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Architect Summary

2010 Median Pay: $72,550 per year / $34.88 per hour
Entry-Level Education: Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation: None
On-the-job Training: Internship/residency
Number of Jobs, 2010: 113,700
Job Outlook, 2010-20: 24% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2010-20: 27,900

What Architects Do About

Architects plan and design buildings and other structures.

Architects typically do the following:

-Seek new work by marketing and giving presentations
-Consult with clients to determine requirements for structures
-Estimate materials, equipment, costs, and construction time
-Prepare, design, and structure specifications
-Direct workers who prepare drawings and documents
-Prepare scaled drawings of the project
-Prepare contract documents for building contractors
-Manage construction contracts

-Visit worksites to ensure that construction adheres to architectural plans
-People need places to live, work, play, learn, worship, meet, govern, shop, and eat. Architects are responsible for designing these places, whether they are private or public; indoors or outdoors; or rooms, buildings, or complexes.

Architects discuss with clients the objectives, requirements, and budget of a project. In some cases, architects provide various predesign services, such as feasibility and environmental impact studies, site selection, cost analyses and land-use studies, and design requirements. For example, architects may determine a building’s space requirements by researching its number and types of potential users.

After discussing and agreeing on the initial proposal, architects develop final construction plans that show the building’s appearance and details for its construction. Accompanying these plans are drawings of the structural system; air-conditioning, heating, and ventilating systems; electrical systems; communications systems; plumbing; and, possibly, site and landscape plans.

In developing designs, architects must follow building codes, zoning laws, fire regulations, and other ordinances, such as those requiring easy access by people who are disabled.

Computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) and building information modeling (BIM) technology have replaced traditional drafting paper and pencil as the most common methods for creating designs and construction drawings.

Architects also may help clients get construction bids, select contractors, and negotiate construction contracts.

As construction proceeds, architects may visit building sites to ensure that contractors follow the design, keep to the schedule, use the specified materials, and meet work-quality standards. The job is not complete until all construction is finished, required tests are conducted, and construction costs are paid.

Architects often work with workers in related professions. For more information on these occupations, see the profiles on civil engineers, urban and regional planners, interior designers, and landscape architects.

Work Environment About this section

Although architects usually work in an office, they must also travel to construction sites.
Architects held about 113,700 jobs in 2010, of which 65 percent were employed in the architectural, engineering, and related services industry. About 24 percent were self-employed.

Architects spend most of their time in offices, where they consult with clients, develop reports and drawings, and work with other architects and engineers. However, they often visit construction sites to review the progress of projects.

Work Schedules
Nearly all architects work full time. Many work more than 50 hours per week. Working evenings and weekends is often necessary to meet deadlines.

How to Become an Architect About this section

Architects need internships to gain practical experience.
There are three main steps in becoming a licensed architect: completing a professional degree in architecture, gaining work experience through an internship, and passing the Architect Registration Exam.

In most states, architects must hold a professional degree in architecture from one of the 123 schools of architecture accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). However, state architectural registration boards set their own standards, so, in a few states, graduation from a nonaccredited program may meet the educational requirement for licensing.

Most architects earn their professional degree through a 5-year Bachelor of Architecture degree program, intended for students with no previous architectural training. Others earn a master’s degree which can take 1 to 5 years to complete, depending on the extent of one’s previous training in architecture.

The choice of degree depends on preference and educational background. Although the 5-year bachelor of architecture offers the most direct route to the professional degree, courses are specialized. A typical program includes courses in architectural history and theory, building design with an emphasis on computer-aided design and drafting (CADD), structures, technology, construction methods, professional practice, math, physical sciences, and liberal arts. Central to most architectural programs is the design studio, where students apply the skills and concepts learned in the classroom to create drawings and three-dimensional models of their designs.

Many schools of architecture also offer postprofessional degrees for those who already have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in architecture or other areas. Although graduate education beyond the professional degree is not required for practicing architects, it may be useful for research, teaching, and certain specialties.

All state architectural registration boards require architecture graduates to complete a training period—usually at least 3 years—before they may sit for the licensing exam. Most new graduates complete their training period by working as interns at architectural firms. Some states allow a portion of the training to occur in the offices of related professionals, such as engineers and general contractors. Architecture students who complete internships while still in school can count some of that time toward the 3-year training period.

Interns in architectural firms may help design part of a project. They may help prepare architectural documents and drawings, build models, and prepare construction drawings on CADD. Interns also may research building codes and write specifications for building materials, installation criteria, the quality of finishes, and other related details.

All states and the District of Columbia require architects to be licensed. Licensing requirements include a professional degree in architecture, a period of practical training or internship, and a passing score on all parts of the Architect Registration Examination.

