How to become an architect

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
April, 2021

While you'll need to have achieved the qualifications, skills and experience to become an architect, there are a number of ways you can choose to enter this profession

An architecture career at a glance

  • Starting salaries of £15,000 to £22,000, rising to up to £45,000 once qualified.
  • Qualify via degree, apprenticeship or previous work experience.
  • Opportunities for freelance work and self-employment.
  • There are 42,547 registered architects in the UK (ARB, 2020).

Responsible for the safe construction and long-term durability of houses and commercial properties, it's no wonder becoming an architect is such a rigorous process - typically involving seven years of study and practical experience.

However, with the introduction of architecture apprenticeships there's now an alternative to undertaking full-time study - you'll gain the experience and qualifications you need without the price tag of tuition fees.

Whichever route you take, your end goal will be the same - you'll be a fully qualified architect and able to join the Architects Registration Board (ARB).

Why become an architect?

Combining creative and scientific skills, architects create plans and technical drawings for the construction of buildings. You'll need analytical skills and excellent attention to detail, as well as creativity for designing.

Being an architect is a high-pressure role that carries a significant amount of responsibility, but seeing the buildings you've helped create can be incredibly rewarding.

If you're more interested in the science behind buildings (including the technical plans and deciding which materials should be used), you may consider qualifying as an architectural technologist.

Architecture degrees

The majority of architects enter the profession through full-time study of a five-year, ARB-accredited architecture degree, with periods of leave to gain practical experience. The degree is split up as follows:

  • Part 1 - Develops your core architectural skills. An undergraduate degree taking three to four years to complete full time.
  • Part 1 practical experience - Taking a minimum of one year out, you'll need to find an employer, mentor and advisor to log your experience with the Royal Institute of British Architect's (RIBA) Professional Experience & Development Record (PEDR).
  • Part 2 - Enhances and deepens your knowledge. Awards vary, so you could obtain a Bachelors of Architecture (BArch), Diploma or Master of Architecture (MArch).
  • Part 2 practical experience - A total of 24 months' experience is required to advance to Part 3, so you'll need to gain at least 12 months of experience under the direct supervision of an architect. You'll be able to take on more responsibility at this stage, and can also become a RIBA Associate Member.
  • Part 3 - This involves a written and oral examination as well as assessment of your previous experience.

Course content varies between institutions, but as long as you're studying an accredited degree, you'll be able to register as an architect with the ARB and apply for RIBA Chartered Membership on completion of Part 3.

For instance, modules on the three-year BArch (Hons) Architecture (Part 1) at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) include 'Technology and Environment in Architecture', 'Architecture in Context' and 'Architectural Communication and Representation', where you'll learn how to use 2D and 3D design methods. In your final year, you'll display your work as part of NTU's Degree Shows, attended by prospective employers.

To apply, you'll need BBB at A-level, BTEC Extended Diploma DDM or 120 UCAS points from equivalent qualifications, as well as maths and English GCSEs at grade C/4 and a digital portfolio.

The University of Lincoln offers accredited qualifications for Parts 1, 2 and 3. Its MArch Master of Architecture (Part 2) is available as a two-year, full-time course, or it can be studied part time across three to five years. The course utilises a range of teaching methods, including project-based learning, seminars and group work, and is split into two levels.

At level one, you'll focus on research and design equally and choose your topics from a range of specialisms. The second year deals with aspects of professional practice, and you'll produce a final project - bringing together your knowledge of technology, research, sustainability and cultural awareness. You'll need at least a 2:1 undergraduate degree to apply and preferably some workplace experience.

A full list of accredited degree courses can be found at ARB - Schools and Institutions of Architecture.

Architecture apprenticeships

For students who would prefer to gain practical experience as they qualify rather than study full time, degree apprenticeships are now available at a number of UK institutions.

Two types of apprenticeship are available. On completion of the Level 6 architectural assistant apprenticeship, you'll earn a Bachelors degree and Part 1 qualification. On the Level 7 architect apprenticeship, you'll obtain a Masters of Architecture (MArch) and Part 2 and 3 qualifications.

You can currently study for a Level 7 architecture degree apprenticeship, validated by RIBA, at the following institutions:

  • University of Bath
  • University of Cambridge
  • De Montfort University, Leicester
  • London South Bank University
  • Manchester School of Architecture
  • Northumbria University
  • Nottingham Trent University (NTU)
  • University of Portsmouth
  • University of the West of England (UWE).

Entry requirements are typically the same as those for entry onto full-time degree programmes. You'll need to secure an apprenticeship offer with an employer - to get started, you can use RIBA's Find an Architect and Find a Chartered Member databases and GOV.UK's Find an apprenticeship service.

For more information, see RIBA - Architecture apprenticeships. If you're unsure of which route to take, consider whether to go to university or do an apprenticeship.

Alternative routes

If you're UK, EU, EEA, Channel Island or Isle of Man based and currently working under the supervision of a registered architect, you may instead consider the RIBA Studio qualification. You'll be able to study Parts 1 and 2 at your own pace.

This route may particularly suit you if you've decided to make a career change to architecture, gone straight into work from school or college, or completed Part 1 at university and remained in practice after a year out.

RIBA Studio is offered in partnership with the School of Architecture at Oxford Brookes University, and course fees for 2021/22 registration are £3,000.

If you haven't yet gained your first salaried experience in practice and are new to the field of architecture, the recently-introduced RIBA Foundation in Architecture programme will help you to develop the portfolio and experience you need for Part 1. This is also available at Oxford Brookes University.

Find out more

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