Architect Career Path: The Definitive Guide

UPDATED ON:
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Architecture is a complex profession that requires a proper understanding. This guide aims to demystify architects' career and help young people to gain an insight.
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I

t has been 11 years since I started my architectural career path. I went from studying at a relatively good university in Russia to a career in one of the best firms in Germany. There have been many things that I would do differently, if I go back in time, and I would like to share my experience so that you do not make the same mistakes and learn something useful.

# Should I study architecture?

A lot of people, including myself, study architecture without a proper understanding of the field and the profession. It is a crucial question to ask before choosing a career or enrolling in a degree. A lot of the time, people choose a career because the decision comes from someone else.

There is a couple of essential factors to consider. Every profession has its upsides and downsides. If you do not enjoy dealing with the downsides, then probably that profession is not for you. An important question to answer is whether you would enjoy solving problems in architectural design. To answer it, you have to understand what the profession is about and even have some experience before applying to a university.

Around 20-30% of students dropped and changed their major because during my Bachelor's degree program. Another 40% chose an alternative career path, such as visualization, consulting, or interior design.

# What do architects do?

There is an established romantic image of architects that misguides a lot of people. It is considered a prestigious profession and one that will most likely provide food and shelter. There's a general lack of knowledge about architects and what they do.

Architecture, from the Greek ἀρχιτέκτων arkhitekton "architect", from ἀρχι- "chief" and τέκτων "creator", is both the process and the product of planning, designing, and constructing buildings or other structures, according to [Wikipedia](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Architecture). Architecture is the first form of [the arts](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_arts). It is also considered one of the most ancient professions.

To fully understand a profession one must learn what kind of problems a profession solves.

Here is a list of problems that architects face during work.

## Problems that architects solve

- Design buildings from start to finish.
- Solve client's problems to meet their needs.
- Cooperate with different departments to comply with local regulations.
- Cooperate with different firms that make you more problems than solve.
- Participate in architectural competitions with a low win rate.
- Not expect to win a project just by doing high-quality work.
- Not be able to prove your position because most of the design decisions are empiric and based on personal tastes.
- Change the design thousands of times to find the best solution that satisfies everyone.
- Adapt ideas to meet the budget and constraints.
- Keep in mind that architecture is a complex and conservative profession. Therefore, it is slow to change and keep up with the progress in technologies.
- Hard to work remotely as it usually requires to work in teams and to have powerful hardware. Smaller projects can be done on laptops, though.
- Overtime work is an established practice in the whole world. Be ready to work for free and long hours.
- Studying and practice for years to finally be able to call yourself an architect. Most of the countries require exams for licensing.
- Architecture is mainly about long-term gratification. It can take several years to complete a project. A lot of the time, a project will be redesigned or shut down.
- Architects are not rich.

## Advantages of studying and practicing architecture

- You can build a good 3-dimensional sense and thinking.
- You can develop good taste.
- You can become well rounded. The architecture consists of many different fields that influence the project. A good architect should have a good knowledge of each area.
- You can develop system thinking.
- You can learn many useful 2d and 3d applications that extend to other professions as well.
- You can feel a strong satisfaction when the project you have been working on for several years is finally built and completed.
- You can create something that will be in use for decades. Or demolished if the design was of low-quality.
- You can hear "Oh wow that's cool!" when you tell people that you are an architect.

There are three main phases in a project design: Schematic Design, Design Development, and Construction Documentation. Some firms divide the phases into the initial concept design and the planning phase.

- Schematic design involves designing the concept. This stage includes research, defining the idea, overall spatial solutions, aesthetics, and structure. Architectural competitions are usually done in this phase to present the concept and the proposal.
- Design development is the phase where architects adapt the concept to local laws and project requirements. All the main drawings and details are developed for the next phase.
- Construction documentation is the final stage, where drawings are made ready for construction. During this stage, architects supervise the construction to make sure everything goes according to the plan.

Some people like to work on the initial phases, while others prefer the planning phase. In my opinion, every architect should complete at least several buildings from the concept to the construction to have a deep understanding of all the technical requirements.

# How to start a career?

After you learned in theory what architects do, what kind of problems they solve, and what are the advantages of being an architect you can ask yourself whether you still want to build a career in architectural design. If your answer is "Yes, I want to become an architect", then you are most likely very passionate about architecture, and it outweighs all the downsides.

If you are hesitant and cannot decide, you should get first-hand experience in an architectural firm. If I go back in time, I would take a gap year after high school and work for free in a local firm to understand the profession better. In addition to that, I would also explore other jobs to have something for comparison.

If your university program allows you to switch the major or choose one in the second or third year, you can work part-time to get insight. It is worth spending time in the beginning then regret it later.

However, if you think that you made a mistake after finishing your undergraduate degree, it is still not late to think about alternative career paths. More on that later.

# Where to study architecture?

The most common scenario for studying architecture is getting a Bachelor's degree in your home country and a Master's abroad. This way, you have different perspectives and experiences from distinctive architectural schools.

The best architectural schools are in Europe and the US. A renowned school can make starting your career easier but do not chase the name. You have to research each university you are interested in. The program should be tied with your aspirations. Each school accepts only those students whose interests align with those of the school. If you like computational design, then you should enroll in a program that focuses on that.

Your Bachelor's degree will also influence your chances for a Master's degree. One of the most important requirements for a Master's degree application is the portfolio of your undergraduate and professional projects. The kind of projects and the experience you get will matter a lot in your future applications. Pay attention to the quality of the projects you work on. They will form the basis of your portfolio, the representation of your skills and experience. Take as many summer internships as you can. Your goal should be to have experience by the time you graduate. It will be much easier to land a job when you know people and already proved yourself during the internships.