Most states also require some form of continuing education to keep a license, and some additional states are expected to adopt mandatory continuing education. Requirements vary by state but usually involve additional education through workshops, formal university classes, conferences, self-study courses, or other sources.

A growing number of architects voluntarily seek certification by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). Certification can make it easier to become licensed across states. In fact, it is the primary requirement for reciprocity of licensing among state boards that are NCARB members. In 2011, approximately one-third of all licensed architects had this certification.

Important Qualities
Analytical skills. Architects must understand the content of designs and the context in which they were created. For example, architects must understand the locations of mechanical systems and how those systems affect building operations.

Communication skills. Architects share their ideas, both orally and in writing, with clients, other architects, and workers who help prepare drawings. Many also give presentations to explain their designs.

Creativity. Architects create the overall look of buildings. Designs should be both pleasing to the eye and functional.

Critical-thinking skills. When designing a building, architects must be able to provide solutions to unanticipated challenges. These solutions often involve looking at the challenge from all perspectives.

Organizational skills. Architects often manage contracts. Therefore, they must keep records related to the details of a project, including total cost, materials used, and progress.

Technical skills. Architects use computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) programs to create plans as part of integrated building information modeling (BIM).

Visualization skills. Architects must be able to “see” how the parts of a structure relate to each other. They also must be able to visualize how the overall building will look once completed.


The median annual wage of architects was $72,550 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $42,860, and the top 10 percent earned more than $119,500.

Earnings of partners in established architectural firms may fluctuate because of changing business conditions. Some architects have difficulty establishing their own practice and may go through a period when their expenses are greater than their income, requiring substantial financial resources.

Many firms pay tuition and fees toward continuing education requirements for their employees.

Nearly all architects work full time. Many work more than 50 hours per week. Working evenings and weekends is often necessary to meet deadlines.

Job Prospects

Employment of architects is projected to grow 24 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations.

Current demographic trends will result in a greater need for architects. As campus buildings age, many school districts and universities will build new facilities or renovate existing ones. The population of sunbelt states continues to grow, and residents there will need new places to live and work. As the population continues to live longer and baby boomers retire, there will be a need for more healthcare facilities, nursing homes, and retirement communities.

There should be demand for architects with knowledge of green design, also called sustainable design. Sustainable design emphasizes the efficient use of resources, such as energy and water conservation; waste and pollution reduction; and environmentally friendly design, specifications, and materials. Rising energy costs and increased concern about the environment have led to many new buildings being built green.

During the construction boom, some architecture firms outsourced the drafting of construction documents and basic design for large-scale commercial and residential projects to architecture firms overseas. Recently, however, this trend of outsourcing overseas has slowed considerably.

Job Prospects
With a growing number of students graduating with architectural degrees, applicants will experience competition for jobs. Competition for jobs will be especially strong at the most prestigious architectural firms. Although those who have completed internships will have an advantage, the best job opportunities will be for candidates who can distinguish themselves with their creativity.

Employment of architects is strongly tied to the activity of the construction industry. Therefore, these workers, especially the self-employed, may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of architects.

Civil Engineers
Civil engineers design and supervise large construction projects, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.

Bachelor’s degree $77,560

Construction Managers
Construction managers plan, coordinate, budget, and supervise construction projects from early development to completion.

Associate’s degree $83,860

Graphic Designers
Graphic designers create visual concepts, by hand or using computer software, to communicate ideas that inspire, inform, or captivate consumers. They help to make an organization recognizable by selecting color, images, or logo designs that represent a particular idea or identity to be used in advertising and promotions.

Bachelor’s degree $43,500

Industrial Designers
Industrial designers develop the concepts for manufactured products, such as cars, home appliances, and toys. They combine art, business, and engineering to make products that people use every day.

Bachelor’s degree $58,230

Interior Designers
Interior designers make interior spaces functional, safe, and beautiful for almost every type of building: offices, homes, airport terminals, shopping malls, and restaurants. They select and specify colors, finishes, fabrics, furniture, flooring and wallcoverings, lighting, and other materials to create useful and stylish interiors for buildings.

Bachelor’s degree $46,280

Landscape Architects
Landscape architects plan and design land areas for parks, recreational facilities, highways, airports, and other properties. Projects include subdivisions and commercial, industrial, and residential sites.

Bachelor’s degree $62,090

Urban and Regional Planners
Urban and regional planners develop plans and programs for the use of land. They use planning to create communities, accommodate growth, or revitalize physical facilities in towns, cities, counties, and metropolitan areas.

Master’s degree $63,040

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics | Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, PSB Suite 2135, 2 Massachusetts Avenue, NE Washington, DC 20212-0001