Architecture offers an inspiring and innovative career for those with the right technical and creative aptitude

As an architect you'll design new buildings or extensions or alterations to existing structures, and advise on the restoration and conservation of old properties. You may work on individual buildings or on large redevelopment schemes, and your responsibility can extend to the design of the surrounding landscape and spaces.

Working closely with clients and users, you'll make sure that projected designs match requirements and are functional, safe and economical. You'll usually control a project from start to finish and work with a number of construction professionals, including surveyors and engineers.

Responsibilities

As an architect, you'll need to:

  • discuss the ideas, objectives, requirements and budget of a project and in some cases help to select a site
  • consult with other professionals about design
  • assess the needs of the building and its users, advising the client on the practicality of their project
  • prepare and present feasibility reports and design proposals to the client
  • assess the impact on the local environment
  • use IT in design and project management, specifically using computer-aided design software
  • keep within financial budgets and deadlines
  • produce detailed workings, drawings and specifications
  • specify the nature and quality of materials required
  • prepare tender applications and presentations
  • negotiate with contractors and other professionals
  • prepare applications for planning and building control departments
  • draw up tender documents for contracts
  • project-manage and help to coordinate the work of contractors
  • control a project from start to finish
  • carry out regular site visits to check on progress and ensure that the project is running on time and to budget
  • resolve problems and issues that arise during construction
  • ensure that the environmental impact of the project is managed.

Salary

  • Your salary as a Part I architectural assistant is likely to be in the range of £18,000 to £22,000, rising up to £35,000 as a Part II architectural assistant once you've got enough experience.
  • As a fully qualified (Part III) architect, depending on your experience you could earn between £32,000 and £45,000.
  • At senior associate, partner or director level you'll typically earn £45,000 to £70,000.

Your salary will vary according to the location, sector and size of your employing organisation, and are usually higher in London. Obtaining chartered status and gaining experience usually results in higher pay.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Your contracted working hours will generally be 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, but you need to be prepared to work long hours, including evenings and weekends when a project demands it.

Part-time work or career breaks may be possible in some organisations, although they are generally uncommon.

What to expect

  • You'll be predominantly office based but will make out of office visits to both clients and sites. There may be considerable travel within a working day, although absence from home overnight is uncommon.
  • Appropriate safety equipment, such as protective boots and headgear, must be worn on site.
  • Self-employment or freelance work is not unusual, especially for experienced architects.
  • According to the Architects Registration Board Annual Report (2016), 26% of the approximately 38,500 registered architects in the UK are female.
  • A company car is not usually offered, but mileage for site visits may be payable.

Qualifications

While it's common to complete a recognised degree programme in order to qualify, there are also practice-based routes available such as Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Studio, as well as architecture apprenticeships which are currently being developed.

Many universities hold interviews with students prior to offering a place on an architecture course. Candidates are expected to have a portfolio demonstrating a broad mixture of work, including sketches, freehand drawings, photographs and models.

You must register with the statutory body, the Architects Registration Board (ARB), in order to legally use the title 'architect' in the UK.

Chartered architect status is available through membership of RIBA, although it's not a legal requirement to be registered with RIBA in order to practise.

The standard entry route into the architecture profession entails at least seven years in training and higher education. See the ARB Student Handbook and the RIBA section on becoming an architect.

This usually consists of:

  • Part 1 - an approved first degree in architecture, which typically takes three or four years
  • Stage 1 practical experience - usually 12 months of supervised and recorded professional experience. This is commonly taken in architects' practices, but may be in any sector of the building industry, including construction and design, as long as the work is related to architecture and is supervised by a construction professional
  • Part 2 - two years of further study for a diploma, further degree or Masters degree in architecture
  • Stage 2 practical experience - a minimum of 12 further months of supervised and recorded professional experience, to make up the 24 months required to sit the Part 3 examination
  • Part 3 - an examination in professional practice and management, which students may take on completion of the above. This involves a written and oral examination as well as assessment of your 24 months' practical experience. Once you've completed this examination, you can register as an architect with the ARB and apply to become a chartered member of RIBA.

