Architects design new buildings and suggest alterations to existing buildings. It takes around seven years of study and training to qualify as an architect.
What does an architect do?
Architects create designs for new construction projects, alterations and redevelopments. They use their specialist construction knowledge and high-level drawing skills to design buildings that are functional, safe, sustainable and aesthetically pleasing.
Architects stay involved throughout the construction process, adapting their plans according to budget constraints, environmental factors or client needs. As such, they operate as part of an overall project design team, working closely with a range of construction professionals from quantity surveyors to building services engineers.
Typical work activities include:
- creating building designs and highly detailed drawings both by hand and by using specialist computer-aided design (CAD) applications
- liaising with construction professionals about the feasibility of potential projects
- working around constraining factors such as town planning legislation, environmental impact and project budget
- working closely with a team of other professionals such as building service engineers, construction managers, quantity surveyors and architectural technologists
- applying for planning permission and advice from governmental new build and legal departments
- writing and presenting reports, proposals, applications and contracts
- specifying the requirements for the project
- adapting plans according to circumstances and resolving any problems that may arise during construction
- playing a part in project and team management
- travelling regularly to building sites, proposed locations and client meetings
For the most part an architect’s working day will be office based. However, site visits and meetings with clients are frequent, so travel can figure prominently.
Working hours are typically standard office hours (Monday to Friday), but architects may work longer hours, evenings and weekends if there are tight project deadlines to meet.
Most architects work for private practices, but chartered architects often set up their own practice.
Typical employers of architects
- Private architect practices
- Large construction companies, particularly consultancies
- Public sector bodies
- Large industry organisations with substantial property portfolios (such as large retailers)
Qualifications and training required (UK)
The traditional, established university student and graduate route
If completed full time, this route takes seven years of combined study and practical experience, currently achieved in three parts as required by the Royal Institute of British Architecture (RIBA).
Part one is a RIBA- and ARB-accredited undergraduate architecture course of three or four years (usually a BA or BSc), followed by a year gaining professional experience (work experience). This is usually in an architectural practice but could also be in any relevant sector of the building industry, as long as it is supervised.
Part two involves another two years of full-time study; this could be a further bachelors of architecture, a masters or a diploma. This can be completed at the same university where you completed part one or at a different one. Your two years of study is then followed by a further year of supervised professional experience.
It’s worth noting that it is not uncommon for students to gain more than two years of professional experience in order to broaden their experience and/or to earn money.
Part three involves an examination that draws on the experience gained from parts one and two.
On passing the exam, an architect can register with the ARB and will be a chartered member of RIBA, which can greatly aid career progression. There are no conversion courses in architecture for graduates of other undergraduate degrees who want to become an architect; all prospective university students must start with an accredited undergraduate degree (RIBA part one).
If you are considering applying for a RIBA part one degree course, most institutions request a combination of arts and science subjects and some may require specific subjects, such as maths and art and design.
Key skills for architects
- Excellent communication skills, both written and oral
- High levels of creativity and imagination
- A keen interest in the built environment and the dedication to see projects through to their conclusion
- Willingness to work long hours, under time and budget pressure
- Excellent design and drafting skills and proficiency with computer-aided design (CAD)
- A keen eye for detail, as well as the ability to see the bigger picture of a project
- Organisational, project management and planning skills, including the ability to juggle multiple tasks
- An analytical mind with excellent problem-solving and mathematical ability
- Leadership skills as well as the ability to work well within a team of other professionals
- An awareness of the specific environmental and social impact of your projects
Recommended IBDP subjects needed to apply to university to study architecture:
Visual Arts or Design Technology and one of Physics or Mathematics at Higher Level.