Architecture - Is it for me?
If you are a self-motivated person with a sense of purpose, who cares about people and about the environment then you already have the most basic qualities an architect needs. Architecture also has a lot to offer anyone who is creative and wishes to make a positive mark on the world. It is a profession that attracts those who are passionate about it and, because it is highly rewarding, willing to make a very substantial commitment to it. Striking it rich as an architect is possible although unlikely. Even many of the best architects get by on a relatively modest salary.
What is an architect?
Architects design buildings, outdoor spaces and other structures. Society looks to architects to define new ways of living and working and in doing so to make habitable places that will help shape the environment of the future, including for example the architecture of our homes, our workplaces, schools, hospitals, leisure facilities, clubs, stations, airports, bridges and oil rigs.
Skills I will need
Architecture requires a fascination with buildings, how they are made and how they fulfil the needs of those who use them. Two and three dimensional drawings, often computer generated, are needed to communicate how a building will look and how it is constructed before it is constructed. However, the architectural process requires an understanding of the bigger picture that shapes the places around us. To be able to draw a building it is first necessary to learn how to design a building and the influences that shape that process. This specialised design skill of the architect is learned at university and through experience.
Architects have a broad range of skills that are usually not realised until they complete their university education and have the benefit of experience in practice. These skills do not directly equate with knowledge learned in primary or secondary education. It is for this reason amongst others that architectural education takes a minimum of five years of academic education (and an additional two years of practical experience).
At the core of an architect's skill is the ability to visualise or imagine forms in three dimensions. It is often thought that architects must be artistic, however they must also have mathematical and scientific knowledge.
Architects must also speak in public and present proposals to critical audiences. At architectural school it is necessary to stand up in public and present your ideas to a critical audience of fellow students and design tutors. This scenario is a foretaste of the need for architects in their professional lives to persuade others of the value of their design work. This is often done in public, whether to clients, to local people, amenity groups or even under the scrutiny of press and politicians.
The architect's office
The day of the architect working exclusively at the drawing board is passing. Many architects offices work exclusively on computers using a broad range of software including computer aided design, 3D modelling, photographic imaging and desktop publishing.
Architects practices come in many sizes and locations. Many work in private practice as individuals or in small practices of perhaps 4- 6 people. However large practices can have as many as 200 architects working together, in teams, on very large projects. Some architects work in-house for large companies such as NetworkRail, BAA or development companies. Only a few architects are now employed by local authorities, the Scottish Executive or central government. Many architects work abroad where a UK training in architecture and UK practice is widely respected.
The roles of young architects in practice vary enormously. A young architect in a small practice may have several built designs under their belt in his or her first years. By comparison a young architect in a large practice may be refining the design of a highly technically demanding and sophisticated element of a single building, perhaps the central core of a hospital, for a number of years.
Education in architecture
The design, drawing and visualisation skills of the architect are practised, in the first place, at the drawing board in architecture schools. Studio-based design projects continue to be the core element of an architecture students coursework. You would also be writing a series of complex essays on subjects such as design theory and the history of architecture.
Having completed an education in architecture you would have gained the following range of skills and knowledge:
This goes beyond the intuitive process that characterises the work of a painter or a sculptor. It relies upon a logical system of analysis and deduction to handle the large number of variables inherent in a built proposal. The process requires aesthetic sensibility, a demanding imagination and inventiveness.
The designer must be a trained observer.
The architect must understand the properties of materials, manufacturing processes, building structures and construction sequence.
The architect must understand how light, sound and ventilation affect people and the building fabric. An understanding is also required of energy conservation, re-cycling, and the sustainable supply of building material.
Organisation, management and communication
A high order of organising ability is needed to co-ordinate the activity of a team of broadly skilled construction specialists. A high order of ability is also required in oral, written and graphic communication.
These skills are relevant in many other sectors within and outside the construction industry and a training in architecture can lead to a great variety of different careers.
What do I do next?
... to develop my creative skills?
Take any opportunity to construct or to build with your own hands.
Develop your visual awareness at home and on holiday by recording anything that you see which you find particularly interesting. Try to develop a range of methods of recording, for example sketching, measurement, modelling, video. It is best not to rely on photography alone.
Develop your critical awareness. Learn to evaluate your observations of the built environment. Seek out and listen to the views of others then compare them with your own views.
Practice three-dimensional sketching, measured drawing and modelling.
Read about architecture. You should find this enjoyable. Try to concentrate on books on contemporary architecture, available at good bookshops and libraries. These will give you an insight into current practice. There are also a number of very good periodical magazines for architects: Prospect; Architectural Review; Architecture Today; RIBA Journal and the Architects’ Journal.
... to decide which subjects to choose?
Consider in advance whether you are taking suitable academic exams at Ordinary, Higher or A-level. You should aim for a balance of arts and sciences subjects at SCE Higher or A level. The following subjects are particularly relevant: maths and/or physics; english; art and design. The following subjects are helpful but not essential: chemistry, geography, history and languages It is equally important that you take subjects that you are interested in and know that you are good at.
… to find out more about a career in architecture?
Try to get work experience in an architect’s office or on a building site if you can. Take part in a workshop organised by local architects or the RIAS (Royal Institute of Architects in Scotland). Please ask your careers adviser or check the RIAS website for details. The RIAS is based in Edinburgh and holds an annual one-day careers event in June.
Visit the RIAS website.
For information on related careers in the construction industry visit www.bconstructive.co.uk
... to apply for university entry?
Visit the Education section of the RIAS website. This includes a list of Architecture Schools in Scotland. Visit the RIBA websites: www.riba.org (click on ‘education’ then ‘becoming an architect’). This includes information on Architecture Schools throughout the UK. It is important that you take time to select the right architecture schools to apply to since they vary considerably in their approaches and entry requirements. You should contact universities directly to arrange a visit or to order a prospectus.
Please note that it is preferable, for entry to architecture school, to be able to sketch and draw freehand. The necessary technical drawing and design skills are taught at university, however some schools of architecture require a portfolio of work to demonstrate your early creative skills and visual awareness.