What is an architect?

It is difficult to present a detailed image of an architect because architecture allows, and to a certain extent encourages, diversity of individual expression. An architect is an organizer of space in both two and three dimensions. The manner in which she organizes space is a reflection of her training and personality. Some architects are loners and work best by themselves; some work better in groups, testing their ideas on each other. Some are more interested in the efficiency of a design; others are more interested in architecture as an art form. All are concerned with good architecture.

Louise Blanchard Bethune (1856-1913), the first female American architect.

What makes a good architect?

Creativity is important to an architect, but equally important is an organizing mind. A good architect is a synthesizer. You must be able to combine many factors - the nature of the site, the client's needs and desires, the available budget - judge their relative importance, and develop a satisfactory design. Then you must communicate your ideas to your client and to the contractors who will execute the design. You need not be a great artist, but you do need to be able to draw since drawings are the architect's means of communication. The kind of drawing you do as an architect can be learned, however, and a natural ability to draw, although helpful, is not necessary.

What is life as an architect like?

Life as an architect is challenging, and considerable creativity is necessary to satisfy both your client's needs and your own standards. It can be frustrating when you cannot find a solution to a design problem. You must be flexible enough to drop an idea that does not work and approach the problem from a new and different angle. Nevertheless, the rewards become very tangible when a building that you designed becomes a pleasing addition to the environment and meets the client's needs.

On a typical day an architect will meet with current and prospective clients, execute drawings for current projects, supervise work being done by others, and act as a client's representative in dealing with local building contractors and inspectors. You may work on the design of one project at the same time you are completing working drawings (the drawings that describe in detail the complete construction of a building) for another project.

How do I become an architect?

You must pass a two-part licensing exam to become an architect. The examination is given nationwide but is administered individually by each state. Most states have reciprocal licensing agreements: once you are licensed you can be licensed in most other states without retaking the entire examination. To become eligible to take the exam, you need a college degree in architecture and three to four years' experience, depending on the type of degree you received. Experience is gained by working for more than one licensed architect during those three or four years. You will learn some skills in college and different ones while working for an architect; both sets of skills are necessary. If you do not complete the entire process, you can become an architectural draftsman. Competition for jobs will be tough, however, since you will compete with graduates of architectural schools for the same jobs. Another alternative is to become a professional renderer. Renderings are architectural illustrations that are often done of finished projects.

In high school, take as many courses in mathematics as possible; this helps you later in your structural engineering courses. A basic background in the sciences, particularly physics, is also useful. Any drafting courses offered should be taken. Even if these are not architectural drafting courses, they at least acquaint you with some of the tools used in architecture. Once you are in college, in addition to taking architectural courses, studying art or art history would be worthwhile. Such courses are concerned with fundamentals of the design process, which art has in common with architecture. Since eventually you might have your own firm, consider taking introductory business courses. Related nonarchitectural courses such as surveying are also helpful. An architect is a generalist, and knowledge in any field can be put to use since architecture relates to nontechnical as well as technical aspects of society.

What/where are the jobs?

Although architectural jobs can be found in all areas of the country, the majority are in large metropolitan centers. Over half of the jobs in 1975 were located in only six states: California, New York, Illinois, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Larger cities and areas with growing populations generally provide the best opportunities. In areas of growth there is a constant demand for new residential construction as well as the commercial development required to supply the needs of the increased population. The size of the city and the firm will have a great effect on the type of work you do. Many large firms specialize in particular building types such as hospitals, hotels, and shopping centers; such firms often design buildings that are located across the entire nation.

For more information

American Institute of Architects (AIA)
1735 New York Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20006

American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS)

For more on becoming an architect as well as other careers that draw on the skills mastered by studying architecture, visit Careers in Architecture, http://www.archcareers.org/.

Toni Seidel
Architect (1984)
Miller and Associates
Albuquerque, NM