How to become an architect
Have a passion for design and would love for your work to be viewed by the masses? Then read our guide on starting a business in architecture...
The key steps in learning how to become an architect are:
- 01 | Know what becoming an architect involves
- 02 | Be realistic about potential architect earnings
- 03 | Complete a RIBA validated undergraduate degree
- 04 | Get an Advanced Diploma in Professional Practice in Architecture
- 05 | Be aware of architect regulations
- 06 | Work out your essential costs
- 07 | Put together your business plan
- 08 | Develop a USP
- 08 | Get a website
- 09 | Start marketing!
What does becoming an architect involve and who is the position suited to?
It’s said that every man (or woman) is the architect of their own fortune, so if you have a strong penchant for design, drawing and innovation then owning your own architecture firm could help you build an esteemed career.
An architect’s main role is to plan, design and oversee building projects for clients from start to finish.
As you’ll be required to use maths, design software, and be able to physically sketch and draw plans and designs, architecture is generally suited to someone with a methodical, logical approach to working and someone who possesses great analytical and communication skills.
While the average architect will generally work between 35-40 hours a week Monday to Friday, the industry is incredibly competitive and has become synonymous with later working hours in recent years. Day-to-day tasks vary from creating detailed technical plans, ensuring projects follow building laws and safety regulations, managing budgets, choosing materials and checking building work and progress.
Finbar Bradley, an architectural assistant at Innes Associates, says that, above all else, you need to have a genuine interest and passion in architecture:
“The architect stereotype is an introverted perfectionist, however it is a profession that has scope for a lot of different personalities. Most important is [that you have] an attention to detail and a true passion for the subject.
“It is said that an engineer knows a lot about one thing and an architect knows something about everything. I suppose it is the jack of all trades really, and it needs to be in order to coordinate information from the other, more specific professions.
“This is what makes an architect unique to these other professions, as the architect is the person who can bring together all of these thoughts into a seamless and concise end product.”
Combining art, science, mathematics and tech with office work and trips to buildings sites and projects, the route to become an architect is one of intense study and lots of continuous learning, so those allergic to education should best stay away.
If, however, you relish the opportunity to constantly learn new things then becoming an architect should be an attractive option.
Simon Skeffington, director and main architect for ArchitecturAll, says “There’s huge rewards, and much better job satisfaction [compared to other areas] on a very personal level.”
Earnings: How well do architects get paid?
While you’ll no doubt spend a lot of time and money becoming an architect, once qualified you can generally expect to earn a very decent living – though your salary will vary considerably depending on your position, specialism, what contracts you manage to secure, and where you operate in the UK.
According to the UK Architecture Salary Guide, the average salary for a director of an architect firm is currently £85,000 annually – with the lowest-paid earning £60,000, while the highest stands at £120,000.
Associate directors or project directors are generally paid £65,000 a year but can earn up to £85,000 and can expect a salary of at least £55,000.
A desirable salary for sure, Innes Associates' Bradley is keen to stress that architecture is no ‘get rich quick scheme’ and that you must be motivated by a genuine love for what you do, not, what you earn:
“The starting wage for an architect is £27,000-£35,000 depending on the size of the practice and the type of work. However, you can expect this to increase up to £60,000-80,000 when you reach a director level salary. However, architecture is not a profession where money should attract people. I cannot stress enough that you should get into architecture for the job and not the pay.”
Similarly, Zap Architects' Gallagher believes that the long education route of becoming on architect is no guarantee that you will become a high earner:
“Architects earn a very disproportionate amount of money to the hours they work. I always find it funny when you tell people you are an architect; they assume you are loaded.
“Most architects I know still live off packed lunches and cycle to work (from ages 25-35). It is one of the worst paid professions in comparison to the seven years study one must do to qualify and, if you are not working for a large company, it is often hard to get paid from clients at all.”
To combat this, ArchitecturAll's Skeffington says that you should consider expanding your architect business into other areas, such as construction or retail, to maximize potential income:
“Don’t just limit yourself, a lot of architects don’t use their full potential. It’s now more accepted that [architects] should be applying their skills and years of experience to enjoy the rewards more than their clients.”
For a full break down of the type of salary you can expect, check out the breakdown below:
|Architect||Low p/a||Ave p/a||High p/a|
|Part I architect assistant||£18,000||£20,000||£22,000|
|Part II architect assistant||£24,000||£25,000||£28,000|
|Part II architect assistant (with experience)||£27,000||£29,000||£33,000|
|Recently qualified architects (0-2 years)||£32,000||£35,000||£38,000|
|Project architect (3-5 years)||£38,000||£42,000||£46,000|
|Associate director/project director||£55,000||£65,000||£85,000|
|Architectural technician||Low p/a||Ave p/a||High p/a|
|Junior Architectural Technician (0-3 years exp)||£20,000||£23,000||£25,000|
|Middleweight Architectural Technician (3-5 years exp)||£26,000||£30,000||£35,000|
|Senior Architectural Technician (5+ years exp)||£33,000||£37,000||£45,000|
|BIM||Low p/a||Ave p/a||High p/a|
Education required to be an architect
The road to becoming an architect is a long and arduous one and you’re required to complete several years of specialist higher education before you can legally bear the term ‘architect’.
