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The ultimate guide to starting a career as an architect

Architects require a precise mix of artistic skills and scientific knowledge in order to design buildings that nod to both function and form. A career in architecture is based on an appreciation for the urban context we’re surrounded by as well as an understanding of the history of architecture’s influence in society. In this way, such a career path blends the arts, sciences and humanities – and it’s a popular option, with 104,000 jobs in architectural industries across UK in 2017 alone.

Architecture offers one of the most prestigious and varied career paths available. Successful architectural candidates need to be able to utilise their meticulous mathematical and scientific knowledge to create design solutions that can express their creativity to distinguish their ideas, as well as hold up to the rigours of construction. In addition, it’s useful for architects to learn about engineering, costs, planning permissions and building regulations to excel in this field.

While this career path requires years of education and training, qualified and practising architects are rewarded with a solid career path that remains exciting and adaptable. If you’re interested in pursuing designing and planning as a career, then continue reading to discover the various paths you can take to kickstart your career in architecture.

Should you become an architect?

A career in architecture requires plenty of determination and patience as well as a passion for the subject. Additionally, architects should demonstrate problem-solving abilities, creativity and innovation in order to break into this competitive industry.

Once established, architects can expect:

  • Good career progression and high earning potential
  • The ability to choose from a selection of work sectors
  • The opportunity to travel
  • The choice to work for an employer or freelance
  • Choice in a variety of working environments

The typical responsibilities of an architect include communicating project goals and budgets with clients, creating detailed plans, offering alternatives as the need arises and overseeing the project to completion.

Qualifications

Architects require extensive training to become qualified architectural professionals. In the UK, this involves five years of education and two years of further training while on the job.

To become a qualified and recognised architect, you must first complete an undergraduate course in architecture that is certified by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

Entry requirements vary but universities generally require five GCSEs at a high level (including maths, sciences and English) and three A-levels. These can be in any subjects but to better your chances, they should aid your future career in architecture and ideally be based in the arts, maths and sciences. On top of this, it’s good to have a portfolio of creative work or practical experience to reference at interview stage. It is worth noting that some universities have specific entry requirements that might include A-levels in English, Maths or Art – do check these requirements as early as you can.

The current top five British universities for architecture include Bath, Cambridge, Sheffield, University College London and Strathclyde.

There are also alternative routes to becoming an architect through an apprenticeship or working towards the role with RIBA Studio. Visit the RIBA website www.architecture.com for more details.

Undergraduate degree (Part 1)

The degree you enrol in should be validated by RIBA and these typically last between 3 and 4 years. During this course, you can expect to be taught the basics of space and design, as well as computer-aided drawing, along with the essential theoretical, historical, technical and material knowledge. The course, when successfully completed, will award you a Batchelors (or in some cases a Masters) degree and will exempt you from the RIBA Part 1 examination.

After the completion of your undergraduate degree, you’ll require practical experience lasting a minimum of a year, in which you should record your experience on the Professional Experience Development Record (PEDR) website. You will be supervised by a Professional Studies Advisor (PSA) from your university and also a workplace mentor. People often choose to spend more than a year in these placements so they can gain extra work experience and a salary before embarking on Part 2.

Postgraduate degree (Part 2)

After the work placement, to continue your training to become an architect, aim to complete a two-year postgraduate degree in architecture — this could be a B.Arch, M.Arch or a diploma. You should consider the type of course you wish to enrol in as they have different aims and specialities — design modules are taught in specialist studios where critiques involve presenting design work to your tutor for feedback. Take a look at the content and teaching methods to ensure the course matches your learning style. There are a variety of modules one could enrol in including work-based modules which offer practical experience or the chance to specialise in a particular kind of architecture such as sustainable, environmental or interior.

Following your postgraduate degree, the usual path is to undertake a further year of work placement. This enables you to be granted more responsibility on architectural projects, as well as acquiring an in-depth understanding of real world challenges and opportunities. This placement is under the supervision of a fully-qualified architect and should be recorded and monitored on the PEDR website for it to count towards your qualification. For UK students, this work experience should take place in the EEA, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands.

At this time you should begin studying a Part 3 course which covers aspects of practice, management and law. This can be at the same university where you have previously studied, or perhaps at one closer to your place of work. Some courses offer regular evening workshops and lectures, whist others structure their courses in week-lone ‘blocks’ of study.

Final exam (Part 3)

You can undertake the RIBA's Part 3 or study at one of the RIBA validated course providers.

You will typically be assessed on the following elements:

  • 24 months of practical experience recorded on the PEDR website (i.e. Part 1 Year out and Part 2 Year out, as a minimum)
  • Professional CV and career evaluation
  • Case study
  • Written examination
  • Final oral examination

Having gained the Parts 1, 2 and 3 qualifications you can apply to register as an architect with the Architects Registration Board (ARB); the title 'architect' is protected by law, so that the public can always be sure that they are dealing with a properly qualified architect. You also have the option to register as a chartered architect with the RIBA. Then the fun is just beginning!

Careers in architecture with Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin Group

Registering with Atkins opens doors to multiple career opportunities. We’re looking for motivated architects at all levels to be instrumental in designing new skylines and grand buildings. To make your impact on the way the world and society are shaped, apply for architectural jobs with Atkins today.