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careers in architecture


Tell me about it

Architects are involved with designing and constructing new buildings and with restoring old ones. They have the power and the responsibility to shape the environments in which people spend their daily lives. Architects’ designs must be attractive, practical, soundly conceived and not too expensive to turn into reality. They must combine three elements: the creativity of using shape, colour, materials and space to meet clients’ design requirements, the practicality of gaining planning and building regulation approval, and the technical knowledge needed to meet the physical demands of the construction process.

Entry level

Many subjects studied at school and college are relevant to architecture, giving you the flexibility to choose the subjects you are strongest in and enjoy. If possible, you should aim to complete a broad secondary education covering a mixture of arts and sciences. It is not always necessary to study art but you should enjoy drawing freehand and have an interest in design and in creating three-dimensional objects. Most schools will require you to present a portfolio at interview.

Your portfolio may include a mixture of photos, sketches of buildings, short notes, collages, still life and life drawings. Schools would be looking for evidence of creative skills together with an awareness of architecture.  Work experience in an architect's office would be especially valuable here.

Schools of architecture often make offers in terms of UCAS tariff points. These would typically equate to a minimum of two subjects at A level or equivalent, together with at least five GCSEs (A*-C) or equivalent, normally including English Language, Mathematics and Physics or Chemistry.

Many schools of architecture recognise a range of education qualifications regarded as equivalent to A level and GCSE.

Making the grade

In order to practise as an architect you would normally need to complete a seven-year training programme, which involves three stages:

  • Firstly, a five-year degree at a recognised school of architecture; this consists of a three year intermediate degree (Part 1) and a two year further degree (Part 2);
  • Secondly, two years in professional practice in an architect's office (Stages 1 and 2). The first year usually follows Part 1 and the second year follows Part 2;
  • Thirdly, the Professional Practice Examination (Part 3).

The title 'architect' is protected in the UK by law. It is only by following this route - or an equivalent route recognised by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the Architects Registration Board (ARB) - that you could be eligible to call yourself an architect.

Personal qualities

Three-dimensional awareness is important, together with the ability to explain complex structures in the form of drawings. A balance of creative flair and technical skill is essential and you would almost certainly be using computers quite extensively.  You should enjoy problem solving and you must have a keen interest in how people react in different types of built environment. It would also help to be aware of and interested in current trends and fashions.

Architects must be able to work as part of a team.  They need to be good communicators both with clients and with construction personnel on site.  Good management skills are also important.  You would need to be able to work to deadlines.

You would need to be physically fit for the site inspections, which would involve climbing around part-constructed buildings, and the ability to drive would be a considerable asset.

Looking ahead

Training is very long, with no guarantee of employment at the end.  Like the construction industry generally, architecture has highs and lows reflecting the state of the national economy. In the downturn of 2008 to 2010, the building sector shrank considerably and with it opportunities for architects.  The industry is slowly recovering, although growth is forecast to be no more than moderate in the decade to 2019. Most architects work in small private practices with usually fewer than ten staff. To start with, you might be on a short-term contract and then progress with experience to junior and then senior partnerships.  Alternatively, you could start your own practice. The environmental field is a growing area of work, offering increasing opportunities for professionals to become involved in the planning process for environmentally sensitive development schemes.

Alternative suggestions

You might also be interested in architectural technologist, civil engineer, interior designer, landscape architect or surveyor.

Take-home pay

As a Stage 1, first year out student, you should earn around £17,000 to £20,000. This should rise to £24,000 to £30,000 for a Stage 2 student and to £30,000 to £35,000 for a Part 3, newly qualified architect, varying according to location and the size of your employer.  The public sector tends to pay less.  With experience, you could expect to earn £40,000 to £80,000 and, at the top of the profession, considerably more. RIBA publishes an annual salary survey.


Architecture is seen in any community as a prestigious and highly respected profession.  Training does, however, take a long time and you can expect still to be a student when your friends are working.  Most architects work normal office hours unless there are deadlines to be met. As a self-employed freelance architect, you might experience periods of inactivity and other periods of high workload.
You could expect to work some of the time in an office and some of the time on a potentially hazardous construction site.

Sources of information

Royal Institute of British Architects:
Architects Registration Board:
Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland:





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