Getting Started in Architecture

What is Architecture?

Simply put, architecture is the practice of designing and constructing buildings. It can also be considered the method or style of a building — for example when you are referring to gothic, modern or victorian architecture. Architecture is both the art and the science behind building structures, such as buildings or bridges. The meaning of architecture is focused on designing structures that are safe, practical, sustainable, as well as aesthetic. Architecture plays a big role in the culture of cities and the way we move through the world. When you think of everything you do in a day, like waking up in a house or condo, commuting to work over a bridge, or photographing historic buildings in your city — architecture plays a key role in all of those things. Architecture work can also help improve efficiency, whether that is in an industrial building for the employees who are working within it, or it can improve efficiency in terms of energy saving products. There are so many different elements of what it means to be an architect. 


If you have an analytical mind but also enjoy the creative freedom of creating art, then architecture will be a riveting field for you. Architecture is both a science and an art, combining design with psychology and sociology elements, as well as understanding economics, and politics. For these reasons, becoming an architect is a challenging but very rewarding profession — one that allows you to be involved in different fields and various roles at once. You will play a key role in both the designing and construction of buildings. The way spaces feel inside is part of what makes architecture both tough and very special. 

The work of an architect is continuing to evolve, as society continues to shape and reshape. Right now, consumers are asking for green spaces and energy efficiency, which is a big change from what architects were being asked for two decades ago. This means that architects need to continue to be creative and innovative in their designs. Architects create spaces to serve people and communities — finding new ways to do it or leaning into new forms of creativity are both really important as a response to what we as a society have come to expect. What we want to do with the structures is also continuing to advance.

gray building and road

Architecture is all around us — it is the spaces we live in, the neighborhoods, cities and communities we move through, and the structures we inhabit. Architecture is what shapes cultures, the environments around us, and it is also foundational in how we view different cities. At the same time, architecture is what keeps us safe while we do all of these things. If you are interested in the art and science behind structures, buildings, parks, and bridges, then architecture may be the perfect field for you. Architects are the perfect mix between requiring someone to be both creative and analytical, needing both to succeed in the field.

We’ve compiled everything you’ll need to get started in architecture and if you want more, there is a comprehensive guide on how to put together your architecture portfolio.

Why is Architecture Important?

Architecture is important because it is literally all around us, affecting the spaces we use and live in, as well as how we view our neighborhoods, our cities, and our sense of community. In this profession, you are designing spaces for people, so you will need to consider the environment where you are building a space, as well as the needs of the people using the structure you create.

This field is both a science and an art, combining design with psychology, sociology, economics, and politics. For these reasons, it's considered a challenging but very rewarding profession, allowing you to tap into many different fields and roles at once.

Top of architectural building

What Is The Definition Of Architecture?

Now that you know what an architect is, you may be wondering what it is they actually do — as we’ve mentioned, an architect is a skilled professional who is highly trained in the art and science of building a structure. Since they both design it and are heavily involved in the actual construction, their role is directly tied to ensuring that the building is safe for its occupants to move through and around. An architect will need to draw out their ideas into plans and sketches that meet the needs of clients, serve the people it is meant to, and can be translated into the actual construction. That means the architect needs to take into account all aspects of a structure in these designs, such as the mechanical, plumbing, and electrical designs that will be necessary in the construction of these buildings. Ensuring that building permits and codes, zoning requirements, and necessary approval is met is all part of the job of an architect. While these details can sound granular, they play an important role in protecting the health and safety of the future occupants of the building. 

Now that we understand the technical side, we can move into what is needed on the art side. In terms of art, an architect needs to create aesthetically pleasing designs and spaces, both on the outside and on the inside. This art plays an important role in how people who use the space will feel about the space. Good architects need to understand what the building is being used for and what in the design will enable that to be possible. Everything from the mood, to productivity, to the synchronicity of the design needs to be accounted for in the design process.The architect is creating the building from top to bottom, it is all encompassing and requires you to think both big picture and all of the intricate details you will need to get there.

What are the Different Types of Architecture?

