

When creating designs, architects use advanced computer programs such as 3D software programs—BIM (Building Information Management and AutoCAD (computer-aided design)—as well as and cloud-based technologies.

As the project progresses, the architect will consult with clients, contractors, engineers, and other key members to ensure that aspects such as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), as well as structural supports are properly incorporated into their designed structures. This may also include making modifications to their design throughout the project life cycle.

Architect Salary

An architect's salary varies according to education, experience, and skills. In 2018, architects earned the following:

  • Median Annual Salary: $79,380 ($3816/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $138,120 ($66.40/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $48,020 ($23.09/hour)

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, 2017

Education, Training, & Certification

If you want to become an architect, you will have to earn a professional degree from a school accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). You can search for a program on the NAAB website:

  • Academia: You can complete one of the following programs offered at many colleges and universities
    • Five-year Bachelor of Architecture (BArch) program intended for students entering college from high school or with no previous architectural training. Courses include architectural history and theory, building design with an emphasis on computer-aided design and drafting (CADD), structures, construction methods, professional practices, math, physical sciences, and liberal arts.
    • Two-year Master of Architecture (MArch) program for students with pre-professional undergraduate degrees in architecture or a related area
    • Three or four-year Master of Architecture program offered to students with degrees in other disciplines. Courses for the master's programs may include engineering mechanics, construction technology, architectural detailing, architectural documentation, architectural graphics, and building information modeling.
  • Training: Graduates need to complete a three-year paid internship prior to taking the Architect Registration Examination. Most new graduates complete their training by working at architectural firms through the Architectural Experience Program (AXP). Architecture students who complete internships while still in school can apply some of that time toward the three-year training requirement.
  • Certification: In the United States, you will have to get a professional license from the state or municipality in which you plan to provide your services. To become a licensed architect, you must first earn a professional degree in architecture, complete a period of practical training or an internship, and pass all divisions of the ARE (Architect Registration Examination). In most states, continuing education is required to maintain licensure. State requirements can be determined by using the Licensed Occupations Tool from CareerOneStop.

    Architect Skills & Competencies

    While meeting your education and licensing requirements are essential, you also need certain personal qualities, known as soft skills, to succeed as an architect:

    • Creativity: You must be able to create designs for buildings and other structures.
    • Visualization: You need to be able to see, in your mind's eye, what those structures will look like once they are complete.
    • Verbal Communication: This skill will allow you to describe your ideas to your clients and colleagues.
    • Active Listening: In addition to clearly communicating information to others, you must be able to understand what others are sharing with you.
    • Problem Solving: Problems will inevitably arise during most building projects. You must be able to quickly identify and then solve them to keep the project moving forward.
    • Critical Thinking: Good problem solving requires the ability to evaluate possible solutions before choosing the most promising one.

    Requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com include:

    • Strong written and verbal skills, fluency and grammar
    • Ability to perform duties at other than normal working hours and days as required by projects or tasks
    • Ability to produce 2D and 3D design drawings for meeting presentations
    • Must be knowledgeable in the applicable building codes
    • Team player with a positive attitude
    • Ability to manage multiple projects simultaneously

    Job Outlook

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017, employment in this field will continue to grow by 4% until 2026, slower than the average for all occupations. Architectural designs will still be in demand for the construction of homes, offices, schools, health care facilities, and mixed-use developments. Also, there will be a continued demand for architects with sustainable design knowledge to create environmentally friendly, resource-efficient buildings and structures.

    Work Environment

    Most jobs are in architectural and engineering firms. While you will spend most of your time working in an office, you can also expect to travel, sometimes far away, to construction sites.

    Work Schedule

    If you become an architect, you will likely have to work overtime (more than 40 hours per week), at least occasionally, to meet deadlines. Twenty percent of architects work from home, where hours may be more flexible.

    How to Get the Job

    APPLY

    Look at resources such as Indeed, CareerBuilder, and Glassdoor for the latest job postings. This sites also provide writing tips for resumes and cover letters, as well as techniques for landing and mastering an interview.

    Archinect, Houzz, and iHireConstruction are popular job boards in the industry. Also, large architectural and engineering firms provide job listings.

    NETWORK

    Join an organization to learn about architect careers and meet other professionals in the industry:

    Attending conferences and other events also offers networking opportunities that can lead to a job.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    People interested in a career as an architect may also want to consider these similar jobs, along with their median annual income: