More than 1 in 5 architects was self-employedabout three times the proportion for all professional and related occupations.
Licensing requirements include a professional degree in architecture, a period of practical training, and passing all divisions of the Architect Registration Examination.
Architecture graduates may face competition, especially for jobs in the most prestigious firms; opportunities will be best for those with experience working for a firm while still in school and for those with knowledge of computer-aided design and drafting technology.
People need places in which to live, work, play, learn, worship, meet, govern, shop, and eat. These places may be private or public; indoors or outdoors; or rooms, buildings, or complexes; and together, they make up neighborhoods, towns, suburbs, and cities. Architectslicensed professionals trained in the art and science of building designtransform these needs into concepts and then develop the concepts into images and plans of buildings that can be constructed by others.
Architects design the overall aesthetic and look of buildings and other structures, but 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 consider all these factors 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 skillsdesigning, engineering, managing, supervising, and communicating with clients and builders. Architects spend a great deal of time explaining their ideas to clients, construction contractors, and others. Successful architects must be able to communicate their unique vision persuasively.
The architect and client discuss the objectives, requirements, and budget of a project. In some cases, architects provide various predesign servicesconducting 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 numbers and types of potential users of a building. The architect then prepares drawings and a report presenting ideas for the client to review.
After discussing and agreeing on the initial proposal, 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. The plans 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. Continual revision of plans on the basis of client needs and budget constraints is often necessary.
Architects may also assist clients in obtaining construction bids, selecting contractors, and negotiating construction contracts. As construction proceeds, they may visit building sites to make sure that contractors follow the design, adhere 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. 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. In addition, they 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 buildingfor 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 coordinating information from, and the work of, others engaged in the same project. Many architectsparticularly at larger firmsuse the Internet and e-mail to update designs and communicate changes efficiently. Architects also use the Internet to research product specifications and government regulations.
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 in preparation 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.
Architects 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 2002, more than half of all full-time architects worked more than 40 hours a week.
Architects held about 113,000 jobs in 2002. Almost 2 out of 3 jobs were in architectural, engineering, and related servicesmostly 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, planning, or community development, such as the U.S. Departments of Defense and Interior, and the General Services Administration. About 1 in 5 architects was self-employed.
All States and the District of Columbia require individuals to be licensed (registered) before they may call themselves architects or contract to provide architectural services. Nevertheless, many architecture school graduates work in the field while they are in the process of becoming licensed. However, a licensed architect is required to take legal responsibility for all work. Licensing requirements include a professional degree in architecture, a period of practical training or internship, and passage of all divisions of the 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 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.
High school students interested in a career in architecture should take courses in English, history, art, social studies, mathematics, physics, and computer science. Students should also visit the design studio of a school of architecture or tour the offices of a local firm. In addition, many schools of architecture offer summer programs for high school students.
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 helpful and will become essential as architectural firms continue to adopt that technology. Recently, the profession recognized National CAD Standards (NCS); architecture students who master NCS may have an advantage in the job market.
All State architectural registration boards require a training period before candidates may sit for the ARE and become licensed. Most States have 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. New graduates usually begin as interns in architectural firms, where they assist in preparing architectural documents or drawings. Some States allow some 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 may research building codes and materials or write specifications for building materials, installation criteria, the quality of finishes, and other, related details. After completing the on-the-job training period, interns are eligible to sit for the ARE. The examination tests candidates’ knowledge, skills, and ability to provide the various services required in the design and construction of buildings. Nine critical areas are covered. Candidates who pass the ARE and meet all standards established by their State board are licensed to practice in that State.
Several States require continuing education to maintain a license, and many more States are expected to adopt mandatory continuing education. Requirements vary by State, but usually involve the completion of a certain number of credits every year or two through seminars, 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. 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.
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; 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.
Prospective 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 grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2012, and additional job openings will stem from the need to replace architects who retire, transfer to new occupations, or leave the labor force permanently 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 they are still in school and who know CADD technologyespecially that which conforms to the new national standardswill have a distinct advantage in obtaining an intern 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. Employment in nonresidential construction is expected to grow because the replacement and renovation of many industrial plants and buildings has been delayed for years and a large number of structures will have to be replaced or remodeled, particularly in urban areas where space for new buildings is becoming limited. On the other hand, technology enhancements will dampen demand for new commercial construction as nontraditional work and retail environments, such as teleconferencing, home offices, telecommuting, and electronic shopping, proliferate.
Demographic trends and changes in healthcare delivery will influence the demand for certain institutional structures and should also provide more jobs for architects in the future. A growing and aging population will drive demand for the construction of adult daycare, assisted-living, and other outpatient facilities, all of which are preferable, less costly alternatives to hospitals and nursing homes. Similarly, the construction of schools will increase to accommodate growth in the school-aged population. Additions to existing schools (especially colleges and universities), as well as overall modernization, will continue to add to demand for architects through 2012.
Demand for residential construction is also expected to continue to grow. As the baby boomers reach their peak earning years and can afford to spend more on housing, demand for larger homes with more amenities, as well as for second homes, will continue to rise. Some older, more affluent, members of the baby-boom generation will want townhouses and condominiums in conveniently located suburban and urban settings. At the same time, as the "echo boomers" (the children of the baby boomers) start to augment the younger age groups, the demand for starter homes and rental apartments also should increase.
Growth in demand for new-home construction will be tempered by consumers’ preference to perform home improvements and renovationsespecially in attractive, established neighborhoodsrather than construct new homes. Many starter homes will be remodeled to appeal to more affluent, space- and amenity-hungry buyers. Also, as buyers trade up, some may prefer to remodel existing homes, rather than construct new homes.
Because constructionparticularly office and retail constructionis sensitive to cyclical changes in the economy, architects will face especially strong competition for jobs or clients during recessions, and layoffs may ensue. 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 NCARB.
Median annual earnings of wage and salary architects were $56,620 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $44,030 and $74,460. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,280, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $92,350.
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.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05 Edition,
Architects, Except Landscape and Naval, on the Internet at
(visited July 09, 2004).