Becoming an Architect

“I wanted to become an architect but…
…(insert reason) so I decided not to pursue architecture.”

As an architect I can’t tell you how many people have had that conversation with me. I hear it almost weekly.
The more people I talk to about being an architect, the more I realize most people have no clue what an architect really does. Sometimes I think the public really thinks that architects walk around wearing a hat that says either “commercial” or “residential” and then decides if today they are going to design in a gothic, classical or modern style, while consulting a silly cookbook of architectural ornamentation details.

It’s not really like that.

The typical day of a practicing architect is more about: slaving away on construction drawings, going to meetings, checking their staff’s work, invoicing clients, reviewing the work of contractors so they can get paid, and handling their clients and employees and managing all types of problems related to their projects and business. Sure there’s designing and drawing pretty pictures, but that’s really just a very small piece of the project.

I recently completed a project that was designed by 3 people sitting around conference table for 2 hours. The design was good, simple and effective. After we solved the design problem,  the next 11 months were spent: fine tuning that design, creating construction drawings, specifications, details, getting cost estimates, solving code issues, obtaining building permits, supporting the contractor with information during construction, responding to unforseeable conditions, working with and coordinating furniture, IT, and moving consultants. A 2 hour design meeting translated into 11 months of execution and the design didnt really change much in the process. Designing is often a small moment in time, executing the design is really the bulk of the work.

Sometimes Architecture Sucks.
It’s not an easy profession. Architecture is a lot of work.

The people who have successful careers as architects have all made incredible sacrifices and worked extremely hard to get there. Historically it does not pay very well, the education is long and there is an incredible amount of legal responsibility involved with becoming an architect. There is certainly is no shortage of articles on the web listing the many great reasons NOT to become an architect.

Architecture is AMAZING.
If you get past the long hours, lousy pay and complicated licensing and educational requirements. Architecture, is in my (biased) opinion one of the greatest educations person could get and industry to work.

Architecture school teaches you solve problems like no other education. By intensely focusing on  design, construction and history, thenlooking at the world through that lens, it also forces everyone to reconsider how we think, live and interact with our environments. Architecture school is often about examining information what we already know and using that information to creatively solve new problems. Architecture school rewires your brain and most students graduate being a very different person from when they started.

The Profession (architects like to call the business side of architecture “the profession”)  is drastically different, almost the opposite of the architecture school experience. Every working architect is challenged with solving the problem with an achitectural solution that fits within the framework of budgets, schedules, building codes and Client expectations. Unlike school, time and money sometimes dictate the design of the project. However talented architects spend their entire careers understanding how to balance time and money with architectural design.

The Industry is huge
The architecture industry is constantly growing. The computer and access to information has significantly changed the way architecture has been practiced for the past 100 years. 15 years ago there was no such thing as an architecture blog!? Now theres hundreds of architecture blogs.

The word architecture is as general as the word music. We call it music, but there are sub categories within music. Types of music could be classical, country or even something specific like east coast straight edge hardcore from the 80’s.

Just like music here are a million little niches or subcultures within architecture. Those could be sustainability, hospital design, CAD/Rendering, architects who specialize in some kind of engineering speciality, interiors, tiny houses, waterproofing, building envelope fanatics, masonry experts and the list can go on forever.

What I love most about the architecture industry is that it is soo vast, there is plenty of work for everyone to thrive using whatever skills, talents and interests they may have, as long as they are willing to work hard.

A highly regulated profession.
Did you know, it is technically illegal to call yourself an architect in the US, if you do not have an active license with the National Council Architecture Registration Board and with whatever state architectural you happen to be in. Unlike a US drivers license, it doesnt work everywhere. A licensed architect in New York, is not licensed architect in California unless they have a California architecture license.

