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Commercial Architect: Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career requirements for commercial architects. Get the facts about degree requirements, salary, licensure and job outlook to determine if this is the right career for you.

What Is a Commercial Architect?

Commercial architects develop designs for commercial properties. They focus on designing plans for buildings that will be used for retail stores or other commercial purposes. While a townhouse complex may be designed by a residential architect, a shopping mall would be designed by a commercial architect. Commercial architects meet with their clients to determine their budget, needs and preferences for the project. They then begin the process of developing a design plan for the project to accommodate those needs and preferences. They may determine which types of building materials to use, and they need to ensure that they make choices that keep the project on budget. Architects primarily work in offices, although they will visit work sites to ensure that that construction is following the design plans and progressing as expected.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Architecture
Key Skills Creativity, computer literacy, communication, analysis
Licensure/Certification Licensure is required; certification is typically optional but may be required for state licensing reciprocity
Job Growth (2018-2028)8% (for all architects, except landscape and naval)*
Median Salary (2018) $79,380 (for all architects, except landscape and naval)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Types of Degrees Are Available in Architecture?

To become an architect, you'll need to earn a professional degree in architecture. Two common options are the Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.) and the Master of Architecture (M.Arch). A professional bachelor's degree typically takes five years to complete and is intended for incoming undergraduates with no experience in architecture.

Professional master's degrees in architecture are intended for those who've completed a bachelor's degree in a related field or a non-professional degree in architecture, such as a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science. An M.Arch may take 1-5 years to complete, depending on the experience you have in architecture. These degrees aren't offered online.

Degree programs in architecture may train you in freehand drawing and drawing systems, design, the history of architecture, architectural analysis and site planning. You might also learn about environmental systems, building technology, materials science, structural elements and how architecture functions as a cultural institution. Most architecture programs also offer some training in business areas as well, and you may be able to find joint degrees combining professional architecture degrees with a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

What Certification Do I Need?

Before being allowed to sit for architectural licensing exams, you must complete an internship-based training period of three years or more. All states following the training and internship guidelines established by American Institute of Architects and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), which require you to complete this training under the supervision of a licensed architect. Thereafter, you can sit for the Architect Registration Exam (ARE), which is required by all states. Each state sets its own requirements for the administration of this test, including registration, corporate practice and the exam itself. You can't take this exam online. The test consists of seven divisions, all of which must be passed in order to be licensed. The divisions are as follows:

  • Programming, planning and practice
  • Site planning and design
  • Building design and construction systems
  • Structural systems
  • Building systems
  • Construction documents and services
  • Schematic design

What Can I Expect From the Job Market?

The employment of architects (except those in naval and landscape architecture) was expected to increase 8% between 2018-2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). This is as fast as the average projected growth for all jobs. Growth in this industry will be driven largely by demographic trends, including growing populations, increasing numbers of baby boomers needing long-term health facilities and aging education buildings.

The median annual salary for architects, according to the BLS, was $79,380 as of May 2018. The highest earners in this field made $138,120 or more, while the lowest made less than $48,020.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Landscape architects, construction managers and civil engineers are all professionals who have parts of their work that are similar to a commercial architect's work. Landscape architects develop design plans for outdoor spaces, such as parks. Like commercial architects, they meet with clients, develop design plans, and have to stay on budget. Construction managers oversee the construction of structures designed by commercial architects. They are responsible for keeping the projects on schedule and on budget, and work with the design plans created by commercial architects to ensure that all of the contractors follow the blueprints and use the correct materials. Dams, bridges and highways are examples of the things that civil engineers design. Like commercial architects, they have to meet with clients, assess their needs and budget and develop plans to accommodate the needs and budget for the project. Landscape architects, construction managers and civil engineers all need a bachelor's degree.