How to Become a Green Architect: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a green architect. Explore the education requirements, and learn about the experience you'll need to advance your career in green architecture.

Should I Become a Green Architect?

Green architects combine their knowledge of architectural theory and design with the use of sustainable building materials and methods to design buildings and facilities that minimize negative effects on the environment. They may utilize renewable and non-toxic resources during construction and equip their building projects with unique methods of waste management, water conservation, energy efficiency, and self-sustainability.

Just like traditional architects, green architects often have to work well with clients and can work long hours when facing tight deadlines. Many work for architectural firms, while some are self-employed. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that demand for architects with 'green' design experience will be strong over the coming decade.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Professional degree, typically Bachelor of Architecture or Master of Architecture
Degree Field Architecture
Licensure and Experience Architects must be licensed in all states; voluntary certification is available through the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards
Key Skills Analytical, communication, creativity, critical-thinking, organizational skills, competence with computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) programs, visualization skills
Salary (2014) The median salary for architects in general was $74,520 in 2014

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Consider Degree Options

According to the BLS, aspiring architects typically earn a professional degree in architecture at either the bachelor's or master's degree level. In a majority of states, these professional degree programs must be accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). Many architectural students choose to enroll in the 5-year professional Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch) degree program. This program typically begins with courses in structural systems and CADD. Other introductory courses may include architectural history and building materials.

Students advancing in the major may explore more complex topics, such as integrated building systems and environmental applications. Most programs also require students to participate in design studio courses or projects. In these courses and projects students learn about a range of topics including the properties of structural materials, such as steel and concrete, and government regulations affecting building and construction.

Students who hold a bachelor's degree in a field other than architecture may consider earning the Master of Architecture (M.Arch) professional degree. According to the BLS, M.Arch programs may last 1-5 years, depending on the student's educational background. Most of a student's time in this graduate program is spent developing, modifying and completing architectural projects for advanced design studio courses.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship. According to the BLS, as a condition of licensure every state in the U.S. requires aspiring architects to work under the supervision of a registered architect for a specified period of time. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) developed an internship program to meet this training requirement. Although specific requirements may vary, completing the internship program generally requires accruing 5,600 training hours and takes about three years. Most of the training covers design and construction documentation.

Step 2: Obtain a License

All states mandate that architects providing services to the public be licensed by their local jurisdictions. Licensure requires earning a professional architectural degree, completing an approved internship program, and passing the Architect Registration Examination (ARE). Architects who have earned their license may also become certified by NCARB. Certification allows architects to more easily earn licenses in other states.

Step 3: Earn Green Certification

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program that certifies qualified individuals as LEED Green Associates. Applicants may meet eligibility requirements by being involved in a LEED-registered project or employed within the green building industry or by having completed LEED-approved courses related to green building. Qualified candidates also have the option of taking LEED courses in preparation for the certification examination. Upon successfully completing the exam, applicants are designated as LEED Green Associates.

Success Tip:

  • Gain experience in a sustainable field of work. LEED applicants typically have current or past experience in working with green building principles. Architects must meet this requirement before sitting for the examination.
  • Join Sustainable Organizations. Architectural organizations such as Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) are both coalitions that focus on ensuring the environmental friendliness of new building proposals and advocate for greater investment in sustainable architecture. For individuals looking for like-minded professionals, such organizations can be a good start for networking and potential job prospects.

Step 4: Continue Education

Green architects must continue their education to maintain both their architecture licenses and their LEED credentials. Continuing education requirements for licensure may vary by state, but generally include completing college-level courses, participating in workshops, and attending conferences. Maintenance of the LEED Green Associate credential requires completing 15 continuing education courses biennially.

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