The world of architecture can be broken down into eight main sub sections: 

  1. Commercial

  2. Residential

  3. Industrial

  4. Interior design architecture

  5. Sustainable/ Green design

  6. Conservation

  7. Landscape

  8. Urban design 


Oftentimes, architects will spend their careers specializing in a specific field and really focus on honing their craft. Despite the foundations of architecture being universal, with the goal always focused on the building and design of structures, the different types of architecture all have varied needs. Each type requires a different skillset and varying knowledge for success. Each of the different types of architecture also come with their own unique challenges and the need to understand that specific sector becomes even more important — for example, think about the architectural differences behind building a house from what it would mean to build a golf course. To go into more detail of each, let’s explore the eight different types of architecture: 


Commercial architecture: This type specializes in designing buildings like retail shops, hotels, museums, office towers, public buildings, and non-residential properties. The focus of this segment is any building that is funtunctional for a large number of people. Since these projects are often large scale, they usually require a big team of architects and consultants to achieve the finished product.


Residential architecture: This type focuses on designing private homes for clients, depending on their needs as well as the environment where they live. Residential architecture is focused on dwellings — either working with developers who source a high output of similarly styled homes or private clients interested in unique, stylish homes. Oftentimes, the goal of a residential architect is to get away from the basic cookie cutter homes and design something that is both unique and trendy.


Interior design architect: Interior design architecture is a specialization that looks at the inside of a home, building, or space, from the furnishings, to the lighting to the color palette. Unlike interior designers, the architects are focused on structural components of how the design will take shape, as opposed to the decor within a space. If you enjoy the detailing and like designing the inside of a structure, this type of architecture may be for you. 


Green design architect: Also known as sustainable architects, this type focuses on designing environmentally friendly and energy efficient spaces for commercial and residential clients. It’s all about energy-efficient and eco-friendly designs. Architects in this field usually also  focus on using sustainable materials, such as capitalizing on a local supply chain in terms of where labour and material are coming from, while also developing innovative designs that fit in natural environments. 


Industrial design architect: This type is all about the function and practical use of a space, often designing warehouses, factories, storage facilities, and transportation terminals. The main goal in this type of architecture is creating a space that will streamline the operations of a business — one that focuses on input and output, as well as efficiency for their client.


Conservation architect: A conservation architect is also sometimes referred to as a restoration architect. Both of these mean that you will be preserving historically important structures, such as museums, castles, palaces, and other structures that hold significant historical interest. It’s not about designing a new building, but being able to work within the realm of a pre-existing structure. In this field, there also needs to be a foundational understanding of the legislation and regulations around renovating buildings. The main focus is to maintain the structure and integrity while preventing the structure from deteriorating. 


Landscape architect: Landscape architecture specializes in the design and development of outdoor spaces, such as gardens, parks, golf courses and public squares. Architects working in this segment should have a solid understanding of horticulture and how climate, location and greenery within an environment will impact the design. A passion for these outdoor spaces, as well as how they can be improved or maximized to their full potential is a benefit to architects who choose this specialty. 


Urban designer: This type focuses primarily on city planning, and designing an area as a whole, rather than just one building or structure. They are involved in the planning process of where new buildings should be developed within a city and also focus on improving existing infrastructure.This is another architecture specialty that is focused on large-scale projects and design, since you are both planning and developing cities, so they often work on bigger teams to complete the design.

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How Do You Get Started As An Architect?

To get started in architecture, you will need to obtain a post secondary education, you will then be required to spend hours working at a firm before you are able to officially get started. From there it is time to jump into the workforce and find yourself a job at an architecture firm — creating an online portfolio will help you reach those goals. Sounds easy right? While becoming an architect is something that is quite challenging and a very time consuming process, it can also be a very rewarding journey. An architect is a professional with an important skillset and holds a lot of responsibility when it comes to creating structures that are both safe and efficient, so becoming one does not happen overnight. Here’s how to get started:

Brown building

Get Educated

Obtaining a bachelor’s degree as well as a masters is the starting point to becoming an architect, except for the very rare few who end up just going straight into apprenticeship hours. There are many different architecture programs available at post secondary institutions across the U.S. to choose from, ones that may vary in size or specialty. Regardless of the program or school you decide to choose, it is important to make sure that it is accredited through the National Architectural Accrediting Board, or NAAB. You can find a list of all the schools that are accredited here. The education required for an architect usually takes five years with an undergraduate degree in architecture known as a B.Arch., or an undergrad plus a two-year masters program known as an M.Arch. If you choose to go the route of the masters program, you will not necessarily need an undergraduate degree in architecture as you can be accepted with a four-year bachelor degree in a related field such as science, fine arts or general arts.

