Architecture - A Guide

Is Architecture
The Field For Me?


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Editor's Note

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Dear Reader,

Whether you've always liked drawing or you'd like to get involved with helping people build safe, sustainable housing, there's never been a better time to pursue your dreams than today. The demand for sustainable architecture, unique expression and energy-efficiency in construction continues to grow.

The team at is here to help you make the educational and career decisions that are right for you. We want you to be informed, prepared and successful. We understand that your educational decisions will last a lifetime, which is why we've prepared this guide. We also encourage you to visit our site's other architecture-related articles for more information.

We hope these pages help you find your path.

Happy reading,
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Citlali Tolia
Lead Editor, INSIDE Guides

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Quick Facts

  • Approximately 21% of architects are self-employed.
  • About 66% of regional and urban planners work for municipalities.
  • Most architects have at least a 4-year degree.
  • Demand for urban planners should rise 19% between 2008 and 2018.
  • Architectural professionals also design ships, plan landscaping and work on historical preservation.
  • The best opportunities in this field are available to those with master's degrees and knowledge of global positioning systems.

Is Architecture Right for You?

Architectural professionals possess a common set of traits. See if more than 12 of the following apply, and if so, architecture might work for you!

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Job Options in Architecture

Most job options in architecture include those as architects, landscape architects, drafters or urban planners. In each, you'll draw upon the same skill sets, such as those in drawing, math, aesthetic design and project estimation.


Architects design buildings while considering appearance, functionality, safety and heating efficiency as factors. Your responsibility as an architect will begin at the planning stages of a project.

Female architect standing outside a skyscraper

This is where you sit down with a client and determine what needs a building design will address. In some cases, you might complete an initial assessment for safety or environmental purposes to see if a building can be constructed safely. You'll also discuss budgets, required materials and zoning or building codes with your clients.

Landscape Architects

Landscape architects are responsible for designing the general grounds of golf courses, parks and other outdoor areas. You might also oversee the process of restoring forest land, abandoned mines or drained wetlands. As a landscape architect, you'll work with foresters, landscapers, arborists and environmental scientists to protect natural resources and create the outdoor environment your clients are looking for.

Urban Planners

As an urban planner, you'll come up with land use plans for the short and long

photos of six buildings

term. These plans will help manage sprawl, limit environmental damage and revitalize communities. Your work will be critical to planning roads or other infrastructure. In most projects, you'll need to consider the local economy, social issues, cultures, public policy and environmental impact. Many urban planners specialize by project type. Specialization notwithstanding, you might need to learn about civil engineering, public policy regulations and contracting to collaborate with other building professionals.

Architectural and Civil Drafters

Civil and architectural drafters focus on drawing buildings, roads and other

structures. Many specialize in a type of architectural project. Architectural drafters focus more on buildings, and civil drafters create drawings of infrastructure. You can expect to complete this by using Computer Aided Design (CAD) software. Civil and architectural drafters might also use hand tools to draw, such as mechanical pencils, rulers, styluses and templates. Most drafters complete a 2-year or 4-year degree program before they enter the workforce. As a drafter, you can expect to enter this field under the supervision of a senior drafter before you're promoted to intermediate or senior positions.


Architect and Urban Planner Salaries

Industry Average 2010 Earnings
Federal Executive Branch $88,980
Residential Building Construction $81,460
Architectural, Engineering
& Related Services
Nonresidential Building Construction $75,600
State Government $74,500
Industry Median 2008 Earnings
Architectural, engineering,
& related services
Scientific research & development $60,750
Management, scientific,
& technical consulting services
Local government $58,260
Colleges, universities,
& professional schools


Architecture Specializations

Naval Architecture

Naval architects are responsible for designing ships. In this field, you can expect to work with marine engineers who will focus on propulsion systems and navigation equipment. Your responsibilities as a naval architect will be to design the hull, deck and exterior of a ship. This design will need to incorporate initial project costs along

Two architects with hardhats

with foreseeable maintenance concerns. You might also have to choose the type of material the ship is made from or how it's fabricated.

