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Building architects

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About the work Training qualifications Job outlook Earnings Related links

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Architects — licensed professionals trained in the art and science of building design — create the overall aesthetic and functional look of buildings and other structures. They design buildings to be functional, safe and economical.

Architects provide their services to individuals and organizations planning a construction project. They may be involved in all phases of development, from the initial discussion with the client through the entire construction process.

The architect and client discuss the objectives, requirements and budget of a project. In some cases, architects provide various predesign services — conducting feasibility and environmental impact studies, selecting a site or specifying the requirements the design must meet.

After the initial proposals are discussed and accepted, architects develop final construction plans. These plans show the building's appearance and details for its construction, including drawings of the structural system; air-conditioning, heating and ventilating systems; electrical systems; plumbing; and possibly site and landscape plans.

They specify the building materials and, in some cases, the interior furnishings. In developing designs, architects follow building codes, zoning laws, fire regulations and other ordinances, such as those requiring easy access by disabled persons. Throughout the planning stage, they make necessary changes. Although they have traditionally used pencil and paper to produce design and construction drawings, architects are increasingly turning to computer-aided design and drafting (CAD) technology for these important tasks.

Architects sometimes specialize in one phase of work. Some specialize in the design of one type of building — for example, hospitals, schools or housing. Others focus on planning and predesign services or construction management and do minimal design work. Architects spend a great deal of time coordinating information and work from others in the same project. Architects are now using the Internet to update designs and communicate changes for the sake of speed and cost savings.

Architects may occasionally be under stress, working nights and weekends to meet deadlines. Nearly half of all architects worked more than 40 hours a week.

Training and qualifications

All states and the District of Columbia require individuals to be licensed before they call themselves architects or contract to provide architectural services, but many architecture school graduates work in the field while they are in the process of becoming licensed. Licensing requirements include a professional degree in architecture, a period of practical training or internship and passage of all divisions of the ARE. In most states, the professional degree in architecture must be from one of the 111 schools of architecture with degree programs accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB).

During the required training period leading up to licensing, entry-level architects are called interns. This training period, which generally lasts three years, gives them practical work experience, which helps them prepare for the Architect Registration Examination (ARE). Typical duties include preparing construction drawings, building models or assisting in the design of one part of a project.

Architects must be able to visually communicate their ideas to clients. Artistic and drawing ability is very helpful, but not essential. Visual orientation and the ability to conceptualize and understand spatial relationships is more important. Architects need creativity, good communication skills and the ability to work independently or as part of a team. Computer literacy also is required and knowledge of CAD is helpful and will become essential.

Job outlook

Prospective architects may face competition for entry-level positions, especially if the number of architectural degrees awarded remains at current levels or increases. Employment of architects is projected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2010. Prospective architects who gain career-related experience in an architectural firm while in school and who master CAD technology will have a distinct advantage in obtaining an intern-architect position after graduation.

As buildings age, demand for remodeling and repair work should grow considerably. The needed renovation and rehabilitation of old buildings, particularly in urban areas where space for new buildings is becoming limited, is expected to provide many job opportunities for architects. In addition, demographic trends are influencing the demand for certain institutional structures, such as schools.

Because construction — particularly office and retail — is sensitive to cyclical changes in the economy, architects will face particularly strong competition for jobs or clients during recessions and layoffs may occur.

Earnings

Architects held about 102,000 jobs in 2000. The majority of jobs were in architectural firms -most of which employ fewer than five workers. Nearly three in 10 architects were self-employed. Median annual earnings of architects were $52,510 in 2000.

Related links

For information about education and careers in architecture:

The American Institute of Architects, 1735 New York Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20006.

Intern Development Program, National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, Suite 1100K, 1801 K St. NW, Washington, DC 20006-1310.

Consortium for Design and Construction Careers, P.O. Box 1515, Oak Park, IL 60304-1515.


Adapted from the Labor Department's Occupational Outlook Handbook.