Job descriptions and industry overviews

Architect: job description

18 Dec 2023, 10:51

Architects design new buildings and suggest alterations to existing ones.

Architect drawing with ruler

What does an architect do? | Qualifications and training | Part-qualified salaries | Typical employers | 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 and client needs. That means they’re 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
  • taking into account constraints such as town planning legislation, environmental impacts and project budgets
  • working closely with a team of other professionals such as project managers , building service engineers , construction managers , quantity surveyors and architectural technologists
  • completing planning applications and taking advice from local authorities, legal professionals and governmental new build departments
  • writing and presenting reports, proposals, applications and contracts
  • specifying the requirements for each project
  • adapting plans according to circumstances and resolving any problems that may arise during construction
  • playing a role in project and team management
  • viewing building sites, proposed locations and client meetings.

For the most part an architect’s working day will be office or desk based. However, site visits and meetings with clients are frequent, so you will be expected to travel.

Working hours are typically standard office hours (eg 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, Monday to Friday) but you may work longer hours, evenings and weekends if there are tight project deadlines to meet.

Qualifications and training required: how to become an architect

There are two routes to becoming an architect: through the traditional route of academic study with years out for work experience, or through the relatively new route of a degree apprenticeship.

The traditional ‘go to university’ route

With a university route, part 1 is a degree in architecture – for example, a BA or BSc Architecture – validated by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). This can take three or four years of study full time.

Stage 1 practical experience is a year-long period of 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’s supervised.

Part 2 involves two more years of study, either via a work-based route or a university course. This can be completed at the same university where you completed part one or at a different one. You’ll be awarded a degree or diploma qualification on completion.

Your stage 2 practical experience involves a further 12 months of supervised work experience. It’s not uncommon for students to gain more than two years of professional experience to broaden experience and/or to earn money.

Part 3 involves an assessment of your work experience plus an exam focusing on professional practice and management. When you’ve passed this stage, you can register as an architect with the Architect’s Registration Board (ARB) and call yourself an architect. The job title is protected: only qualified professionals registered with the ARB may use it.

If you are considering applying for a RIBA part 1 degree course, bear in mind that most institutions request a combination of arts and science subjects and some 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.

The degree apprenticeship route

This route was introduced in England in 2018.

The architectural assistant apprenticeship involves studying for a part 1 RIBA degree while working for an architectural practice or similar employer. The apprenticeship usually lasts four years.

Entry requirements vary, but you’re likely to need a portfolio, five GCSEs and three A levels (or equivalent qualifications).

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 1 qualification in order to apply. Entry requirements will be set by the employer and the university.

Continuous professional development

However you qualify, you’ll continue to learn and develop your expertise. You’ll be expected to carry out 35 hours of continuous professional development activities per year.

Discover more about the working life of an architect and tips on getting a RIBA part 1 or part 2 job from a director of an architectural practice .

Salaries for part-qualified architects

According to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the median salary for a part 1 architectural assistant is around £20,000. Part 2 architectural assistants earn around £28,000. The Hays UK Salary and Recruiting Trends Survey also puts the typical salaries of part 1 architects between £16,000 and £22,500, depending on location, and part 2 architects between £22,750 and £30,000 in London.

Read our round-up of salaries in the construction industry to find out more .

Typical employers of architects

Most architects work for private practices and it is common for qualified architects to set up their own practice. However, there are a few vacancies with: large construction companies (particularly consultancies and those organisations specialising in design-and-build projects); public sector organisations; organisations that have substantial property portfolios (such as large retailers).

Vacancies can sometimes be found on targetjobs but more frequently on specialist jobs sites such as those run by RIBA, the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland and Architects’ Journal . However, not all architectural practices will have the budget to advertise opportunities and so you may find that you’ll need to make a speculative application – that is, to ask a practice whether they are able to take on a RIBA part 1 or part 2 student, even though they are not advertising roles.

Here’s how to write a speculative application .

Key skills for architects

  • Excellent design and drafting skills and proficiency with computer-aided design (CAD).
  • Creativity.
  • 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 and the ability to work well within a team of other professionals.
  • An awareness of the specific environmental and social impact of your projects.
  • Excellent client-facing and influencing skills.

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