Most people enter architecture with a vision, a desire to build, and a pre-discovered engineering ability; unfortunately, most architects don’t get to exercise any of these skills until many years after entering the profession. Beginning architects research zoning, building codes, and legal filings, draft plans from others’ designs, and build models at the side of a more experienced architect. The accomplished architect doesn’t spend as much time as he would like designing, either; he spends it on the phone, in meetings, and consulting closely with his clients. Of the people we surveyed, each was surprised by the amount of time they had to spend “selling” or “explaining” their ideas. The most financially successful architects seemed to be the ones best at communicating their unique vision.
Becoming an architect is a long process; spending years as a draftsman or researcher leads those without patience to grow frustrated and dissatisfied with their choice of career. Even after the grueling “weeding out” period, surviving as a working architect is difficult. Most architecture firms employ five or fewer people, and the work firms do is mostly commercial or pre-planned residential housing with strict budget and practical limitations. Only a select few architects get to “design” in the way that most budding architects imagine they will. Perpetual revision of plans based on client needs, contractor inefficiency, and budget strictures are daily features of the architect’s life. Plans and priorities have to be reevaluated daily and revised accordingly. One architect said, “Practically every plan you draft will look something like what you build, but don’t count on it.” A successful architect needs talent, practical, interpersonal, and organizational skills, and most of all, patience.
The requirements for becoming an architect are stringent because, like an attorney or a physician, an architect must take all legal responsibility for his work. A prospective architect must complete an academic degree specifically focused on architecture. This can be a five-year Bachelor of Architecture program, an affiliated two-year Master of Architecture program, or, for those whose undergraduate degrees were in a field unassociated with architecture, a three- to four-year Master of Architecture program (one architect we surveyed received a bachelor’s degree in Animal Behavior). Nearly all states require three years of practice in the field as a junior associate, draftsman, or researcher before you are eligible for accreditation. Aspiring architects must also have an accredited sponsor. Last, each candidate must pass all sections of the Architect Registration Exam (ARE), a rigorous multipart test. Greater emphasis is now placed by employers on those applicants who have mastered computer assisted design (CAD) programs, which promise to become required knowledge for any architect as technology continues to develop.
Architects move into a variety of careers and often delve into different careers simultaneously with their architectural duties. Once architects have reached a level of professional achievement, some go on to teach at universities, lecture, and write books. Many get involved in public design debates and discussions. Some move to private design firms, including furniture, housewares, and product design. Architects frequently work as consultants to projects already underway, advising on such details as materials, construction, and scheduling.