# What do architects learn at school?

Successful architects should have a broad range of knowledge, which includes humanitarian and natural sciences.

Humanitarian subjects can include arts and human anatomy, the history of architecture and human psychology, social and economic sciences, presentation methods and storytelling, marketing, and project management.

Natural sciences can include physics, materials, structures, geodesics, different kinds of software, and even computer science.

Architecture encompasses a lot of areas and successful architects manage to pay attention to all of them. A well-designed building or space should meet the demands of the market, be comfortable to use and sustainable, safe, and inclusive.

You will apply most of what you learn in the projects. The type of projects ranges from school to school. In more traditional ones you can be given a specific brief and asked to design accordingly. In progressive schools, there is more freedom and the projects are more conceptual.

# How many years do you need to become an architect?

The traditional path is the Bachelor's and Master's degrees, which together usually take 6 years. You can start working even after an undergraduate degree. However, if you care to be licensed and be called an "Architect", you have to receive training and take exams.

Taking a break between the degrees and knowing the profession better is a good strategy. Once you have a deeper understanding, you might change your opinion about your career development and change its course.

# List of careers

The list of architectural careers is usually divided by scale. Town and Urban Planners usually handle the bigger masterplan scale. They solve problems on the city level and usually design the infrastructure, streets, the building masses, and so on. Architects, on the other hand, work on a smaller scale of a building or an ensemble.

Here is the list of possible career paths for architects.

- Architect
- Town Planner
- Urban Designer
- Restoration Architect
- Interior Designer
- Lighting Architect
- Performance Designer
- Architectural Engineer
- Drafter
- Building Surveyor
- BIM Manager

Interior designers usually work with architects to create an inner spatial organization and aesthetics. Designers can work either on newly created spaces or on interiors that are under renovation. Their scope of work is finding an interesting concept, choose materials, furniture, and lighting that work well together, and make the concept stronger.

# Job satisfaction of architects

A [study](https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235251795_The_job_satisfaction_of_UK_architects_and_relationships_with_work-life_balance_and_turnover_intentions) in 2009 showed that "between 20 and 40 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with their rate of pay, practice management, promotion prospects, working hours and opportunity to use their abilities.". It has not improved much since then. Architecture is a stressful profession. Deadlines are usually tight, and it is hard to maintain a consistent work-life balance. Pursue the career of an architect only if you understand what is at stake, and you are passionate about designing spaces.

# Alternative paths for architects

Architectural education is quite flexible. Many universities even encourage people from different backgrounds to study architecture. Students with different experiences can bring something new to the profession. It is easy to apply for a Master's program if you have a different background. The only challenging part is to build a portfolio. Many schools offer summer courses to prepare a portfolio for the application.

# How to become an architect without a degree

Many renowned architects in history did not have a formal architectural education. However, nowadays due to the high number of applicants and job scarcity, the preference would be given to students and graduates with a degree.

# Changing career for an architect

Shifting a career path is quite possible thanks to a broad knowledge of architects and online education. One of the best ways to understand and find the best fitting profession is to analyze your yearnings and aspirations. [WaitButWhy](https://waitbutwhy.com/2018/04/picking-career.html) has an article and a guide on that matter. I also wrote a blog [post](https://www.maray.ai/posts/how-to-find-the-right-career-path-with-a-framework-in-notion) and prepared a [template](https://www.notion.so/How-to-Pick-a-Career-Path-f09c10876b5f419fbd5966f31003553c) in Notion that can make the process easier.

Here is a list of careers that architects can consider to change to.

- Artist
- Graphic design
- industrial design
- Visualization
- Game development
- Real estate
- Consulting
- Construction
- Artificial intelligence in architecture and design
- Programming
- Filmmaking
- Photographing
- Entrepreneurship

### Graphic design

Architects are always taught graphic design at school. Presentation of a project is usually accompanied by diagrams, booklets, and boards. Architects can apply the same knowledge in professional graphic design where products replace the architectural project.

### Industrial design

The same skills of form-finding, human anatomy, ergonomics, and many others can be applied to a smaller scale of an industrial object.

### Visualization

Any project includes a presentation with renderings, images, diagrams, and sometimes animation. A lot of people shift their career to visualization as some people enjoy more working on the visual part of the project.

### Game development

Architects are game level designers but in real life. Knowledge of space, visualization, and 3d software can be sufficient to transition to game dev.

### Real estate

Real estate is considered better paid, and a lot of architects move to this area once they accumulate enough experience.

### Construction

Construction managers make sure the project is built according to the plan, timeframe, and budget. Knowledge in architecture is, of course, an advantage. Additional knowledge might be required, however.

### Artificial intelligence in architecture and design

AI is considered a threat to many professions, and architects are no exception. There are already companies that work on AI-powered software to solve problems that architects do. The employees of those companies, of course, studied architecture.

### Programming

More technically inclined schools to teach Computer Science that will be helpful in our modern world.

### Filmmaking

Architecture involves storytelling that has a lot in common with directing a film. Developing a concept, visualization, and project management are the skills that can be used in filmmaking.

### Entrepreneurship

Making a product that has a concept, financial feasibility, demand, and design are relatable to a project in architecture.

# Advice to young prospects

Until the 3rd year, I had a very vague understanding of what architects do. I always had a goal to become an architect, but unfortunately, I did not research to see whether it fits my skills, aspiration, and expectance or not. It is a different time now, and I hope my experience can help and guide someone who wants to start a career in architecture. To summarize, take a gap year, understand the kind of problems architects solve, and if everything seems fun to you, then go for it.