Becoming an architect is a career choice that never goes out of style. After all, it’s unlikely that we will just stop needing buildings, right? But as you already know, becoming a professional architect is not something anyone can master — the job requires a deep understanding of technical constructional and infrastructural specifics, not just good taste in choosing facade decor elements and a steady hand to sketch them.
One can safely state that architects need both creative and technical skills; more importantly — they need to know how these two can be best balanced and combined. So, this requires a specific mindset and plenty of determination while mastering all the technical specifics of the profession.
On the upside, the architecture market is growing. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the architecture and engineering market should see a 5% job increase during 2022-2032. Compared to other industries, with an average projected growth of 3%, the architectural niche is promising.
But how do you become an architect, and how long does it take? More importantly, which of the many professional niches within a larger scope of architecture should you choose? Below is a quick guide to answer questions.
Education Degrees & Training Requirements
To become a licensed architect in the USA, you will need an accreditation from the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB) — or, more specifically, you need to successfully complete a school (college, university) program that has this accreditation. Here, choosing a school is totally up to you — there are many in the US. Similar to most other educational degrees, NAAB recognizes three types of academic accomplishments — bachelor’s, master’s, and doctor’s.
Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch)
This is the minimal requirement to apply for architectural jobs, but it’s already enough to join such major corporations as Gensler. It usually takes five years to complete a B.Arch course. This program will already teach you the history of architecture, building materials, and 3-D modeling. But, keep in mind that, like most basic higher education degrees, the B.Arch course will also include many general tech courses, like Maths and Physics. The unlimited architectural fun starts a bit later.
Master of Architecture (M.Arch)
M.Arch takes at least three years to complete, but it also can take more — depending on how quickly you can finish your thesis. This is a more advanced degree that seriously boosts your employment and career prospects, and you can also apply for this course if you have a bachelor’s degree in another relevant field (that is, not necessarily a B.Arch). Depending on your major, the M.Arch educational program can focus on many themes, from urban design to adaptive technologies and tectonic structures.
Doctor of Architecture (D.Arch)
This is the highest possible, and so, way less common architectural degree. Usually, obtaining a doctor’s degree in any discipline is less about making a career in the applied industry; it’s more about staying in the academic world. So, it’s not surprising that there is only one US school that educates future architectural professors — the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.
Top Architecture Niches & Potential Careers
The chances are you will opt either for a B.Arch or M.Arch degree, but what can you expect once you graduate? With a profession so multi-faceted as architecture, there are plenty of future career options to consider. The top eight are listed below.
This is a large professional niche with most employment and career opportunities. After all, most major US corporations, including HNTB with its thousands of employees, engage in commercial projects. These may vary from designing a series of townhouses to planning a chain of retail stores or gas stations. The upside is excellent career prospects and a chance to learn from experienced professionals. The downside is the pressure, of course — only partly compensated by the fact that commercial architects usually work in teams and hardly ever bear the sole responsibility for their final project designs.
Residential architecture, as the name suggests, deals with residential dwellings. The scope of projects can range from commercial, like townhouse areas, to private ones, like creating a custom house design for a single client. Both have challenges and require thorough understudying of construction norms and codes in a given area. And, even though this area is considered less prestigious than commercial architecture, residential projects offer a chance to learn and explore the limits of your creativity.
The main focus of industrial architecture is the construction of warehouses, factories, distilleries, various plants, logistics centers, etc. Even though it may not seem like the most creative application of your architectural skills, this area gives you a chance to power up your technical knowledge. After all, it’s essential to understand the purpose of every industrial facility to plan and zone it properly. Besides, qualified industrial architects will hardly ever be unemployed, considering the industrial growth in the US.
Sustainable Green Architecture
Any commercial, residential, or industrial projects can be built with sustainable eco-policies in mind. Architects who specialize in this niche are in very high demand right now. The main focus of sustainable, aka green, architecture is to find ways to minimize the project’s impact on the environment. This is more complex than installing solar panels on a cottage roof. Sustainability in architecture also implies choosing eco materials and, often, suggesting technologies that would minimize carbon imprint during the construction stage.
Architecture is not only about designing new buildings — it’s also about maintaining and reconstructing the existing ones. The older a building is, the more challenging it is to retain its architectural and historic integrity. This is a very narrow, specific application of your M.Arch degree that requires a good understating of architectural history and close attention to detail. Still, it can be highly rewarding, even considering you do not design anything yourself.
Urban Architecture & Planning
This is a top-tier architectural niche, considering that urban architects do not just plan one building but rather entire cities (or their districts, at least). Obviously, projects of such scale require team collaboration and rely on many other applied areas listed above. The purpose of urban planning is to create an entire infrastructure of residential, commercial, and industrial buildings while keeping sustainability in mind.
With sustainable construction and planning practices, landscape architecture becomes ever more critical. Its primary focus is planning parks, gardens, orchards, and similar projects in both commercial and private sectors. Also, designing green getaways in industrial areas is in high demand — or you could occasionally have a chance to plan a golf course or a similar recreational area. The niche requires not only a thorough understanding of topology but also of horticulture. So, it is up to a landscape architect to pick the plans suitable for a specific area and climate while zoning the landscape to make the most of annual season changes.
Interior architecture is often confused with interior design, but in fact, it is a more complex area. An interior architect’s main task is to ensure that an allocated space is used to its full potential. The job may also require close collaboration with other construction professionals on the same project because it usually involves designing a whole house rather than a single room. And that means thinking about properly placing utility areas, heating, lighting, and many other minor details that the end-users do not notice until they start missing the comfort these ‘minor details’ were supposed to provide.
As you can see, most of these applied architecture areas are not mutually exclusive. For example, you can become a commercial or residential architect specializing in sustainable design and infrastructure. Or, one day, you could switch focus from landscape or urban development, or vice versa. The main is that you have a corresponding degree, some work experience, and, of course — talent!