Architects work in the construction industry and are involved with designing new buildings, extensions or alterations to existing buildings, or advising on the restoration and conservation of old properties.
They can work on individual buildings or on large redevelopment schemes, and can be responsible for the design of the surrounding landscape and spaces.
Architects work closely with their clients and users to make sure that projected designs match their needs and are functional, safe and economical. They usually control a project from start to finish and work with a number of construction professionals, including surveyors and engineers, producing drawings and specifications that the construction team works to.
The role of an architect is very varied and can range from freelance and small-scale project work to employment with multinational organisations working on iconic landmarks.
Architects are involved from the earliest stages of a building project, which can start with developing ideas with the client, establishing budgets, assessing the needs of the building and its users, and its impact within the local environment.
They assist with site selection and work closely with contractors on site, ensuring that works are carried out to specific standards and that, above all, the building is sustainable, functional and aesthetically pleasing. They also need to have an awareness of commercial and financial considerations.
Responsibilities vary but typically include:
- discussing the objectives, requirements and budget of a project;
- consulting with other professionals about design;
- preparing and presenting feasibility reports and design proposals to the client;
- advising the client on the practicality of their project;
- using IT in design and project management, specifically using computer-aided design software;
- keeping within financial budgets and deadlines;
- producing detailed workings, drawings and specifications;
- specifying the nature and quality of materials required;
- preparing tender applications and presentations;
- negotiating with contractors and other professionals;
- preparing applications for planning and building control departments;
- drawing up tender documents for contracts;
- project managing and helping to coordinate the work of contractors;
- controlling a project from start to finish;
- regular site visits to check on progress, ensuring that the project is running on time and to budget;
- resolving problems and issues that arise during construction;
- ensuring that the environmental impact of the project is managed.
- The range of typical starting salaries after Part 1 (first degree qualification) is £15,000 to £20,000.
- Typical salaries after Part 2 (second degree or diploma) range from £20,000 to £26,000.
- The range of typical salaries after Part 3 (final exam leading to registration as an architect) or for those with experience rises to £26,000 to £35,000.
- Range of typical salaries at senior, associate or partner level are £35,000 to £80,000, or higher for some at senior partner or director level.
Salaries vary considerably according to the location, sector and size of the employing organisation, with salaries normally higher in London. Salaries may rise with experience and when chartered status is achieved.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Contracted working hours may be 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, but it is not uncommon for architects to work long hours, including evenings and weekends. Part-time work or career breaks may be possible in some organisations, although they are generally uncommon.
What to expect
- Architects are predominantly office based, but their work does include out-of-office visits to both clients and sites. 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.
- Recent figures indicate that currently just over fifth of registered architects in the UK are female (2012 Architects Registration Board Annual Report).
- The dress code can vary depending on the practice and the environment.
- Opportunities exist throughout the UK. There are around 30,000 registered architects residing in the UK, with the majority of these being based in England (Architects Registration Board Annual Report, 2012).
- There may be considerable travel within a working day, although absence from home overnight is uncommon. A company car is not usually offered, but mileage for site visits may be payable.
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 the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), although it is not a legal requirement to be registered with RIBA in order to practise as 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 the 24 months of practical experience. Once this is completed, students can register as an architect with the ARB and apply to become a chartered member of the RIBA.
Many universities hold interviews with students prior to offering a place on an architecture course. Potential students are expected to have a portfolio demonstrating a broad mixture of work, including sketches, freehand drawings, photographs and models.
Some universities may offer advanced credit to students who have completed a degree or modules of a degree in a related subject. There is also an alternative route to qualification that does not involve attending courses at a school of architecture.
The RIBA Examination in Architecture for Office-based Candidates 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. It is delivered in partnership with the School of Architecture - Oxford Brookes University.
The 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.
As well as the technical skills gained through study, you will need to show:
- good design and drawing skills;
- 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;
- excellent communication skills, written and oral, with the ability to liaise effectively with a range of other professionals;
- good organisational and negotiation skills;
- strong team-working 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.
An insight into Building Information Modeling (BIM) and associated technologies will also be a significant advantage.
A driving license may be required for some positions.
Students should generally practise drawing to enhance their skills. Model-making skills are also an advantage. It is 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 is highly regarded by recruiters. Many firms offer internship opportunities over the summer vacation, which can offer invaluable experience.
Students should try to develop contacts in the industry, possibly 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.
There are around 30,000 architects in the UK, with most being self-employed or working in private practice as partners, associates or salaried architects.
Private practices can range from small to medium-sized firms (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 employs architects, usually in planning departments. Other employers include construction companies, commercial and industrial organisations and retailers and manufacturers.
There are also many consultants that employ architects. Their clients may include central and local government, private developers, house builders and firms across the construction industry.
Teaching and research opportunities on architectural courses are also available with training providers and in higher and further education.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Architects' Journal
- RIBA Appointments
- Building Design Jobs
- Careers in Construction
- Career Structure
- Jobs in Construction
- Just Construction
- Local Government Jobs
- Opportunities: The Public Sector Media
- Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS)
- Local and regional press.
- Local authority websites.
Recruitment agencies also handle vacancies, and some specialise in architectural and creative roles, such as:
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) manages a web-based Professional Education and Development Resource (PEDR) for students undertaking the practical experience elements of an architect's training.
The PEDR provides information and guidance and also contains an online diary facility, which students use to keep a record of their practical experience.
Records completed on the PEDR are required to be produced at the Part 3 final qualifying examination.
It is essential to keep abreast of legislation, compliance and reporting requirements through continuing professional development (CPD).
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.
Most large firms offer structured training and encourage professional status.
Chartered architects are required to complete a minimum of 35 hours of 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 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 it - structural design, construction, technology and engineering;
- Where people live - communities, urban and rural design and the planning process;
- Context - the historic environment and its setting;
- Access for all - universal or inclusive design.
Gaining chartered membership of the RIBA and undertaking agreed levels of continuing professional development (CPD) are key parts of career development and will enable progression to more senior posts.
Architects with more than five years of Chartered membership who have demonstrated distinguished achievement in architecture may be awarded Fellow of RIBA status and entitled to use the affix FRIBA.
In private practices, there is no set career structure, with promotion and career development dependent on the individual firm and on the architect's professional competence, reputation and field of employment.
Generally, there are more opportunities to advance through the company structure with larger firms.
With experience, a considerable number of architects set up their own practices.
In the public sector, career progression differs in structure and is influenced by the nature and responsibilities of public institutions. In local authorities and the Civil Service, it is possible to progress to the position of chief architect or to become head of a much larger department employing other built environment professionals.
It is also common for professionals to move between local authorities and between organisations in the private sector in order to gain broader experience and seek more senior positions.
There are also opportunities to move into lecturing work in universities or into specialist fields, such as:
- project management;
- landscape architecture;
The environmental field is a growing area of work and there are increasing opportunities for professionals in this field to become involved in the planning process for environmentally sensitive development schemes.
There are also opportunities to work abroad for both graduates and experienced architects, with many large private practices having overseas offices or contracts. British qualifications are widely accepted and respected in many countries. RIBA International has a number of chapters and associated organisations, and also provides advice in the handy Working Internationally. Further information on international architectural professional bodies and regulations is available from the International Union of Architects.