RIBA Studio, delivered in partnership with Oxford Brookes University, is open for people who have a minimum of three years' experience working in an architectural practice. The programme is available at Part 1 and Part 2 level, and is completed through self-study and distance learning while the candidate remains working full time in the practice.

RIBA does not offer conversion courses for graduates with non-accredited or unrelated degrees. Graduates or architects with non-accredited or international qualifications in architecture may be able to undertake an assessment for equivalence with the Architects Registration Board.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • good design and drawing skills to demonstrate your flair for architecture
  • a strong imagination and the ability to think and create in three dimensions
  • sound analytical skills, accuracy, and attention to detail
  • a keen interest in buildings and the built environment - an insight into Building Information Modelling (BIM) will also be a significant advantage
  • excellent communication skills, written and oral, with the ability to liaise effectively with a range of other professionals
  • good organisational and negotiation skills
  • strong teamwork and leadership skills
  • an understanding about the relationship between people, buildings and the wider environment
  • a first-rate understanding of construction processes
  • commercial awareness and business acumen
  • reasonable mathematical skills
  • project management skills
  • excellent IT skills, including computer-aided design skills.

Work experience

You should regularly practise drawing to enhance your skills. Model-making skills are also an advantage. It's important to take an interest in publications or TV programmes about buildings, and to keep up to date with the current trends in architecture and design.

In addition to the professional experience required, any pre-entry work experience in an architectural, design or construction environment is desirable and highly regarded by recruiters. Many firms offer internship opportunities over the summer break, which can provide invaluable experience.

Try to develop contacts in the industry, through work experience, academic departments, personal contacts and local representatives of professional bodies and associations. Joining one of the professional bodies, which usually offer free student membership, provides access to professional journals and information about vacancies.

Employers

Private practices employ salaried architects and may eventually provide the opportunity for you to become a partner or associate. These can range from small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to much larger practices that will incorporate other professional areas, such as planning, urban design, construction or project management.

Central and local government also employ architects in their planning departments. Other employers include construction companies, commercial and industrial organisations and retailers and manufacturers. Teaching and research institutions are another option, as is self-employment as a consultant.

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment agencies also handle vacancies, and some specialise in architectural and creative roles, such as:

Professional development

RIBA manages a web-based Professional Education and Development Resource (PEDR) for students undertaking the practical experience elements of an architect's training. This provides information and guidance and also contains an online diary facility, which you can use to keep a record of your practical experience. Records completed on the PEDR are required to be produced at the Part 3 final qualifying examination.

Most large firms offer structured training and encourage professional status. Attending internal and external training courses, relevant seminars and conferences is an effective way of keeping up to date with current issues and refreshing knowledge.

Chartered architects are required to complete a minimum of 35 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) every year to maintain their competence.

The mandatory part of the RIBA's CPD curriculum is made up of ten topics. Chartered architects must carry out at least two hours of study in each of these areas every year:

  • being safe - health and safety
  • climate - sustainable architecture
  • external management - clients, users, and delivery of services
  • internal management - professionalism, practice, business and management
  • compliance - legal, regulatory and statutory framework and processes
  • procurement and contracts
  • designing and building - structural design, construction, technology and engineering
  • where people live - communities, urban/rural design and the planning process
  • context - the historic environment and its setting
  • access for all - universal or inclusive design.

Career prospects

Gaining chartered membership of RIBA and undertaking agreed levels of CPD are key parts of career development and will enable your progression into more senior posts.

Architects with more than five years of chartered membership and who have demonstrated distinguished achievement in architecture may be awarded Fellow of RIBA status and entitled to use the affix FRIBA. Architects in Scotland can find useful career development information from the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS).

Larger private practice firms generally offer more opportunities for advancement, although there is often no set career structure. In the public sector, career progression is influenced by the nature and responsibilities of public institutions. With experience, a considerable number of architects set up their own practices.

If you're interested in working abroad, you can find further information from the International Union of Architects.