How long does it take to become an architect? “The title of architect, unlike engineer or consultant, is a protected title until you have obtained the eight years of education/or equivalent approved by the Architects Registration Board (ARB), says Innes Associates' architectural assistant Bradley.
“This doesn’t mean that you must be an architect to run an architectural practice, you just have to have architects working there and many of the best practices are run in this manner. Otherwise you need to be aware of the ARB’s Code of Conduct and of your responsibilities in law as a practicing architect.”
Though the length of time you’ll have to spend in full-time education will vary around the world, the minimum amount of years you’re expected to complete in the UK is seven years. An important consideration for aspiring architects, the majority of these years will be unpaid so you’ll need to ensure you have a viable source of income while you study.
Part-time courses are available if you wish to earn a salary, though will naturally prolong the process of becoming a fully qualified architect. If you don't have the required school grades then some institutions may either judge your application on the back of your experience or your portfolio.
If you’re an undergraduate student, entry requirements from architect courses vary and there is a growing emphasis on a good portfolio and practical experience.
Generally, however, most universities will require five GCSEs (A*-C) which will include English, science and maths, and at least three A-Levels, or equivalent, in any subject (although subjects such as art and maths are preferable.) Most architect courses will also ask to see a portfolio of creative work, and may invite prospective students to an interview.
Once you have applied and been accepted onto an architect course, your route to becoming qualified is generally divided into three different stages:
Stage one: The first stage of becoming an architect involves undertaking an undergraduate degree, and your course MUST be validated from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Normally lasting between three and four years, modules are intended to provide you with the basic skills of drawing and CAD (computer aided design) drawing, as well as theoretical, historical, material and technical issues. Validated courses usually include the RIBA Part I examinations that all architects require.
After you have completed your undergraduate degree, you’ll be required to complete some practical work experience – which normally lasts 12 months before you can progress to the next stage. During this time, you’ll be required to record your work which is then monitored by a Professional Studies Advisor (PSA) from the university you attended, and your employer.
Stage two: Once you’ve finished your one year work experience, you’ll need to return to university and complete a two-year postgraduate degree such as a BArch, a Diploma or a March. It’s worth noting that the modules offered by each university will vary considerably, with different levels of emphasis placed on different areas of architecture. So, if you’re looking to get into a specific area e.g. landscape, residential or green, you should put some important consideration into which course you enrol in.
Stage three: Once you have obtained your post graduate degree, you’ll need to complete another 12 months of work experience before moving onto the final exam – the Advanced Diploma in Professional Practice in Architecture (ADPPA). Running over three days, the ADPPA requires you to complete an open book office-based exam and submit your CV, self-evaluation, case study, PEDR log sheets and exam answers. Only once you pass the ADPPA can you legally bear the term architect.
However, Pol Gallagher, creative director and architect at ZAP Architecture, says that you don’t always need a construction-heavy background in order to realise your architectural dream:
“I would recommend not being governed by assumed parameters of ‘what an architect is'. I think studying at an art school loosens the constraints and allows free-er thinking. One can always learn the boring building regulation stuff as soon as you enter the working world.
“Throughout my five years in large London firms I learned a hell of a lot from my peers whom I regarded as very talented. It did come at the slight cost of a social life and free-time to enjoy London but the fulfillment on the projects and the education made up for it.”
Rules and regulations for becoming an architect
Insurance and legalities
Naturally, due to the scale and style of work you’ll undertake as an architect, the amount of rules and regulations you must adhere to are plenty and include, but are not limited to:
- Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
- Building regulations
- Planning regulations
- Home building warranty
- British standards
- Equality Act
Architect firms are also required to sign up to the Architects Registration Board’s (ARB) Code of Conduct, which expects all architects to:
- Be honest and act with integrity
- Be competent
- Promote your services honestly and responsibly
- Manage your business competently
- Consider the wider impact of your work
- Carry out your work faithfully and conscientiously
- Be trustworthy and look after your clients’ money properly
- Have appropriate insurance arrangements
- Maintain the reputation of architects
- Deal with disputes or complaints appropriately
- Co-operate with regulatory requirements and investigations
- Have respect for others
When it comes to insurance, Gallagher says businesses need professional indemnity insurance: “You do need professional indemnity insurance. And, even if I shut up shop today, this still must be paid for 12 years after each project finishes to cover any liabilities on the design. Planning regulations, building regulations, wheelchair accessibility, fire safety and escape etc. are all codes that the architect should be familiar with, if not expert at.”
