Architect: job description

Architects design new buildings and suggest alterations to existing buildings.

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It takes around seven years of study and training to qualify as an architect.

What does an architect do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

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 (eg 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, 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.

For information on salaries see our construction salary guide.

Continuing to learn and develop your expertise as a professional is a key part of the job, with an architect expected to carry out 35 hours of ‘continuous professional development’ activities per year. Career progression is possible through partnership or specialisation.

Vacancies are advertised online, by careers services, specialist recruitment agencies and in local and national newspapers. Relevant publications such as the RIBA Journal, Architects Journal and their online equivalents also carry advertisements.

Want advice on getting your first job in architecture? Read these tips from a qualified architect and director of his 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

‘Architect’ is a protected title that only qualified professionals registered with the Architect’s Registration Board (ARB) may use. There are two ways in which school leavers and graduates can qualify to become an architect:

  1. through the traditional route – going to university and interspersing two degrees with practical experience
  2. through a degree apprenticeship route.

We explain these processes in more detail below.

1. 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. Those studying in Scotland can register for joint membership with both the RIBA and its Scottish equivalent, the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS).

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. A portfolio is usually required as evidence that you have the potential to learn the technical drawing you need for architecture. An interview is also likely to be part of the selection process.

2. The degree apprenticeship route

Since July 2018, there have been two types of degree apprenticeships available: one for an architectural assistant and one for an architect.

The architectural assistant apprenticeship involves studying for a part one RIBA degree while working for an architectural practice or similar employer. The apprenticeship usually lasts four years. Entry requirements will differ according to the employer and the university awarding the degree, but usually involve two A level grades at A–C and five GCSES with a minimum of a B in maths and English (or equivalent).

The architect apprenticeship involves completing parts two and three of the RIBA process while working for a practice or similar employer. This apprenticeship usually lasts four years. However, you must have completed the RIBA part one qualification in order to apply. Additional entry requirements will vary according to the employer and the awarding university.

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

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