Get Licensed 

Once you have your formal degree in architecture and the foundational understanding of the craft, the next step is to get licensed. A requirement of every state licensing board across the U.S. is to complete a specified amount of hours working at an architecture firm in an apprenticeship or paid internship. These hours will allow up-and-coming architects to put their foundations that were built in a classroom into practical use. Typically, these internships or apprenticeships take three years and come as a prerequisite to those looking to write their Architect Registration Exam. Once you complete your hours, you will be eligible to write your exam, obtain your license, and register in the state or province you plan to work in as an architect. Passing your exam is what allows you to become a fully licensed architect, which means that you are able to practice without supervision of a fully licensed architect — until you become a licensed architect you can still practice, however you have to do so under the supervision of an architect who is licensed and registered.

 

Create An Online Architecture Portfolio

To help you land a job at an architectural firm, creating an online portfolio will be an absolute must. An online portfolio is an important tool that will help you at any stage of your career as it is a way to show potential clients your skill set and capabilities, which can turn into professional opportunities. It is a professional way for you to share a highlight reel of your work – a digital way to showcase your skills – and it’s also a great way to network with other industry professionals. Format has developed an easy-to-follow and comprehensive guide specifically focused on creating the perfect online architecture portfolio website.Some key takeaways from the how-to guide are to include examples of your best work, make sure that there is a way for people to contact you, share information about yourself, as well as highlight any achievements or accolades you’ve received. The goal of your online architecture portfolio is to attract the attention of potential firms or clients and should be used as a way to launch or improve your career. You should be selective and thoughtful about what work you are going to include, really focusing on making sure you are highlighting the best of the best. Always remember — quality over quantity when it comes to deciding what should be highlighted in your online portfolio. To help your online architecture portfolio standout from the crowd, follow these tips, tricks, and examples.

Jump Into a Job

Once you have your degrees, are fully licensed, and have your online portfolio up and running, it is time to secure yourself a job as an architect. Through your education and your hours spent at a firm as an intern, you will have had some time to think about what type of architecture you want to get into and then you’ll know what types of firms you want to apply to. Oftentimes, the hours you spend at a firm through your internship or apprenticeship could lead to a full-time position or it can lead to contact that will help you get onto your feet. Networking and getting your name and work out there for the world to see are two things that will be very beneficial to landing a full-time job as an architect.

How Much Do Architects Get Paid?

Your salary depends on a few factors, including where you are working from or living, and what type of architecture you specialize in. Most architects make a decent to high living wage and often can increase their yearly earnings as they move up in a firm or become more well known in their specialization. On average, architects typically earn an average salary of $80,000 USD, though this amount can be higher based on your experience and specific area of focus.

What Makes an Architect Successful?

Most architects will possess several key skills, including design knowledge and education, building know-how, and structural expertise. They will also have soft skills like problem-solving, strong attention to detail, and analytical thinking. Excellent customer service and communication skills are also valuable tools to have, as you will often need to work closely with clients or a design team to bring a concept to life.

In addition to these qualities, many architects find success by having a strong architecture portfolio website that highlights their best work as a designer. Your online portfolio can be a great way to share your work with potential employers or to land an apprenticeship at a firm. Let's look at how you can build a stunning architecture portfolio to launch your career in this exciting, dynamic field.

What Should an Architecture Portfolio Include?

When it comes to creating an effective online architecture portfolio, take some time to think about how you can make it the most engaging and convincing to potential clients or firms. There are a few best practices for an architecture portfolio website, including:

Showcase Your Best Work

Architecture portfolios work best when you are selective and thoughtful about what work you are going to include. Rather than showcase your work with no curation or intent, go through your designs and concepts to find the best of the best. Potential clients and architecture firms want to be wowed by what you have to offer; a lukewarm response won't land you that coveted apprenticeship spot!

