What to do with an architecture degree

What to do with an architecture degree

Every casual conversation among strangers inevitably contains the question, “What do you do?” Most of us react the same way when the other person says, “I’m an architect.” We’re impressed and we want to know more because the position holds a revered status in society. The architect has always been on the list of ‘things I want to do when I grow up’ for most children because it’s a romanticized profession; the perfect blend of art and math.

The basic definition of an architect is someone who designs a space, but all you have to do is look at St. Peter’s Basilica, The Eiffel Tower or Grand Central Station to know it’s much more than that. Architecture turns a space into a mood, a statement and a vision of thought and values. Architects are builders, thinkers, creators, scientists and artists. Great men like Michelangelo, I.M. Pei and Frank Lloyd Wright have shaped the way we look at our world just as much as Shakespeare or Magellan. We look to architects to design new ways of living and working while relating to each other and the environment.

In order to be an architect, you must be licensed in the state in which you will work. Most states will require you to have an accredited degree and a two or three-year internship in the industry before going through the rigorous exam to get that license. Some architects choose to vary their focus, but others pick specific areas of specialty; homes, retail, government facilities, resorts/hotels, corporate buildings, or skyscrapers to name a few.

If you’re curious as to what types of architecture careers exist, the list is long. Architects have a place in almost every industry imaginable and in positions within areas not generally associated with the field. They work in specialty firms, general consulting firms, corporate settings, government and military facilities as well as research and real estate. Their titles can range from Development Director to Information Architect to Facilities Manager to Capital Project Leader; each with several levels of expertise.

Anywhere people need to live, work, play, learn, vacation, worship, shop, meet, govern and eat, there’s a job for an architect. More than one in five architects are self-employed, which is three times the rate for most professional services occupations. Most architects work in the professional services firm environment, so let’s look at the general positions in this setting.

Within an architectural firm, the hierarchy may look something like this:

  • Intern I thru III – Entry level position, not yet licensed; various degrees of basic design and technical solutions.
  • Architect I – Recently licensed; 3+ years experience; responsible for directed parts of a particular project.
  • Architect II – 6 to 8 years of experience; responsible for daily design and technical development.
  • Architect III – 8 to 10 years of experience; responsible for the day to day management of important projects.
  • Manager – 10+ years of experience, overall project management, and leader of the project team.
  • Associate – Senior management level architect responsible for major departments or functions.
  • Principal – Senior management with equity in the firm with overall responsibility for the firm’s business, and investors; name on the door responsibility.

So what about the money? The American Institute of Architecture recently released these salary ranges for the industry:

  • Intern I $28,000
  • Intern II $33,000
  • Intern III $40,000
  • Architect I $42,000
  • Architect II $48,000
  • Architect III $55,000
  • Manager $63,300
  • Associate $72,000
  • Partner $100,000 to several million

In the architecture firm industry, the architect and client discuss the objectives, requirements and budget of a project. The Architect works on safety, feasibility, design, ergonomics and aesthetics. After agreeing on a proposal, the architect develops the final plans and continues to make the necessary changes as the process continues. They will occasionally participate in the selection of construction companies and other participants in the actual building of the facility. When a project is complete, architects may also provide facilities management.

The career track outside of the film industry is not as clearly defined, but the skill sets necessary are the same; quantitative, analytical, organizational, communication, budgeting, problem-solving, and design. The educational backgrounds that lead to careers in architecture can be as varied as the positions themselves, ranging from art to engineering, but most people go the traditional route. The most common architectural school degree programs are the five-year Bachelor’s in Architecture and the two year Masters in Architecture. In a traditional college, a four year Liberal Arts degree is generally followed by a three or four year Master’s degree in Architecture.

On the subject of education, there are those who choose to teach architecture. Although this career option requires an even more intense level of education and experience, it offers a lot to those interested in continuing research and discourse around the artistic value of the field as well as the technical aspects without the day to day business operations.

Some additional architecture titles are:

  • Architectural Journalist
  • Architectural Historian
  • Building Contractor
  • Marine Architect
  • Surveyor
  • Urban Planner
  • Art Director
  • Graphic Designer Illustrator
  • Interior Designer
  • Landscape Architect

Since man began, the dwellings we live and work in have offered practical and artistic value. Architecture has influenced society in many ways; from how we view prosperity to how we show concern for the environment and the safety of human beings. From rooms to homes to buildings and entire cities, architects have contributed to the advancement and understanding of cultures around the world. It’s a highly respected field in great demand that requires a variety of skills and offers an even greater variety of career options.

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