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Insights The ultimate guide to starting a career as an architect

A career in architecture is based on an appreciation for the urban context we’re surrounded by as well as an understanding of the history of architecture’s influence on society. In this way, such a career path blends the arts, sciences and humanities – and it’s a popular option, with approximately 51.1 thousand people employed as architects in the UK as of 2021.

Architecture offers one of the most prestigious and varied career paths available. Successful architectural candidates need to be able to utilise their meticulous mathematical and scientific knowledge to create design solutions that can express their creativity to distinguish their ideas, as well as hold up to the rigours of construction. In addition, it’s useful for architects to learn about engineering, costs, planning permissions and building regulations to excel in this field.

While this career path requires years of education and training, qualified and practising architects are rewarded with a solid career path that remains exciting and adaptable. If you’re interested in pursuing designing and planning as a career, then continue reading to discover the various paths you can take to kickstart your career in architecture.

Where do you start if you want to be an architect?

To become a qualified architectural professional in the UK, you'll likely need five years of education and two years of further training while on the job, including completing an undergraduate course in architecture that is certified by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

Entry requirements vary but universities generally require five GCSEs at a high level (including maths, sciences and English) and three A-levels. These can be in any subject but to better your chances, they should aid your future career in architecture and ideally be based in the arts, maths and sciences. 

On top of this, it’s good to have a portfolio of creative work or practical experience to reference at the interview stage. It is worth noting that some universities have specific entry requirements that might include A-levels in English, Maths or Art – do check these requirements as early as you can.

The current top ten British universities for architecture include Bath, Cambridge, Sheffield, University College London and Nottingham.  There are also alternative routes to becoming an architect through an architecture apprenticeship or working towards the role with RIBA Studio

Qualifications needed to be an architect

Undergraduate degree

The degree you enrol in should be validated by RIBA and these typically last between 3 and 4 years. During this course, you can expect to be taught the basics of space and design, as well as computer-aided drawing, along with essential theoretical, historical, technical and material knowledge. The course, when successfully completed, will award you a Batchelor's (or in some cases a Masters) degree and will exempt you from the RIBA Part 1 examination.

After the completion of your undergraduate degree, you’ll require practical experience lasting a minimum of a year, in which you should record your experience on the Professional Experience Development Record (PEDR) website. You will be supervised by a Professional Studies Advisor (PSA) from your university and also a workplace mentor. People often choose to spend more than a year in these placements so they can gain extra work experience and a salary before embarking on Part 2.

Postgraduate degree

After the work placement, to continue your training to become an architect, aim to complete a two-year postgraduate degree in architecture — this could be a B.Arch, M.Arch or a diploma. You should consider the type of course you wish to enrol in as they have different aims and specialities — design modules are taught in specialist studios where critiques involve presenting design work to your tutor for feedback. 

Following your postgraduate degree, the usual path is to undertake a further year of work placement. This enables you to be granted more responsibility on architectural projects, as well as acquire an in-depth understanding of real-world challenges and opportunities. This placement is under the supervision of a fully-qualified architect and should be recorded and monitored on the PEDR website for it to count towards your qualification. For UK students, this work experience should take place in the EEA, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands.

At this time you should begin studying a Part 3 course that covers aspects of practice, management and law. This can be at the same university where you have previously studied, or perhaps at one closer to your place of work.

Final exam

You can undertake the RIBA's Part 3 or study at one of the RIBA-validated course providers, and you'll typically be assessed on the following elements:

  • 24 months of practical experience recorded on the PEDR website (i.e. Part 1 Year out and Part 2 Year out, as a minimum)
  • Professional CV and career evaluation
  • Case study
  • Written examination
  • Final oral examination

Having gained the Parts 1, 2 and 3 qualifications you can apply to register as an architect with the Architects Registration Board (ARB); the title 'architect' is protected by law so that the public can always be sure that they are dealing with a properly qualified architect. You also have the option to register as a chartered architect with RIBA. Then the fun is just beginning!

Benefits of working as an architect

Architects need a mix of artistic skills and scientific knowledge in order to design buildings that nod to both function and form.

Once established, architects can expect:

  • Good career progression and high earning potential 
  • The ability to choose from a selection of work sectors 
  • The opportunity to travel 
  • The choice to work for an employer or freelance 
  • Choice in a variety of working environments

Develop a career in architecture at AtkinsRéalis

We’re looking for motivated architects at all levels to be instrumental in designing new skylines and grand buildings. To make your impact on the way the world and society are shaped, apply for an architecture job with AtkinsRéalis today.

If you're still looking for more insight, why not check out our architecture content to find out what our architects are working on?