Maybe there are designs for a building you are proud of, or an interior design concept you feel really highlights your best skills. Perhaps there is a series of designs you created that mark a distinct shift in your usual approach or demonstrate your ability to think outside the box. Go for work that tells visitors about your thought process when it comes to designing spaces and gives them a good sense of who you are as a designer.

What Are Some Examples Of Architecture Portfolios?

Creating an online portfolio to share your architectural work is an important part of getting started in architecture. This vehicle will help you get your architecture career started and will also continue to propel it forward as you progress in your career. Format has a number of stunning templates available to create your online architecture portfolio. We’ve compiled three different examples of how you can customize these templates into a professional architecture portfolio, and for even more inspiration you can also see more here


Kat Alves

Kat is an architecture and design photographer based in Northern California who focuses on commercial and residential spaces. Kate aims to represent space in the most intriguing way, using natural lighting and focusing on modern or fresh design. Her portfolio was created using the template obsidian, which is best for highlighting a few very good images and is perfect for portfolios where no two images are alike. 

Template used: Obsidian


Marco Richter

Marco Richter used the template Horizon Left to showcase his portfolio as a professional German photographer with over 25 years of experience in commercial photography. This template allows viewers to see your images in a film strip layout where you scroll through horizontally. There is a left-side menu as well as captions to add context to the images you choose to share.

Template used: Horizon Left 


Basel Almisshal

Basel Almisshal is an award winning architect, photographer, and creative director who has taught both photography and architectural design at the post secondary level. Basel’s approach includes an appreciation for detail, design intent, light and shadow, and the structural intricacy of the built environment. Basel used the ora template to create his online portfolio, which will arrange your images in a single column which allows for a vertical scroll. This template works best when you are looking to highlight a few of your best works.

Template used: Ora

Use High-Quality Architecture Photography

Many architecture portfolio websites will include images of recent work, displaying them front and center on the site. As you put your architect portfolio together, make sure you are using photography of your work that is high-quality, clean, and as impressive as your designs. Using well-shot photographs of your designs will ensure your design portfolio looks professional and impressive to visitors.

Taking photographs of architecture is a skill in itself, so you may decide to hire an architecture photographer to do this for you, or brush up on your shooting abilities to get it right.

Make Your Architecture Portfolio Easy to Use

Functionality is another important aspect of strong architecture portfolio websites. Think about how you can create a positive user experience for visitors when they navigate your site. Make it easy for visitors to access your work in one to two clicks, and check that your design portfolio is engaging and welcoming. A complicated, cluttered architecture portfolio will turn off site visitors and could cost you a client or project. Instead, keep your website clean and easy to navigate so you get as many clicks as possible.

How Many Pages Should an Architecture Portfolio Have?

When it comes to putting your portfolio website together, you may be overwhelmed with how to organize it so it feels welcoming and cohesive. There are several key pages your portfolio online should include, such as:

A Portfolio Page

This is the most important page on your website, acting as your visual cv. This page should include the projects you are proud of, highlighting your best designs in an easy to access format.

Depending on the website platform you use for your website, you should be able to lay out your portfolio page using different templates or themes. Some architects decide to go for a template that uses a grid layout for their portfolio page, showcasing their work as the main page that a site visitor will see. Others may decide on a scrolling layout, where portfolio designs appear in a tidy row or stacked on top of one another.

Regardless of the layout you choose, this page should collect your most impressive projects in one place and represent you as a designer.

An About Me Page

Your architecture website isn't just about sharing your designs, it's also about telling site visitors a bit about who you are and why you've chosen this field of study. Your about m page should highlight your educational background and work experience, such as degrees or certificates you've earned in architecture as well as any apprenticeships.

Some portfolio websites will also include an artist statement, which highlights why you gravitate to specific projects and where your passion for your work comes from.

