Institutional Login

Careers in Architecture: An Overview

Architecture is the art and science of designing buildings, or, more accurately and broadly, the built environment, which can range from a house addition to a plan for a city. Behind that simple definition, however, lies an enormously diverse profession with many career paths and a variety of roles to play. Then, too, there are a number of paraprofessional jobs within firms or in related fields, offering many other options to those not pursuing a professional university degree.

So one of the first things you might ask yourself is, where do you imagine yourself in, say, ten years? You might also think about whether you are more academically or vocationally focused, and whether you consider yourself more artistically or technically inclined, or both.

Much like law or medicine, architecture is a learned profession whose practitioners must be licensed by the state, or states, where they practice. Only persons who have passed their state’s architectural licensing exams and have been granted a license may call themselves “architect;” others working in the field who remain unlicensed would be identified as “architectural designers.” Many people spend their entire careers participating in the planning and design of buildings without ever becoming architects.

So what’s the difference? Why bother to become an architect?

There are two reasons to become an architect: (1) professional credibility and status; and (2) the ability to establish an independent design practice and assume legal and contractual responsibility for most kinds of projects.

Only a licensed architect may assume legal, contractual responsibility for the design of buildings other than those noted below. Designers and technicians who are NOT licensed as architects may work on such buildings, but only as employees under the direct supervision of a licensed architect.

The California “Architects Practice Act of 2008” defines, by way of exemption from its provisions, the limited range of structures non-architects may legally design. (See sidebar.) All other structures must be designed by a licensed architect or registered engineer.

If you do not aspire to design anything more than private residences or agricultural buildings, or if you have no desire to ever work for yourself, then you may not need to become an architect to achieve your goals.

In any case, career paths in architecture and its related fields fall into two general categories: professional and vocational.