Architecture is one of the world’s oldest professions. Centuries ago, skilled architects were predominantly employed by wealthy individuals who demanded that they create awe-inspiring buildings. Today’s architects, like their ancient counterparts, are also required to design new structures and transform older ones. However, working as an architect involves many responsibilities, and not only must new creations be pleasing to the eye, but they must conform to strict safety requirements as well.
An architect is someone who plans, designs, and oversees the construction of a building or complex, and may also be required to redesign existing structures within a building.
When designing a new building, an architect will first need to meet with their client to determine the nature and purpose of the proposed construction. They will also need to research the location of the new project and consider the types of building materials that are to be used during the construction process.
Preliminary sketches will then need to be produced and approved before final designs and blueprints can be given out to the relevant construction staff.
Architects are routinely required to meet with people working in related occupations, such as quantity surveyors and engineers. Site visits must also be carried out in order to ensure that work on the new construction is going according to plan.
All of this means that the average architect will be expected to put in long hours in order to complete projects on time.
Architects’ salaries have been on the increase for the last couple of years. 2007 saw record rises in pay packets, with wages exceeding the rate of inflation for the first time in years.
The wage received by an architect will vary depending on experience. Assistant architects can earn around £20,000, whilst those with graduate qualifications tend to receive between £29,000 and £32,000. A full-time architect will generally be paid between £32,000 and £40,000 per annum, and typical senior level salaries are often as high as £80,000.
Wages are also heavily influenced by location. Recent research has found that architects working in the Southeast and the Greater London area fare better than those in similar occupations elsewhere. Architects practicing in Northern Ireland received the lowest salaries in 2007, and whilst most Scottish architects would have seen an increase in their wages in 2007, their gains were nowhere near as considerable as those experienced by architects in England.
However, other variables apart from experience and region can also influence wages. Firm size is another factor which causes wage differentials within this sector, and an architect working for a large firm can expect to receive a higher wage compared to a similarly-qualified architect working for a smaller firm.
As an architect, you will be required to take on a number of responsibilities. It goes without saying that you will need to design buildings which are structurally safe, but you will also be responsible for the creation of a structure which is aesthetically pleasing.
Then there is the added responsibility of meeting deadlines. Everyone around you, from surveyors and engineers to bricklayers and plasterers, will be working to a tight schedule, and you will have to bear these factors in mind when planning construction.
In the United Kingdom, qualifying as an architect involves a three-step process which can take up to seven years to complete.
Part 1: First, the candidate must complete a three of four year degree course in architecture at a recognised university. Many people then choose to take a year or two out to work within the field.
Part 2: Next, it is necessary to engage in two years of full-time study at the end of which a Post Graduate Diploma or Masters degree is awarded.
Part 3: This involves gaining at least another year of work experience at an architect’s office. Finally, the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Exam in Professional Practice and Management must be taken.
In addition to the academic qualifications required, a successful architect will possess a number of other important skills and assets. These include:
- The ability to stay organised.
- Sound mathematical skills.
- Strong communication skills.
- The ability to work independently.
- A creative mind that looks at things from multiple angles.
- The ability to manage one’s time effectively and to meet deadlines.
- A willingness to resolve problems when they arise.
- A willingness to work long hours, both in the office and on-site.
- The ability to thrive in pressured or stressful situations.
- The ability to calculate the most cost-effective option in different situations.
As an architect, you will have to spend considerable amounts of time both in the office and on construction sites, and will almost certainly have to put in long hours to complete projects. When working on-site, this comes with its own set of dangers. Falling material is a constant hazard, and protective head gear must therefore be worn at all times.
It is essential that you gain some work experience before qualifying as an architect. If you are currently an undergraduate student, many firms offer internship opportunities over the summer vacation. Such internships provide aspiring architects with a perfect opportunity to gain a feel for the sorts of tasks they will be expected to undertake in a few years time.
Once you’ve completed university, there are many other positions available, and many practices advertise jobs for assistant architects which are aimed at recent architecture graduates.
In the United Kingdom it is mandatory that you gain practical experience before you sit the RIBA Professional Practice and Management Exams.
Architects can work for many different types of employers. These range from urban and rural authorities to private firms and mining companies. Some architects choose to stay self-employed. Many others, however, enter into partnerships with other architects.
As an Assistant or Junior Architect you will be called upon to produce CAD drawings and deal with general administrative issues. You will also have to accompany senior architects on site-visits. These positions are aimed at aspiring architects who have just completed a degree.
As a Graduate Trainee you will once again be required to assist senior staff. However, this time you’ll play a greater role in the actual design of buildings. You might be required to oversee the activities of Junior Architects as well.
Once you have passed the Professional Practice Exams, you will be able to call yourself a fully-qualified architect. This means that you'll be required to take on all the tasks outlined above. Some architects also choose to get involved in related areas such as real estate management.
Amy Tillson has been working as an architect for the past year.She completed her undergraduate studies in Architecture after receiving a BA degree from the University of Cambridge. This is what she had to say about its ups and downs:
“In my current job, a typical day at work involves many different tasks and the work load is generally quite intense. At the moment I mainly work on CAD (computer-aided design) drawings. I regularly communicate with clients and contractors and carry out site visits, and I am sometimes called upon to deal with general administrative matters such as issuing drawings to those who require them.
Good organisational skills are essential here as is time management. You’ll be presented with regular deadlines which need to be met, and will have to keep abreast of the different tasks you’ve been set and the time frames within which they need to be completed. There’s certainly no room for slacking!
There are lots of aspects of this job that I enjoy. I’ve always been passionate about design and so everything I do interests me. The work is varied and interesting, I enjoy working in a team and I love seeing my work being built!
However, I’d be lying if I said that I enjoyed the job entirely. Some tasks can be tedious and the hours are quite long. At the moment I am not paid for overtime even though it is expected on a relatively regular basis.
If there was one bit of advice I’d give to a prospective architect, it would be to ensure that you’re passionate about what you do. In order to be successful, you have got to be a very creative individual. If the job doesn’t interest you, there’s no way that you’ll be able to work to your full potential.
It’s also important to continually expand your horizons by paying regular visits to sites of architectural and historical interest. As far as insider information is concerned, make sure you get as much work experience as possible. This will give you a feel for what is expected of you, especially in terms of the hours and the deadlines you’re set. All opportunities will help you gain valuable CV points – even six weeks in the summer holidays will give you a head start!"