Architects carry a tremendous amount of responsibility protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public and if an individual has not fulfilled the requirements, they should not be calling themselves an architect. Many people have a hard time understanding this, but this is due to the lengthy education, experience and licensing requirements.  Unlicensed individuals may call themselves, designers, project managers, job captains or anything else really works, but “Architect” is off limits. State architectural licensing boards regularly take action against unlicensed individuals calling themselves Architects or practicing without a license.

Having an architecture license is not a prerequisite to having a successful career in architecture. Many people graduate architecture school and have very successful careers without obtaining their license to practice. The architectural training is an extremely valuable education and can be effectively be used in and outside of the profession.

What are the steps to become a licensed architect?
It’s a 3 part process which consist of:

Education – Earning an accredited architecture degree. (5-7 years)
Experience – Documenting on the job experience, under the supervision of a licensed architect. (5,600 Hours)
Exam – Passing a 7 part licensing exam, each test completed on various aspects of the profession.
This process is lengthy and is no easy feat. However, it is not impossible and the rewards you can reap by becoming a licensed architect are numerous.

The Educational Requirements
For licensure in most states a candidate must hold a professional degree in architecture from an institution accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). There are currently over 100 architecture schools to choose from.

There are currently three different professional architecture degrees available.

The Bachelor of Architecture (BArch) requires a minimum of 150 credit hours in professional studies and electives.
The Master of Architecture (MArch) degree requires a minimum of 168 credit hours, 30 of which must be graduate level.
The Doctor of Architecture (DArch) requires a baccalaureate degree or 120 undergraduate credit hours in addition to a minimum of 90 graduate credit hours.

Experience Requirements
The Intern Development Program (IDP) represents a program designed to aid architecture students in learning and developing within the work force. Most states require that a student complete this type of internship before they can become licensed in that state.

The IDP is a thorough and comprehensive program that requires experience in several different settings. Its purpose is to ensure that architecture graduates gain the professional experience, knowledge and skills to practice effectively as independent architects. The intern architect student is closely supervised by a licensed architect or professional in another discipline.

Interns most commonly work within architecture firms where they begin to become familiar with the application of their education. They may assist in design projects, prepare documents as well as research specific building codes and many other projects.

The IDP requires the completion of 5,600 field experience hours within 17 different categories. The experience hours are documented by the intern and the discussed with and signed off by the supervisor. This information is submitted to NCARB on a regular basis.

The Architect Registration Exam
The Architect Registration Exam (ARE) is required in all 54 jurisdictions within the United States. The exam is broken down into seven different sections;

Construction Documents and Services (CDS)
Programming, Planning and Practice (PPP)
Site Planning and Design (SPD
Schematic Design (SD)
Structural Systems (SS)
Building Systems (BS)
Building Design and Construction Systems (BDCS)
Each exam is formatted differently but multiple choice and graphical vignettes are distributed throughout.

The completing Architecture Registration Exam is a very unique experience. The process is a self guided experience where ARE Candidates (what you call people taking the exam) study and take the exams on their own schedule. Some people do them all under a year however most people take atleast 2 1/2 years to complete the process.

Taking the ARE is drastically different then attending architecture school, due to the massive amounts of information that is being tested through the seven exams. Learning how to handle such a challenging exam is often the hardest part.

Recently published a book called How To Pass The Architecture Registration Exam to help ARE Candidates wrap their head around the entire ARE process and set themselves up for success in moving through this crazy multi year, self guided, test taking journey towards becoming a Licensed Architect

Becoming Licensed
After the ARE additional interviews or exams may be required. Registration requirements vary between each state, so it is recommended that individuals contact their specific registration board for the requirements in that jurisdiction.

Continuing education is then required by all architects to keep their licenses active.

The dynamic industry
Becoming a licensed architect is a lengthy process and definitely not for everyone. However, it is an incredible industry that is constantly changing. The internet and modern technology have impacted how this industry conducts business, further expanding the world of opportunities available. Versatile and innovative, the field of architecture can offer vast possibilities and endless options for anyone willing to work hard and contribute to the progress of the profession.

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