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Become a Retail Architect: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a retail architect. Research the education requirements, training, licensure information and experience you'll need to start a career in retail architecture. View article »

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  • 0:02 Become a Retail Architect
  • 1:42 Earn a Professional Degree
  • 2:50 Study Retail Design
  • 3:45 Find a Position
  • 4:46 Take the Licensing Exam
  • 5:47 Gain Experience

Find the perfect school

Video Transcript

Become a Retail Architect

Retail architects design commercial spaces, such as shopping centers and restaurants. Their designs tend to focus on the importance of spacing and visual aesthetics to please potential retail customers. Like most architects, those who design retail spaces usually work in a climate-controlled office environment, though they may go to construction sites to make sure their designs are being correctly implemented. These professionals usually work regular office hours, but at times, they might have to work irregular hours to meet a client's deadline.

A professional degree in architecture is required, although a Bachelor of Architecture degree is most common. Licensure is required in all states. Voluntary certification is available through the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. Approximately three years of experience in a training or internship program is necessary before an architect can be licensed. Retail architects should have strong analytical, communication, visualization, and organizational skills, as well as creativity. Additionally, knowledge of computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) and building information modeling (BIM) programs is a common necessity. Architects may also use document management and graphic imaging software. Retail architects may use drafting tools and saws. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary for all architects was $76,100 as of May 2015. Let's take a look at the steps needed to become a retail architect.

Earn a Professional Degree

Architects are typically required to have a professional degree from an accredited architecture program, depending on the state in which they work. Some students accomplish this through a five-year professional Bachelor of Architecture (B. Arch.) program, but others may earn a traditional bachelor's degree in a related field along with a Master of Architecture (M. Arch.). These programs may include coursework in architectural structure, cost control, building materials, and architectural history. Practical design work is also required and a focal point in architecture programs. Master's programs may also require research projects or theses.

Success Tip:

  • Hone key communication skills. Communication skills are important for retail architects since they must present their designs and drawings and market themselves in order to gain new clients. Students in degree programs can begin to develop these important skills by taking communications courses. They may also enroll in courses that require presenting their projects and ideas to faculty and peers.

Study Retail Design

Not all architecture degree programs include retail design, so prospective retail architects may wish to take supplementary courses in another program. Taking courses in interior design or product merchandising may help students understand what retail establishments need. For example, businesses require certain color schemes, lighting, and building layouts to make customers feel comfortable and thus more likely to make purchases, so retail architects must address these aspects in their design plans.

Those who already have a professional degree may choose to earn a certificate in architectural interior design or interior architecture to get more training. Coursework can include commercial design, advanced communication skills, graphic planning, lighting design, textiles, and interior finishes.

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Find a Position

All states require their architects to be licensed. Before being eligible for the licensure exam, most states require architecture students to complete training through an internship or a field experience. Aspiring architects generally must complete three years of pre-professional training. Many individuals choose to train with leading companies in the retail architecture industry, but almost any accredited architecture experience will suffice. Internship experience accrued while in college can sometimes be applied toward licensure experience requirements.

Success Tip:

  • Become familiar with common computer programs. Although some drafting may still be done by hand, most architects primarily use CADD software to draw plans and designs. Individuals should take advantage of working with experienced professionals to gain confidence with these programs and how they are applied in real-life settings.

Take the Licensing Exam

After earning a professional degree and completing practical training, prospective retail architects must pass the Architect Registration Exam (ARE) in order to earn licensure. The ARE is given by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) and applicants must have a professional degree in architecture and the required experience in order to be eligible. There are seven key divisions covered in the ARE, including site planning and design, schematic design, and building systems.

Success Tip:

  • Maintain licensure. Most states require architects to pursue continuing education opportunities in order to maintain their licensure and keep their skills sharp. Continuing education can take many forms, including workshops and formal coursework. Retail architects should research the specific requirements in their states.

Gain Experience

Architects working for a large firm may begin leading projects and assignments with enough experience and leadership skill. Managerial or administrative promotions are potentially available to architects as well, and a graduate degree or experience in leadership or business improve their likelihood of attaining supervisory positions. Alternatively, enterprising retail architects may desire to start their own firm or begin working on a freelance basis.

A retail architect must have a BA or a B. Arch., study retail design, find work, become licensed, and gain experience.

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