Now that you’re aware of various regulations, you're probably wondering how much it'll cost to start-up? Well read on to find out…
How much does it cost to become an architect?
The cost of setting up your own architectural firm can vary immensely depending on how big you want your practice to be, and what type of clients and contracts you hope to attract.
Modern architecture has become quite expensive with programmes costing up to £2,000 a year in some circumstances. Alternatively, a £200 piece of architect software will give you the capabilities to work as a sole practitioner in a spare room of your home without any issues whatsoever. Therefore, the start-up costs can be much more reasonable.
It is still possible to work on a drawing board with nothing more than a pen and paper; however this is a much more laborious process and certainly makes the £200 software more appealing.
“The start-up costs can be very low. All you need is a desk, a computer, the required software, a printer and off you go! They call it the ‘kitchen table architect’ and it's only once you grow that the associated costs start to come in.” says ArchitecturAll's Skeffington.
Naturally, you’ll need to consider the costs of renting an office if you want to be bigger than just a one-man band.
Innes Associates' Bradley advises that, for a medium-size practice, you would need to purchase the following:
- Desk space (for approximately 15 staff)
- Software of roughly £3,000 per person depending on the type of work you want to partake in. If you are engaging in public-sector projects, you will need to consider the use of 3D BIM software and this can cost more
- At least one ARB membership of £140
- Professional Indemnity Insurance of £3,000-£5,000 annual payment
- Public Liability and Employer’s Insurance of £500 to £1,000 annual payment
- Consideration must also be given to other annual costs. A rule of thumbs is that a medium-size practice will spend roughly equal amounts on salaries and other costs.
What should you include in an architect business plan?
Once you’ve qualified as an architect (see below), you’ll need to draw up a business plan and decide what type of work you’ll primarily focus on and what market your architect business will target.
Generally, there are six different types of architects:
Residential architect: As a residential architect, most of your clients will be private homeowners who will entrust you to help them design and build their home. Think Grand Designs! A knowledge of local regulations will be key, and you’ll need to ensure that you have local neighbours on side.
Commercial architect: Sometimes referred to as a public architect, the majority of your contracts will be provided by the government and other state bodies to build schools, libraries, government buildings or even shopping centres.
Industrial architect: While generally more suited to engineers, architects can sometimes be commissioned to design major industrial projects like hydroelectric dams or bridges.
Landscape architect: Looking to earn both private and government contracts? Landscape architects focus on outdoor areas and will often specialise in recreational spots such as golf courses or college campuses.
Green architect: What you’d expect given the name, green architects build environment-friendly structures and often incorporate solar panels into their works or design passive houses.
Innes Associates' Bradley asserts that you should have a very clear idea, early on, into what you want to say and do as an architect firm:
“It’s necessary to have a clear idea about what your identity is. It is all too easy to select a style or building typology that you appreciate, however, it is more important that you find a process that you connect with and a moral integrity which you aspire toward. The job typology is therefore not as important as the office’s ambitions.
“Regardless of the project, if you work for an office interested in say extravagant shapes in bright coloured materials, you will find the built solution will begin to drift towards that direction. This is why it is so important to always be aware of your own identity and continually gravitate toward like-minded designers.”
Once you’ve decided what area you’ll specialise your architect business in, you should decide what size firm you’re looking to create and what your growth plans are. Remember, taking on too big a project with a small team will not only infuriate your client and damage your reputation but will also increase the likelihood that you will fall foul of regulations and health and safety.
Bradley continues: “An architecture practice can be anything from a sole practitioner working in their home, to a multinational company of over 1,000 staff in several continents. There are positives and negatives within both.
“A small practice will give you a lot of responsibility very early on, whereas a larger company will have you working on large-scale projects in the public eye. It will often depend on how much you would like to be in the limelight and where your current mode of progression is at.”
Useful tips and contacts
- Make sure you have a passion for architecture; don't let potential earnings be your key driver
- Draw up a business plan (this free template will help ) that aligns to the architectural career you want
- Gain the necessary qualifications; this can take time – there are no shortcuts
- Make sure you have Professional Indemnity Insurance and adhere to industry regulations
- Really consider what your growth plans are; be it one-man band or medium-sized firm, and make sure you can cover the associated costs
- National Careers Service: Provides information about the career opportunities in architecture
- Architects Registration Board: An independent government body that regulates the architect profession in the UK
- The Architects Journal: A news website for the architecture sector
- The Complete University Guide: A university ranking table that allows you to see a list of the best universities’ offering courses in architecture
- TUC: Trades Union Congress (Architecture)
- UCATT: The UK’s only trade union specialising in construction
- UK Architecture Salary Guide: A guide to the average salaries available in the industry
- Royal Institute of British Architects: Professional body for architects primarily in the United Kingdom