A Contact Page

Your online portfolio is also a great way for you to reach out and offer to connect with potential employers or firms looking for an apprentice. Create a Contact Page with a contact form that is short and easy to fill out, inviting connection and collaboration with visitors to your online portfolio. You can also include your email address to make networking that much easier.

Link to Your Social Media Accounts

If you use Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media accounts on a professional level, be sure to include links to these platforms on your portfolio website. This way, visitors can get a sense of who you are and keep up to date on your latest projects. Most website builders will make it easy for you to display links to your social media accounts on your site in a few clicks.

Update Your Portfolio Regularly

An up-to-date current website will let visitors know that you are always working and improving your craft. Make sure you add to your portfolio website regularly to demonstrate your growth as a designer and highlight your latest work.

Another benefit of updating your portfolio on the regular is that search engines will often respond positively to your updates, and take notice of any fresh content you add to your website. Search engines will then bump your website up on search results when potential clients search for an architect in their area or a particular architecture type.

Round brown building

Ready to Create an Online Architecture Portfolio?

Now that you have a thorough understanding of the steps needed to create an architecture portfolio website, you might feel ready to build your own so you can further your design career. Make sure you go for a web-builder like Format, which offers website templates created especially for architecture, as well as add-ons like a blog to share your artistic journey with others and an online store to sell prints of your designs. 

How Do You Price Your Architecture?

On average, architects who work full time for a firm typically earn a median salary of $80,000 USD, though the same as with any industry, this amount can be higher based on your experience and specific area of focus. Architecture salaries can be found in the mid $100,000 USD range, however, this number is varied based on a number of different factors including the industry, company, and the state you are living in. For freelance architects, the average rate can range from $100 to $250 per hour. These numbers vary depending on the size and scope of the project you are working on, as well as the type of architecture it is. For example, landscape architects, industrial architects, and extreme architects — who develop buildings in extreme climates, such as Antarctica — are usually on the higher side of the spectrum in terms of salaries among architecture types. To dig into how to price architecture work, we’ve broken it down into freelance as well as a full-time salary:

Freelance Architects 

Similar to other freelance positions, a freelance architect will have the option to offer an hourly rate to clients or a flat rate for the project. One of the most important tips to a freelance architect is — if you are choosing to go with a flat rate for your services, make sure you accurately estimate the amount of time a project will take you. It can be challenging to do, however, you can experience a big financial hit if you underestimate the amount of time a particular project will require. Accurately being able to estimate how much time a project will take is something that comes with practice and experience, so getting it right off the hop is nearly impossible. To help you to navigate this, you should lean on your network of peers. Be sure to have very thorough conversations with your clients, but you should also ask other architects with more experience who can help you estimate how much time you’ll need for a specific a project. Their knowledge will be invaluable to you in the beginning of your career as you navigate setting prices, etc.

Setting a Salary

Securing a full time job with a salary is a very common way for architects to fill their bank accounts. The firm you work for, as well as the size and scope of the projects you work on will impact your salary as an architect. On average, large firms tend to offer higher salaries than what you would see if you took a job with a smaller firm, mostly because a larger firm would have a larger volume of clients, work on larger projects, and secure more lucrative jobs.Some important tips to consider would be to do research on the salaries offers by different firms and ask other architects you know for what a competitive salary is for your region and specialization. Since the state you live in and the size of the firm will heavily impact that salary, it’s important to know what a competitive offering is. Also, don’t be afraid to negotiate your salary. You also may put value on things that are not necessarily monetary, such as the option to work from home or having a flexible schedule of when to complete your hours. These conversations should all be covered in your salary negotiation and you should take time to figure out how much value you put on them. Remember that your salary will change over time — as you progress through your career and gain more experience your salary will increase. You may take on more responsibility, leadership or management roles, all of which will increase your salary.

By now you should have a strong understanding of what architecture is, and the steps to embark on this career. Beyond earning the proper degrees, and gaining relevant work experience, one of the keystone things you can do as an aspiring architect is to have a strong portfolio so prospective employers, and potential clients can see the quality of your work. With Format has a huge selection of powerful and visually striking templates so you can easily set up a  portfolio and start building your career.

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