Historical Architecture

As a historical architect, you'll combine a knowledge of architecture, history and research to preserve historical buildings or sites. You can expect to spend a lot of time in libraries or checking historical buildings to determine what a structure looked like, how it was built and how to keep it functional. You can also expect to spend a lot of time outside historical buildings or crawling through attics to assess structural integrity. Most positions in this field are with local, state or federal government agencies.

Sustainable Architecture

Some architects specialize in sustainable or green development. If you earn a degree with a concentration in this area, you can help design buildings for

Architect standing by a house

environmental friendliness and energy efficiency. Sustainable Architects also work to improve the health of a building's occupants by controlling air pollution or addressing wastewater disposal requirements.

Real Estate Development

Many architects specialize in real estate development. In the real estate development field, you can design buildings that meet the needs of public policy and the local economy. This can be accomplished by combining a basic knowledge of design with accounting, law, history and urban planning.

Architecture Degree Options

Architectural, Civil and CAD Certificates

Certificate programs are designed to provide basic drafting skills. Some are designed to prepare you for a 2-year program. In support of both objectives, you'll take courses that cover construction, computer aided design (CAD), civil technology and algebra. Many programs also cover communications. Additionally, you can enroll in a CAD program to focus your studies on computer modeling. A CAD program might also cover manufacturing processes.

Associate's Degrees in Design and Drafting

Associate's degree programs can prepare you to work with engineering and architectural professionals. Most programs will offer coursework that covers civil technology, architectural principles, CAD programs and blueprint reading. This will teach you how to render 3-D models used to create buildings. Some associate's degree programs might cover industrial processes, such as metal joining. This will help you understand basic manufacturing and construction practices.


Bachelor of Architecture

Earning your Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.) is essential to enrolling in a Master of Architecture program later on. B.Arch. programs also allow you to complete the licensing requirements to work as an architect. The goal of an undergraduate program is to provide you with a basic understanding of CAD software, freehand drawing, construction principles, building codes and design practices. B.Arch. programs usually require five years to finish and include an opportunity to complete a professional experience.

Master of Architecture (Pre-Professional)

Pre-professional Master of Architecture programs build upon study in a B.Arch. program and allows you to complete the necessary studio and professional experience to work on advanced architectural projects. A Master of Architecture degree program is usually completed by students immediately after a 5-year undergraduate program.

Master's in Urban or Real Estate Development

You can enroll in an urban design or real estate development after you've earned a 4-year degree in a field related to architecture or civil engineering. However, you might need to complete gateway or evaluation courses before you work on intensive requirements in real estate or urban planning. After

completing these courses, you'll learn about designing communities to meet public policy, economic or environmental needs. This leads to opportunities to work with urban development and real estate professionals in the field.

Master of Architecture (Post-Professional)

Post-professional programs are open to students who have an architectural degree. They are designed to provide you with a basic understanding of research and the opportunity to specialize as a professional. Available specializations usually include those in sustainable development, historical research or urban planning.


Architectural Licensing Requirements


Architects need to earn a bachelor's degree accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). You'll also need to complete three years of experience working under the supervision of a licensed architect before you earn a license. Other requirements vary by state, and are available through the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) (

Professional Organizations

There are a variety of organizations that can provide you with support, advice, professional development and other benefits as an architect. They also provide you important information on professional standards along with networking opportunities. National organizations include:

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is focused on advocacy and providing professional resources for the architectural profession. AIA also standardizes industry documentation, performs market research and offers assistance to new architects.

The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) is the only organization qualified to recognize architectural programs. NAAB also sets the standards of education for architectural practice.

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) is primarily focused on cataloging licensing requirements in each state. NCARB serves additional functions that credential architects, monitor interns and serve as a record-keeper for state organizations.

