Careers

Featured Career: Architect

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Do you love designing things? Are you eager to leave a mark the world can see? If so, you may want to consider becoming an architect.

Architects lay the groundwork for the entire civilized world. Business buildings, concert venues, houses, museums, monuments of any sort: None of them would exist without an architect’s blueprints charting the way. They’re responsible for designing everything from your favorite fast food restaurant to the Empire State Building.


There’s still a lot of room for further specialization in this profession. Some architects specialize in urban development, others are all about environmental sustainability. Some provide massive blueprints for franchises, others prefer working on one project at a time.

The main similarities between architects are a love of design, a strong ability to visualize and conceptualize from scratch and a desire to see their plans come to life. It’s about building something from the ground up without ever even swinging a hammer.

What Architects Do

Every architect has a different focus. The breadth of jobs in Roadtrip Nation’s archive of career stories is proof.

Arathi Gowda, associate director at Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill: Ensures architecture is environmentally friendly by providing computer simulated plans and suggestions for builders.

Erez Ella, former principal architect at REX/founder of HQ Architects LTD: Focuses on designing buildings that are out of the box and challenging

David Schwarz, president and CEO of David M. Schwarz Architects, Inc.: Provides plans for buildings in the public sphere with human needs specifically in mind

How to Get There

There’s no single path to becoming an architect. Check out all the different ways the people mentioned above got started.

Arathi Gowda, associate director at Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill.

Got the bug for environmental design when she took a trip to Zion National Park → studied under premier environmental architect Vivian Loftness at Carnegie Mellon University → entered the field while the economy was rough and struggled to find her place → got a job at Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill in 2004 and still loves it.

Erez Ellaformer principal architect at REX/founder of HQ Architects LTD.

Grew up in Israel and spent five years in the army after school → traveled through South America for a year → initially only wanted to study architecture because the course he enrolled in started later than others and that would give him more time to travel → ended up loving it and working in the US as an architect → moved back to Israel to found his own architectural firm.

David Schwarzpresident and CEO of David M. Schwarz Architects.

Wanted to be an architect ever since being taken with a childhood neighbor’s landscaping → finished an apprenticeship and tried to start his own company → he couldn’t land many jobs and was worried he’d have to give up → coincidentally met a friend’s boyfriend who needed to hire an architect → was able to continue growing his firm to what it is today.

Education

You may think you have to be certain you want an architecture career by the time you’re 18, but that’s not the case.

If you’re already pretty sure this is the way you want to go, start looking into schools that offer undergrad architecture programs. It’ll definitely give you a leg up! And you’ll eventually need to get licensed, intern for a firm and pass certification tests to start working on your own.

You’ll need some sort of higher ed training in the subject — but don’t think you’ve got to declare your major right away. So long as you study something within the world of design or construction for your bachelor’s, you can apply for a master’s in architecture once you’ve graduated and have a pretty good chance of getting accepted. People have been accepted into master’s programs even when they did their undergrad work in something completely outside the field!

Whatever path you take, you’ll need to demonstrate your interest in design and development through your work. There’s no reason not to start drawing up plans for smaller things already! Think of how you’d instruct someone to build a single room or a dog house. It may not end up in your final portfolio, but it’ll certainly help get the ball rolling when it comes to developing more refined blueprints as time goes on.

More Architect Stories from Roadtrip Nation

Jessica Sheridan, principal architect at Mancini Duffy

When Jessica was little, she’d draw all sorts of pictures of the houses she’d stay in. Her mom told her early on that she should consider becoming an architect someday. By the time she got to college, however, she wanted to do anything but become an architect. After working in the marketing department of an architecture firm for two years, she decided her mom might have been right after all. She went to the Rhode Island School of Design to get her master’s in the field, interned at three different firms, passed her exams and now gets to spend every day creating a positive impact on communities through architecture and design.

Alison Terry, landscape architect and founder of Terry Design

In college, Alison majored in art history and French literature — architecture was the furthest thing from her mind. She moved to New York to work in magazine publishing and it didn’t take long for her to feel suffocated. As she was researching alternate careers, she had a lightbulb moment after reading the description for landscape architecture. She got a master’s in the subject from the University of Virginia and worked for the National Park Service for six years. Now she has her own residential landscape architecture business and is always keen to contribute to public works, too.

Jim Lutz, professor of architecture, University of Memphis

Jim knew he wanted to be an architect by the first grade. He followed the traditional path into the profession — first, a bachelor’s; second, a master’s; third, internships, exams and licensing. After 20 years of designing commercial, residential and historical preservation projects in California, he felt he was ready for something new. He moved out to Memphis to become a professor of architecture and pass on his knowledge to the next generation. He encourages all his students to write out their own personal manifestos and stick to them.

How to Get Started Now

If becoming an architect is an interest for you, don’t feel like you have to make it your only interest right away.

Consider whether this is your ideal creative outlet — there are a lot of ways to build a career in design without ever touching a set of blueprints. If you have a more general love of design, keep your options open for a while!

If you’re starting to feel more certain that this is the road for you, focus on developing your ability to conceptualize and plan. Seek out like-minded people trying to figure out if this is the path for them and others who’ve decided it’s definitely the way they want to go. Browse architecture blogs and websites. Intern. Email your questions to architects working in fields you want to explore. And always remember: This could be the sort of career that would keep both the left and right sides of your brain engaged for your entire life!

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Roadtrip Nation is a nonprofit organization working to change the way people approach choosing a career by creating content, products and experiences that guide individuals in exploring what’s possible when they follow their interests.