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How to Get Into Design & Architecture: A Comprehensive Guide

Updated: Jan 2

So you want to design buildings? Are you interested in becoming an architect or architectural designer? Do you have a vision of a better world that you’d like to see? Design allows you to create spaces that we inhabit and influence the moods, habits and protection of us all. Let's talk about where you should start.

It's important to understand the education and career path options available with an architecture degree. To become a licensed architect, most states require a professional degree in architecture from a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). This typically includes a five-year Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch) program or a two-year Master of Architecture (M.Arch) program for those with a non-architecture bachelor's degree.

Once you have completed an accredited program, you will need register with the National Council of Registration Boards (NCARB) to take and pass the Architect Registration Exam (ARE) to become a licensed architect. It would be wise to do this, whether or not you decide to get licensed. At least you will have your hours documented as there will be a required amount of hours of architectural experience to be eligible. Once those hours are completed, you can take the 7 exams required to get your license. However, there are many rewarding architectural design career paths that can be taken that don’t actually require licensure.

But where should you earn your degree? Admissions is an interesting process. The key is to build a sound portfolio that shows that you can communicate your ideas. Create a project for yourself. Design your dream home or design a building for a respectable cause. You will be required to write an essay as well so be authentic and clear on why you want to get accepted into an architectural school. The United States has many great architectural schools with accredited programs. I would focus mainly on schools that are accredited, if possible, so you don't have to do an additional 2 years of schooling for a Masters degree. Look at Bachelor's of Architecture programs, those will be the most comprehensive and most applicable to becoming a licensed architect. Some of the top programs include the University of Southern California, Rice University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of California Berkeley, and Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCi-ARC). These schools offer a variety of programs and specializations to choose from, allowing you to tailor your education to your interests and career goals. I do recommend that you choose a university that offers more to you than just an education. All work and no play is not good for the soul. The network you build will take you much further than a degree. I almost attended Florida A&M actually. I got rejected by UT, my first choice. If I didn't get accepted into USC, FAMU would have been my alma mater. The list of schools that I applied to were the University of Texas - Austin (first choice), Florida A&M, Baylor, USC & University of Texas - Arlington.

So how do you succeed in architectural school? Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Stay organized and manage your time effectively. Architecture school is very demanding, with many projects and deadlines to juggle in addition to having a real social life. All-nighters are inevitable. Make sure to plan ahead and prioritize your tasks to stay on top of your workload.

  • Get hands-on experience. Many schools offer internships or study abroad programs that can provide valuable experience and help you develop your skills. Take advantage of these opportunities to learn from professionals and gain real-world experience.

  • Stay curious and ask questions. Architecture is a constantly evolving field, with new technologies and methods being developed all the time. Don't be afraid to ask questions and explore new ideas to stay up-to-date and expand your knowledge.

  • Be collaborative and work well with classmates. You will not get along with everyone, naturally but Architecture is a team sport, and you will need to work with others to complete projects and design buildings. The better you are with communication and rallying your team to meet a common goal, the better your results will be. Develop your communication and collaboration skills to ensure that you can effectively work with others.

  • Pick up an entrepreneurial class and a public speaking class, if possible. Always keep your hustle. Don’t study architecture to work for someone else. You have a unique perspective and vision, put in the work so that others can see it too. Watch the Futur on Youtube. They give a lot of wisdom on the business of design.

  • Study the paths of other successful Architects / Designers

  • Look for ways to travel during the summers (Study Abroad) I wish I did.

  • Learn how to present your projects effectively. Learn to storyboard and express yourself properly. The skills you develop can help you create more streams of income for yourself.

  • Reflect on the architectural styles that interest you. The sooner you develop your own style, the faster you can determine your own future niche

  • Research Case Studies from around the world. Get into the mind of successful architects and why they made specific design decisions. Apply the information you’ve learned to your own beliefs and create your own style. Some of my favorite architects are Mies Van Der Rohe, David Adjaye, Antoni Gaudi, Whippel Russel Architects, Tadao Ando.

  • Take advantage of creating relationships with your professors. You never know who could be your next friend, business partner or possible employer. They could give you an internship or even just be a mentor as your progress in your field of interest.

What skills do you need to succeed in architecture school and establish a career in architecture? Here are some key skills to focus on:

  • Creativity and problem-solving. As an architect, you will need to come up with creative solutions to complex design challenges. Develop your ability to think outside the box and come up with innovative solutions.

  • Detail. Architecture requires significant attention to detail. A structure is composed of so many pieces and parts that it could make the uninformed head spin.

  • Technical skills. Architecture involves a lot of technical knowledge and skills, including writing, sketching, drafting, modeling, and building construction. Make sure to develop your technical skills to be able to effectively create and communicate your designs.

  • Building Codes. Get yourself familiar with the International Building Codes. The building codes update every 3 years. It would be wise to familiarize yourself with the codes applicable to your particular state. California & New York are the most comprehensive and complicated codes so if you learn those, building in other states won't be as complicated.

  • Read. There are a few books that really helped me on my journey within the architectural field (The Visual Handbook of Building and Remodeling, Building Construction Illustrated, Architect and Entrepreneur, The Win Without Pitching Manifesto, The Purple Cow, The Architecture Reference + Specification Book)

  • Stay Current w/ Design Trends (Behance, Archdaily)

  • Build Your Credibility. Get licensed or get certified in Building Design.

  • Communication and collaboration. As mentioned above, architecture is a team sport. You will need to be able to effectively communicate your ideas, collaborate and manage others to complete projects. Develop your communication and collaboration skills to ensure that you can work well with others.

In addition to these skills, it's also important to explore architectural computer programs. These programs can help you create, visualize, and communicate your designs more effectively. Some of the top programs to explore include AutoCAD, Revit, SketchUp, Rhino, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe After Effects. These programs can be complex, so make sure to take the time to learn and master them to be able to use them effectively. Those skills are VERY transferrable. Youtube will be your best friend.

Here are 5 architectural design business niches to look into:

  • Affordable Housing Design for low-income families

  • Small Home or Apartments that make the most efficient use of space (Look into Modular, Tiny Home & Shipping Container Home Design)

  • Eco-friendly / sustainable / biophilic building design

  • Accessible / inclusive buildings for people with disabilities

  • Commercial architecture (office buildings, retail spaces & restaurants)

So what advice do prominent architects have for aspiring architects? Here are some quotes to inspire and guide you on your journey to becoming a licensed architect:

  • "The role of the architect, I think, is to create an environment that is not just a physical environment but also a human environment." - Zaha Hadid

  • "Think outside the box and come up with creative solutions to complex design challenges." - Frank Gehry

  • "Be curious, ask questions, and never stop learning to stay up-to-date and expand your knowledge." - Bjarke Ingels

  • "Take advantage of internships and study abroad programs to gain valuable experience and develop your skills." - Renzo Piano

  • "Be open-minded and embrace new ideas and technologies to stay at the forefront of the field." - Rem Koolhaas

  • "Remember that architecture is about creating environments for people, and strive to create designs that are both aesthetic and socially impactful." - David Adjaye

  • "We should attempt to bring nature, houses, and human beings together in a higher unity." - Mies Van Der Rohe

Remember what you put in is what you get out.

If you have more questions, reach out!



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