Becoming an ARCHITECT: What it’s REALLY like and what do Architects DO?!
Updated: Mar 14, 2023
What is an architect?
What do you need to do to become an architect?
What are the differences between an architect and a structural engineer?
When do you hire an architect?
Welcome to Design Create Inspire. So glad to have you here! Through my blog and podcast, I hope to inspire a new generation of architects and designers by acting as a guide and answering questions I wish I had known when I was starting.
For this episode, I wanted to talk about the ins and outs of being an architect in a way that would interest everyone. I wanted this episode to be for EVERYONE interested in the world of architecture. So, whether you’re an architect, student, or even someone interested in what architects do, you’re in for some interesting info! I’ll dive into the requirements, the importance of architects, how architects add value to a project, and so much more!
Let’s get to it!
Hi, everyone! It’s me, Bryn Young. I’m an architect in San Diego, California, I run the firm BYoung Design, and I’m on here every week to hang out with you all to talk about everything architecture!
About two and a half years ago, when I started my podcast, my first episode was "What is an Architect?" When I made that episode, I had passed all the Architect Registration Exams but not yet the California Supplemental Exam. Then about two weeks after that episode aired, I finally passed my last architecture exam and could officially call myself an Architect.
I get questions all the time like…
“What EXACTLY does an architect do?”
“Why does it take so long to become an architect?”
...and many other questions along those lines.
It's important to explain our profession more because when the public doesn't understand what we do, the value of our work isn't recognized or appreciated. If we can help educate people on what our industry is really all about, it’ll give people a better understanding of why and when they need us and add overall value to our profession.
I grew up in a family of people in the construction industry. My dad was a general contractor, and my great-grandfather was actually an architect, too! Since I was young, I have loved design and knew I wanted to be in custom residential design. This led me to become an interior designer, study interior architecture, and eventually get my master's in Architecture. It was honestly the BEST DECISION I EVER MADE.
The funny thing is, this wasn’t always where I saw my life. And I’ll be honest; if I had known the process of becoming an architect when I was younger, I might not have chosen this path. Back in high school, I was a student that wasn’t so focused on grades; I just wanted to have fun, hang out with my friends, and have a good time. I even remember some of my friends saying they wanted to become doctors, and I thought it was crazy. I couldn’t imagine dedicating the next ten years to getting a profession and finally practicing in my late 20s. Ironically, here I am now!
SO, WHAT IS AN ARCHITECT?
Technically, a licensed architect designs buildings. From tiny houses to sky rises. We do them all. It’s our duty to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the general public by designing and creating healthy and structurally sound buildings.
WHAT AN ARCHITECT DOES…
The projects that I work on are typically single-family residential homes, new construction, and remodels here along the coast. So, it’s my and the firm’s job to design a building from the initial idea and concept to permitting and provide a set of documents the contractor can use to build.
As I mentioned earlier, as architects, we work with other professionals in our projects. We work with civil engineers who will survey the land to determine the boundaries and constraints and do geotechnical reports (or soil reports). Structural engineers then enter the picture and calculate sizing and any special requirements for the bones of the project. We provide them with the layout and details of the design and from there, they calculate the size of the structural members.
We also work with energy consultants. In California, we have a lot of special energy requirements, and we have to put together a report each time to figure out what kind of installation requirements we need, what kind of mechanical systems are required, and all that good stuff. From there, we consolidate all the plans and submit them to the city to obtain permits. Once we have the permit, we can hand it over to the contractor so they start with construction. Even once construction starts, architects are still involved. We’re there to make design adjustments and ensure the structure is built according to the construction documents.
A common misconception about being an architect is that we’re just there to design buildings. But honestly, from start to finish, it’s a tedious process. In the early stages of designing, where it’s just presenting designs, it’s sometimes hard to paint the client a picture of the plan. I think this is where a lot of the disconnect between the architect and clients can happen.
A lot goes into getting the final set of drawings together, sketches, and space planning. There’s a common struggle with trial and error and pitching different concepts and options to the clients. The key to a great client/architect relationship is effective communication.
Even if there are struggles, I LOVE ARCHITECTURE. As an Architect, there are all sorts of types of structures you can design. Houses, museums, high rises, you name it! That’s the exciting thing about architecture. It’s so diverse! You’re allowed to explore so many paths.
BECOMING AN ARCHITECT
To become a licensed architect, you must have a breadth of knowledge in many different industries because we work hand-in-hand with many other professionals, like engineers and consultants.
Regarding the more technical requirements, like the exams, there are six exams with six different subjects, plus whatever your state requirements are. Besides being tested on everything from structural, mechanical, plumbing, acoustics, materials, sustainability, interiors, site development, soils, and so much more, we must be knowledgeable in business and accounting.
The three requirements to become a licensed architect are:
The first requirement is a degree. This is achieved through a five-year bachelor's degree program or a two- or three-year master's degree program through an accredited university.
The second requirement is experience. You must work under a licensed architect or engineer for 3,740 hours in different areas related to the architecture exams. You can do a whole deep dive on the NCARB website. NCARB controls and administers the tests, so there’s a lot of helpful information on their site.
The third thing that you will need to do is pass the AREs. And as most of you already know, I love talking about AREs. That’s kind of my thing. So, if you want to learn more about the ins and outs of the AREs, please check out my other videos or listen to my podcast!
The AREs is a critical step in the process that many people, unfortunately, won’t complete. The AREs comprise six exams with a rough 50% pass rate, and the typical timeline for passing all of these exams is two years. It isn’t a quick and easy process. It’s extremely tough but incredibly rewarding in the end!
Now, depending on the state that you live in, there are also state requirements. In some states, like California, there’s a big test called the CSE (California Supplemental Exam). It’s a three-and-a-half-hour exam with a 50% pass rate, similar to an ARE exam.
Once you’ve passed all of your exams, passed your state requirements, and obtained your license, you can legally call yourself an Architect.
Then, every year or two (depending on your state), you must complete continuing education requirements to ensure that you’re keeping up to date with all the new required codes.
So, as you can already tell, it’s a pretty long process. It may be years, but it’s such an exciting ride. There were surely bumps along the way, but I’m really happy I took this route because I love what I’m doing. And it's been totally WORTH IT. I'm thankful for the path I've chosen every day, and I hope to encourage others to follow their dreams.
If you’re interested in knowing more about working with an architect, the career path, or really anything related to this industry, feel free to shoot me a DM on Instagram (@BYoungDesign), and I’ll be glad to get back to you!
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