Architectural Designer: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become an architectural designer. Learn about education requirements, licensure and salary potential to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Building Information Modeling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Architectural Designer?

Architectural designers develop plans that determine the appearance of buildings, such as houses, businesses, factories and malls. As they work on projects they will meet with the clients to determine what their needs for the property are, and any design preferences they may have. They will also visit the site to ensure that the design they're producing will work on the location. Once they confirm the structure specification they develop plans and they meet with their clients to ensure that they are satisfied. Architects also determine what materials will be used; they need to be familiar with building codes in order to ensure that the building will be safe, and they also need to ensure the project stays on budget.

Degree Required Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.); or Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) for those with an undergraduate degree from an unaccredited architecture program or in a field other than architecture
Training Required Architectural design internship
Key Responsibilities Designing safe, structurally sound buildings
Licensure Required via the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards
Job Growth (2014-2024) 7%* (architects)
Median Salary (2015) $76,100* (architects)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Requirements to Become an Architectural Designer?

Architectural designers -- also known as design architects -- have the artistic vision and talent to conceptualize and develop the design plans for buildings and landscapes. Since architectural designers are responsible for designing buildings in which people often live or work, it is crucial that their work be safe and structurally sound. Therefore, training requirements are extensive and consist of a college education, supervised work experience and a state licensure examination. You'll need a professional degree from a program accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB). You'll also need to complete an internship of at least three years to be eligible to take state licensing exams.

What Will I Learn In the Required Training Programs?

The industry standard education for architects is a professional Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.) degree, but professional Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) programs are available for those who have pre-professional bachelor's degrees in architecture or 4-year degrees in other fields. Architectural design studio courses are a core part of the curriculum in both programs. Required courses cover design planning and conceptualization, architectural history and construction materials as well as different types of structures. You'll learn how to create designs -- using computer-aided and manual techniques -- that adhere to legal, safety and aesthetic values and comply with client wishes.

Your architectural design internship must be completed under the supervision of a licensed architect. Internships are governed by individual states in accordance with their licensure program; however, most states follow the guidelines set forth by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). The NCARB Intern Development Program requires 5,600 hours of work as an architecture intern (www.ncarb.org). This includes 2,800 hours in specific sub-fields of architectural design, including design development, site analysis, materials research and programming, while the remaining hours are spent on project management, contract administration, professional development and relevant elective topics.

What Does the Licensure Exam Entail?

NCARB is responsible for developing the standard licensure exam used in every U.S. state. It consists of seven divisions, each representing an area of architectural operations, such as site planning and design, schematic design, structural systems and construction documents. A passing score on the exam makes you eligible to work as a licensed architect in your state. Most states require completion of continuing education workshops, conferences or courses to keep licenses in active standing.

How Much Can I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, architects earned a median yearly salary of $76,100 as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). The salary information website PayScale.com reported that design architects earned a middle total pay range of $40,324 to $99,668 annually as of October 2016.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Civil engineers and construction managers have many aspects of their work that is similar to the work that architects do. Like architects, they need a bachelor's degree. Civil engineers design things like highways, bridges or dams. They may have to meet with clients, assess their needs and ensure their projects stay on budget and meet safety code requirements. Construction managers also need knowledge of safety code regulations because they oversee the actual construction of things that are designed by architects or civil engineers. They use the plans they're provided and work on job sites, ensuring that all of the contractors involved place materials correctly and that their work is up to code. They also need to make sure that the project stays on budget.

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