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Architect Job Description, Career as an Architect, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: College plus training; license

Salary: Median—$60,300 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Architects design, plan, and supervise the construction of buildings. They are responsible for the safety, usefulness, and aesthetics of their buildings. They must design structures that satisfy their clients' needs while conforming to the laws and regulations of the areas in which the structures will be built.

Architects work with engineers, urban planners, contractors, and landscape architects. They may work for large architectural firms, or they may be self-employed. Some architects work for engineers or builders. Others work for federal, state, or local governments. They may work on a variety of projects. Some architects specialize in certain kinds of architecture, such as designing school campuses, health facilities, shopping centers, or dwellings for urban renewal projects.

When a client hires an architect to design a building, the client and architect discuss the purpose of the building, the type of building wanted, and the budget. Then the architect inspects the building site to see what the land looks like. Sometimes the architect works with the builder to find the right piece of land for a structure. The architect has to consider what kind of design the building should have in relation to the site. The architect must also consider the climate, the surrounding buildings, and the slope of the site. Next the architect creates preliminary sketches, usually using computer-assisted design and drafting (CADD) software. These first drawings suggest the general shape and appearance of the building, the method of construction, where it will be placed on the site, and how the inside will look. The architect might have to revise the plans to meet the client's expectations.

In addition to preparing the sketches and final specifications of a building, architects oversee and approve the construction as it progresses. (Photograph by Kelly A. Quin. Thomson Gale. Reproduced by permission.)

Once the client approves these preliminary plans, the architect prepares more detailed plans, which show exactly how the structure is to be built. They indicate the dimensions and placement of each wall and window. They offer diagrams for heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning ducts and indicate the paths for plumbing pipes and electrical wiring. They include technical information, or specifications, of the materials to be used and the methods of installation. At this point, the plans go to contractors. The contractors examine the plans and submit bids on labor and material costs. When the bids are received, the client and the architect decide who will get the work. Considerations in selecting the contractor include the price submitted and the quality of past work. The contractor who is chosen uses the plans and specifications to direct the actual construction work.

Once construction begins, the architect visits the site frequently to check that the plans are being followed. The architect must also approve the materials being used. The architect checks the interior hardware and fixtures and works with the landscape planner and other workers and engineers on the building site. The architect's final duty is to decide whether the contract between the client and the contractor has been satisfied.

The amount of detail that the architects handle themselves depends on the size of their firms. In large offices, many of the smaller details are the responsibility of other staff members. Architects who work in small companies handle most of the details personally. Architects must be artists, businesspeople, organizers, planners, and coordinators. They should be aware of their clients' needs, as well as the needs of those who will use the buildings they design. They must know how to communicate their ideas and be persuasive. Architects must consider the effect their buildings will have on the natural and artificial surroundings. They must understand building codes. An extensive knowledge of design and construction coupled with creative ability is the best combination of qualities for an architect.

Education and Training Requirements

Architects must have a degree from a college of architecture and must serve an apprenticeship. In addition, all fifty states and the District of Columbia require that architects be licensed. Each jurisdiction has different requirements for admission to the licensing exam. Generally, in addition to a bachelor's degree, an applicant must have had three years of practical experience in an architect's office.

Planning for a career as an architect should start in high school. Courses in mechanical drawing, art, history, physics, and mathematics are very helpful. Part-time work in an architectural firm can be valuable. Many large companies recruit students from high school. These companies help pay the students' college tuition while the students work for them part time.

High school graduates should apply to one of the architectural colleges accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). These schools offer five-year programs that lead to a bachelor of architecture degree. Students attend classes in engineering, architectural design, building construction, structural theory, professional administration, and graphic representation. State architectural registration boards set their own standards, so it may be possible to graduate from a program not accredited by the NAAB and still meet education requirements for licensing in some states. Some schools offer master's degrees in architecture. The length of these programs varies.

After graduation students can begin their apprenticeships with architectural firms. They start as junior drafters, most likely with the use of CADD. Sometimes they make models based on the architect's designs. As interns gain experience, their duties become more complex. They can become senior drafters, who are responsible for the details in working drawings. After working in architecture for about three years, trainees may take state licensing examinations. These tests include the theory and history of architecture, construction, engineering, design, and professional practice.

Getting the Job

A good way to enter this field is to get a part-time job in an architectural firm while attending high school or college. After college graduation, the school's placement office can provide leads on internship openings with architectural firms. Other sources of job information are professional journals, newspaper classified ads, and job banks on the Internet.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Licensed architects can start their own businesses. Nearly one-fourth are self-employed. There are many possibilities for advancement in architectural firms. Architects can become supervisors and project managers. They can go into construction management and government service.

The employment outlook for architects is mixed. About 129,000 architects work in the United States. Although the growth of employment for architects is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all jobs through 2014, their workload depends on the level of activity in the construction industry, which depends on the strength of the economy as a whole. Most employment growth will be in the Sunbelt states, where population is rising, and in urban centers where old buildings need renovation. Demand for schools and health-care facilities is also expected to rise throughout the United States.

Working Conditions

Architects spend most of their time in offices that are well lighted and well ventilated. However, architects work outdoors when they visit construction sites. Many architects work standard forty-hour weeks. Very often, however, they must change their schedules to meet deadlines. They may also work nights and weekends. Self-employed architects generally work longer hours and often meet clients during the evening. Architectural work is challenging and offers a great deal of personal satisfaction.

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings for architects vary widely, depending on experience, talent, and location. The median income for all architects in 2004 was $60,300 per year. The highest ten percent of architects earned more than $99,800 per year. Graduates just starting their internships can expect to earn considerably less.

Where to Go for More Information

American Institute of Architects
1735 New York Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20006-5292
(202) 626-7300

American Institute of Architecture Students
1735 New York Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 626-7472

Society of American Registered Architects
305 E. Forty-sixth St.
New York, NY 10017

National Architectural Accrediting Board
1735 New York Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 783-2007

Many architectural firms offer such benefits as life and health insurance plans, profit-sharing plans, and retirement funds. Most companies provide paid holidays and vacations.

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