What an Architect Does
Architects plan and design structures of all types, including residences, commercial structures, factories and offices. Although most people envision the career to be constantly sketching and designing, architects actually spend most of their days on planning-type activities, which may include creating cost estimates and bids, writing reports, and performing research.
Who would enjoy a career in Architecture?
People who love design and have a keen understanding of how structures impact the environment as well as how they influence the people around them are generally happy as an architect. Good candidates are also very skilled in mathematics and engineering.
Who mightn't like the career?
People who are unprepared for rigorous schooling and an extensive licensing process have trouble getting into the field. It can also be difficult for those who take criticisms personally, as designs and plans are often picked apart by clients or upper echelons in construction firms.
Architects undergo a lengthy educational process, and must be well-versed in using computer-aided design (CAD) software, drafting, design, legislation/ building codes, and environmental concerns. The term “architect” is considered regulated or protected in most jurisdictions, which means it cannot be used until an individual becomes licensed to work as an architect. The licensing process includes testing and an internship that lasts 2-3 years. Most architects tend to study a Bachelors or Masters in Architecture at a university.
Those hoping to get an internship should brush up on current policies and standards. Prospective employers will ask questions related to the design phase as well as project management.
Intern/ Architectural Assistant
Role: Those who are unlicensed, but work as architects, are typically referred to as interns while in school or architectural assistants after graduation. Because they’re not licensed, they must work under a licensed architect who assumes all responsibility for them. Although assistants and interns are given some drafting and design projects for the sake of exposure, their main duties involve compiling reports or doing research for the architect. This may mean checking into details of a specific build site, finding out what zoning laws and building regulations apply, or helping the architect prepare for a presentation by gathering financial information and developing a timeline.
Role: Most architects spend their days trying to fulfill the visions of their clients and the architectural manager, rather than implementing their own ideas. They listen carefully to the needs of the client and find out what can be implemented and determine how to go about it. They sometimes sketch out designs, but mostly use CAD software to create structures.
They also work out bids, which include timelines and budgets for projects, which they then pitch to clients. Before a building enters the construction phase, architects collaborate with the construction manager to ensure plans are followed, and they often follow up with the construction team throughout the process to make sure the plans are being executed properly.
Architectural Project Manager
Role: Larger firms employ project managers to oversee multiple architects and building projects at once. The architectural manager is generally the one who provides specifications to the architect and approves designs. Managers will also coordinate projects and make sure plans are carried out correctly.
When there are issues with implementation or construction, the architectural manager will research to find out what caused it and implement a strategy to overcome it. They tend to have more one-on-one contact with clients, starting with the initial offer to bid, to negotiating contracts, and keeping clients abreast of progress.
Licenses do not readily transfer from one region to the next, although most jurisdictions offer a path for architects to obtain a local license more easily if they’ve already worked in the field elsewhere. In the UK, Australia, and Canada, licenses are valid throughout the country, but in the United States, they are granted at a state-level. Travel for work is generally minimal, unless an individual gains recognition as being unique or elite.
Intern: According to PayScale, the average salary is about USD$41,000 in America, CAD$47,000 in Canada, £28,000 in the UK, AU$48,000 in Australia.
Architect: USD$65,000, CAD$63,000, ₤31,000, AU$62,000
Architectural Project Manager: USD$70,000, CAD$69,000, ₤36,000, AU$91,000
Firms occasionally award bonuses or engage in profit sharing, though these tend to be smaller, only adding on about 1-2% to the average salary.
Why an Architect moves on
Most architects stay in the field for life, though they tend to take more management positions or open independent firms once they’re established. However, the long hours and lack of recognition for accomplishments can leave some architects disenchanted with the field altogether.