A Bachelor’s Degree, at minimum, is essentially required. There could be some very specific/special situations in which a firm might hire someone without one, but if you aspire to be an architectural designer you should plan on getting a Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited architecture program.
I would say my path was a fairly normal one. I first went to a community college where I completed my general education classes, and I then transferred to the University of Minnesota, where I received a Bachelor of Design in Architecture degree. It should be noted that this degree is no longer offered at the University of Minnesota. However, there is a Bachelor of Science in Architecture program, which is accredited, so that is still an option for anyone wanting to study architecture at the U of M.
While still in school, I took an architectural internship position with a design firm at the U of M that specialized in smaller projects around campus. I worked full-time for one summer and part-time for one semester. Interning while still in school was absolutely a great way for me to gain experience in the field, and I highly suggest it for others going down this path. It’ll give you a great sense of what the professional side of this field is like, and having work experience will be seen as a positive when trying to find a full-time job after school if you don’t work for the company you intern with.
I eventually graduated, held a couple of different jobs (one at an architecture firm and one at a masonry company) before landing at the company I’m currently with, where I’ve been for a little over 2.5 years.
A typical day depends largely on what phase the project is in. To keep it simple, we’ll break it down into three phases: design phase, construction documentation phase, and construction administration phase.
While in the design phase, a lot of time is spent putting together both the layout and the overall aesthetic/look of the building. Typical days during this phase will consist of brainstorming and putting ideas together to form the layout, composing various design elements, receiving feedback from the client and/or design team on the layout and design elements, and then changing/adding/subtracting items based on the feedback received. This process is repeated until much of the building (interior and exterior) are designed. Just as a side note, the design is still subject to change in later phases.
The next phase is construction documentation. Construction documents are the drawings that will eventually be given to the construction company. Typical days during this phase will consist of perfecting the drawings (making sure the required dimensions and other annotations are shown) and making sure all of the architectural details are accounted for and drawn accurately. Some examples of details that are typically needed, but are not limited to, include wall sections, window sill details, and floor transition details.
Construction administration is the final phase. At this point, the drawings have now been finalized and handed to the construction company hired to build the building. Typical days during this phase will consist of various tasks required to make sure the project is trending in the direction that the design team had intended. Reviewing shop drawings is one of those tasks; shop drawings are very detailed descriptions of nearly every item being used in the building’s construction. This includes things like flooring material, cabinets/casework, doors, grout, and appliances. These shop drawings are looked over thoroughly to ensure the contractor is ordering/using the correct items as selected by the design team. Another aspect of this phase is making sure the project is heading in the right direction. This means if problems arise during construction or if the construction crew is doing an unsatisfactory job, it is the design team’s responsibility to find solutions to those problems and to make sure the contractor is completing work in a fashion that is acceptable to both the client and design team. This phase typically includes work that a lot of people don’t realize is involved in the world of architecture.
A couple of the best parts of this career are centered around how creative and satisfying/rewarding the work is. Because creative and critical thinking are used in all phases of every project, anyone with a desire to use these thinking skills daily will surely find enjoyment in this field. The satisfying/rewarding aspect comes into play more toward the end of a project, when it is far enough along in its construction that the overall look and feel of the building can start being seen. Of course, it feels great as a designer to see the final design come to life, but it also feels great to see the positive impact that is made on both the client and the community. When the people whom the building is designed and built for express great happiness and excitement over the work that was done for them, it makes the work even more worthwhile and gives everyone involved in the design process a great sense of purpose.
A common downside to a career in architecture that may already be fairly well-known is the work hours. Of course, the expected hours of work will change depending on the firm, but one thing that likely stays consistent among all firms are the long days that are needed while making a strong push to finalize drawings as key deadlines are approaching. In my case, I’ve found that I typically work normal hours during normal times. I’ll work the typical 8ish hours per day, and as long as I don’t fall too far behind and as long as there isn’t a specific task that needs to be done by the end of the day, there’s no problem with not putting in more than 8 hours. However, each project has numerous deadlines to be met, with the deadlines typically becoming more crucial as the project progresses, which can lead periods of longer workdays. As an example, earlier this year, the team I was on had 3 projects for the same client, on the same site, with issue dates one week after one another. As can probably be assumed, we were very busy during this time, which led to many very long workdays. Once the projects were issued, however, work hours went back to normal.
Another downside to be aware of is related to work done in the construction administration phase. I mentioned that this phase includes work that a lot of people likely don’t know is required. A lot of people will enter this field because they’re passionate about the design portion of this, but it needs to be known that not all work includes design. There is the final phase work like shop drawings or numerous different managerial tasks such as attending construction meetings, completing various types of paperwork, or handling an issue on the job site. However, as mentioned before, some of these tasks will still require creative and critical thinking, and it’s absolutely possible this work could end up being enjoyable, so some won’t consider this a negative at all, but consider this a heads-up that not of your time will be spent doing fun, creative design work.
One very important piece of advice is to develop a strong portfolio. Whether you’re applying for grad school or for a job, your portfolio will be very heavily considered during the accept/deny process. Be sure to take high quality pictures of your work and edit them in a photo editing program, such as Photoshop. Other programs that will be key in building a portfolio include, but are not limited to, Adobe InDesign and Adobe Illustrator (I’m sure there are non-Adobe products that work well also). Approaching the design of a portfolio can be intimidating, and many people might not know where to start nor what a strong portfolio looks like. To become more familiar, I would suggest looking up portfolio examples online, reading books, and taking a portfolio class while in school. Another suggestion is to try leaving at least some room for technical drawings. These types of drawings are those details I mentioned earlier. I recommend looking online at what some of these look like, such as wall sections, parapet details, or soffit details. Draw those details either in a computer program or on paper (be very neat and use all capital letters for text) and put them in your portfolio; if you draw them on paper, scan the drawings in. This will not only help strengthen your portfolio, but you will also inherently become familiar with what those different types of drawings look like. My last portfolio suggestion is to get it printed off at a high-quality printing company. Print numerous copies in case there is more than one person interviewing you, this way, everyone can have their own, and you can offer them to keep one. Letting them keep one ensures your name and work will remain at the office and will be easily accessible to everyone at the firm.
One other piece of advice that very well could go a long way in leaving a good impression at a job interview is to take on your own projects in your free time and put those in your portfolio. A few examples of personal projects I put in my portfolio include cardboard replicas of Target Field and the Xcel Energy Center, a foamboard and plastic model of a modern house I designed, and renderings of a football stadium I designed in a computer program called SketchUp. Providing examples of personal projects shows extra dedication and passion, which can help separate you from other candidates. You may also end up developing skills and experience that could help make you better at your job. Plus, they’re a lot of fun!!