How to Become an Architect
These are the houses that Heather has built: a two-story addition onto the back of a Toronto residence. A country home in Orangeville. An 80-unit apartment complex in Toronto. And many, many more.
“I do the design work and everything, including getting permits and being on site to review the work while it’s under construction,” she says. “The only thing I don’t do is build.”
Heather Taylor, a partner in Taylor Sheps Architects in Toronto, is an architect who works mostly on additions, renovations and anything else to change, add or build onto residences.
Architect Jobs: A Typical day
If you know of anyone thinking about adding space to a kitchen or building a barn out back, chances are they’ll call an architect for help. Taylor typically budgets one year to follow a project from its conception to end. That timeline, however, depends on the building. It can take time to get a building permit or for a client to decide on a project.
Taylor worked on one assignment, a social housing project, that took 10 years from start to finish! There were environmental issues to address, funding blocks to overcome and neighbors to appease, proof that an architect doesn’t just design.
When first approached with a project idea, Taylor meets with her potential clients to see their property, hear their ideas and inventory their budgets and needs. This is called programming, which is a key component to most architect jobs.
“The greatest challenge is being an architect is that on one hand I have to give the client what they want and then to find the design in that interesting to yourself,” she says. Taylor compares her clients’ needs with what they’re allowed to build according to local zoning rules. With those components in mind, she drafts a fee proposal. If the client is satisfied at this point, Taylor will start on the architectural designs.
There are two types of designs to do: construction drawings—the location of where the toilet in a new bathroom will sit, for example—and specifications, such as the exact type of toilet they’ll use. Once the proposed building time comes near, they begin “tendering” the project, which means getting bids from construction companies to determine construction costs. The tendering process has to be fair. If one bidder requests an extension or extra information, the same must be given to all. No one bidder can have an advantage over others. “That way, it’s truly competitive,” Taylor says.
That doesn’t, however, mean the clients can’t pick out their own contractors or build the projects themselves. Tendering is only one of many competitive aspects of a architect jobs.
Successfully winning architect jobs hinges a great deal on competition, too. When the economy is slow, people tend to build fewer projects. Architects then compete with each other for what building projects or jobs are available.
How to Become an Architect: Education
To become an architect in Canada or the United States, you will need to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in architecture. Taylor went to the University of Toronto. Make sure the school you wish to attend is an accredited university in architecture; a degree in architectural technology isn’t enough to become a licensed architect. After receiving your degree, you must complete an apprenticeship as your next step to becoming licensed. You will also need to take a series of licensing exams that test everything from design skills to mechanical and electrical systems, project management to site design and your engineering know-how. You will rely on all of these skills as an experienced artchitect.
To be a licensed architect in Ontario, you must belong to the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA). With membership, you’ll have access to insurance, continuing-education classes, and the architectural community. Each local jurisdiction has its own professional organization, too. Taylor belongs to the Toronto Society of Architects in addition to the OAA.
Just as important as the buildings built are the empty spaces created between them. These are called public spaces, and their design is addressed in classes dealing with urban design. Plan to take classes concerning different materials, too. You’ll learn when to build with wood, when steel is better, and how the materials should be handled. Increasingly, you’ll also be required to take classes concerning environmental impact and how to communicate an idea within each job you design during your career as an architect.
William Taylor of Howard University’s architecture program says soon-to-be architects also learn psychology, general history, fine art, painting and sculpture.
Architect Jobs: Skills
Taylor says, architects have to be creative in many areas, not just in terms of design. You must be able to solve conflicts in the face of laws and zoning rules and come up with a cost your clients can afford. “You’re constantly balancing those kinds of things,” she says. Besides paying attention to local requirements and special needs, architects have an ethical challenge too. “We’re responsible to the public for what we design,” Taylor says. “We pay attention to things like zoning laws and rules and regulations.”
Critical reading, thinking and problem-solving skills are what William Taylor, chairman of the architecture department at Howard University in Washington, D.C., says are important to develop. “You need to be able to deal with abstract concepts, to think rigorously, to develop your intellectual muscles,” he says. “The really important thing is to develop your capacity for hard work, focus and analytical thought.”
When all the components of a building come together in a finished product, Taylor says her sense of accomplishment is strong. “Something intense has happened,” she says. “It’s a big thing. I really like being able to make something for someone.”
Architect Jobs: Salary
Architects are either paid per hour, per unit completed or a percentage of what the client will pay the construction company. An architect’s total bill comes to 5 to 15 percent of the project’s total construction cost, according to the American Institute of Architects.
Heather Taylor says the average salary for architect jobs in Canada is about $50,000, though incomes vary according to the projects on which you work. According to the latest survey by the OAA, taken in 1996, architect salaries ranged from $32,000 to $59,250 based on individual experience and licensing.
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