Hardhat on top of plans

The Career Wizard

  • As an architect, what would my working conditions be like?
  • Most architects work 40-hour weeks, although the BLS reports that, of every five architects, one worked at least 50 hours a week in 2008. There are times you might have to work nights or weekends. Although you'll mostly work in your office, sometimes you could have to go on site visits to project locations. In addition to designing projects and following through on their completion, part of your work might include meeting with clients or collaborating with related professionals.

  • How does working at a firm compare to being a self-employed architect?
  • If you become an architect at a large firm, you could work on projects as part of a team, although you might specialize in a particular aspect of the process. At a smaller firm, you might instead have to handle multiple tasks. Although there are benefits to being a self-employed architect, such as making your own hours, you could have many more responsibilities. In addition to your architect duties, you'll have management responsibilities like creating a business plan, hiring other employees, overseeing expenses and billing or obtaining insurance.

  • What kind of skills will help me as an architect?
  • Architects need to be effective visual communicators. You should be able to switch between working alone and independently throughout different phases of a project. Computer skills are essential because architects rely on computer aided design software to create most of their drawings. You'll also need math skills to help manage costs, address structural engineering concerns and determine what amount of force a building will need to withstand.

Deconstructing Architecture: Frank Gehry

Frank Gehry was born in 1929 and grew up in Toronto. He pioneered 'deconstructivism', a style of architecture that defies traditional order through the use of fragmenting, the lack of parallel surfaces and an end product that appears structurally unsound. Gehry's works have included the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

Gehry also applied his style to the design of furniture and jewelry, and eventually, technological designs. Notable among these is the Ray and Maria Stata Center,

which was designed to replace the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Building 20. Characteristic of Gehry's use of angles, the building's design prevented light pollution, controlled wastewater, monitored carbon levels and involved a recycled garage.

Throughout his career, Gehry has earned more than eight honorary doctorates. His other awards have included the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize in Architecture, the Wolf Prize in Art and the Imperiale Award in Architecture.



Earning a bachelor's degree isn't enough to thrive as an architect. Successful architects earn a master's degree and specialize their work. The experience you acquire as a student is critical to building a resume and learning through hands-on experience. Certification after you graduate is critical to actualizing many job prospects, opportunities for a raise and building a client base.

Get a Master's Degree

A master's degree program will allow you to learn about emerging trends in the field. These include a renewed focus on sustainable development, environmental concerns and energy efficiency. You can also use your master's degree to build your skills and reputation as a researcher or instructor. Earning a graduate degree isn't necessary, but it is essential if you're looking to meet new demands in the field.

Acquire Experience in School

Experience working under a skilled architect is a licensing requirement in every state. Completing an internship as a student can reduce the amount of time it will take to earn your license. It also allows you to learn how professionals deal with clients, address unique problems and build relationships. You can also build your resume by working with a prestigious firm.

Get Certified

Certification shows potential employers that you have the skills to get the job done. It will also make it easier for you to get a license in another state. In fact, certification is a key component of having your credentials recognized outside the state where you plan to work. You'll be able to handle complex or unique projects involving civil engineering, real estate development or construction.

Architecture Scholarship Central

AIA/AAF Minority Disadvantaged Scholarship

Minority and disadvantaged students can apply for this scholarship through the American Institute of Architects as they earn a professional degree in architecture. It awards $3,000-$4,000 based on architectural aptitude and need. Students can also reapply for the award every year.

Ace Mentor Scholarship

Students can receive and reapply for $5,000 for each year of their architectural study. The scholarship is designed to pair a student with architectural and engineering professionals, which allows the student to benefit from financial support and real-world experience.

Simpson Strong-Tie Scholarship

The Simpson Strong-Tie company awards 49 students $1,000 every year. The award is open to undergraduates studying architecture or structural engineering. Applicants must be juniors and earning their degree as full-time students.

The Charles Peterson Fellowship

The Peterson Fellowship is offered through the Society of Architectural Historians and awards $2,000 every year. The award is granted to graduate students who've focused on architectural history and completed unique research.

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