How to become an architect

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Walt Disney Concert Hall

Did you know that there’s a building in Prague that can dance? Well, kind of. The “Dancing House” actually looks like two people swaying to music. It’s an incredible example of super-creative architecture.

But while architecture can make bricks and glass look like a couple hitting the dance floor, architects also design some of our most practical and necessary buildings – like schools, hospitals and offices.

'Want to shape the urban world around us? Or make a building dance? Could you be a budding architect?'

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The "Dancing House" in Prague is designed by architects
Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunic

If you’ve got excellent maths and drawing skills, an analytical approach, and an interest in the environment around you – becoming an architect could be a great fit for you.

The role requires seven years of study and hard work, but it’s a really rewarding career that gives you the exciting chance to literally shape our surroundings. Here we’ll answer all your questions, including:

  • What's an architect, and what do they do?
  • What skills do I need to become an architect?
  • How can I become an architect?
  • What GCSEs do I need to be an architect?
  • What the profession involves
  • How to become an architect.

What's an architect? 

We like to start with the basics: essentially an architect is a designer who works with buildings. They design the “built environment”, which means everything in our surroundings that is man-made, for example buildings, roads and parks.

Architects mix their creative ideas with technical know-how to design and plan the built environment. They think about how buildings will be used and maintained. They have to consider how future generations might use the buildings as well.

Architects explore new technology and materials to make things that are environmentally sustainable.

What does an architect do? 

Architects usually work for architecture firms, where different clients (that could be a company, a local council, the government) request buildings and structures. Local councils also employ their own architects to work on "urban planning", the task of designing our towns and cities. Architects create the designs then oversee the project from start to finish.

Their tasks could include:

  • Talking to clients about what they want, what the building project requires and how much money they want to spend – then using that information to create a “design brief”.
  • Coming up with ideas for the project using sketches and models.
  • Making accurate and very detailed technical plans using digital software.
  • Sticking to building laws and safety rules.
  • Keeping the client’s budget in mind and not spending too much.
  • Choosing what materials to use.
  • Overseeing the actual construction of the building and checking up on the progress.
  • After construction, checking that the client is happy and sort out any problems or issues.

When it comes to architecture jobs, more and more architects are also using their skills in teaching, furniture design, helping out after disasters like earthquakes. They are also involved in urban planning: that’s the really important job of designing our towns and cities, thinking about things like transport and how to protect the natural environment).

What skills do I need to become an architect? 

Architects need strong communication skills to clearly explain
their ideas to clients and colleagues

Wondering whether architecture is right for you?

Have a look at the skills and qualities needed for architecture jobs:

  • Drawing skills.
  • Very strong maths skills.
  • An ability to think analytically.
  • A methodical and logical way of working.
  • Good communication skills.
  • Ability to negotiate.
  • Digital and IT know-how.
  • Ability to think creatively and outside the box.
  • Good problem-solving skills.
  • Able to think about the big picture as well as having great attention to detail.

Sounds exciting. Tell me how to become an architect. 

This is where the hard work (and a little patience) comes in! Here is the most common route to qualifying as an architect in the UK: 

What GCSEs do i need to be an architect? Read on to find
out the answer.
  1. A five-year undergraduate degree in architecture that is recognised by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
  2. After the first three years of your degree, you will do one year of practical experience, usually with an architecture firm. You will be guided by mentors at your university and employer. Some students use this year to work in the wider construction industry, or even travel or volunteer.
  3. Then it’s back to university to finish the last two years of your degree.
  4. After your degree, you’ll be required to do another year of practical experience. At this stage you’ll be given more responsibility on projects.
  5. Take RIBA’s final exam to qualify as an architect.
  6. Register with the Architects Registration Board. This tells the world that you’re a fully qualified architect. Success!

RIBA has more details on the stages here.

What GCSEs do I need to be an architect?

A lot of people ask the question "What GSCSs do I need to be an architect?" The truth is, entry requirements are different for each degree course.

You usually need a portfolio of your drawings and photographs. Universities are not too prescriptive about what A-levels you need, but often look for a mixture of arts/humanities and maths/science subjects. A-levels in maths and subjects like art or and design will help.

Maths and English at grade C / 4 or above are essential GCSEs to get onto an architecture course, but beyond this you may wish to choose GCSEs which set you up well for the A-levels you need to get onto a  degree course.

How much does an architect earn?

As a newly qualified architect you could expect to earn up to £35,000. This rises to £44,000 for a senior architect, and up to £90,000 for highly experienced professionals.

Like the sound of a career in architecture? Check out these 4 jobs for an architect.

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Image credits

Lead image, Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, by Michael J Fromholtz via Wikimedia Commons 

The Dancing House by Dino Quinzani via Flickr

Architecture students, presenting to colleagues and using equipment, at Leeds Beckett University's Leeds School of Architecture, courtesy of the university

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