How to Become a Lead Architect: Career Guide

Mar 05, 2020

Learn how to become a lead architect. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements, and find out how to start a career in architecture.

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Should I Become a Lead Architect?

Lead architects are upper-level building professionals who head design projects for public and private buildings, including homes, commercial sites and industrial structures. Their duties include meeting with clients to discuss budgeting, structural specifications, and contracts. Lead architects also draw up building plans, incorporate systems for electricity, climate-control, plumbing, ventilation, and communications, and they might supervise other architectural, engineering, and construction professionals.

Architects need creativity and the ability to think analytically and make decisions. They must have knowledge of zoning regulations and building codes, engineering science expertise, strong math skills, and advanced computer skills with computer-aided design, project management, and graphics software. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that architects earn a mean annual salary of $88,860 as of May 2018. Let's learn what it takes to become a lead architect.

Earn a Professional Degree

Step 1: Earn a Professional Degree in Architecture

Lead architects typically must hold a professional degree in architecture from schools accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). The most common educational path is a 5-year Bachelor of Architecture program, which is designed for students with no prior training in architecture. Another option is earning a Master of Architecture. These programs can take 1-5 years to complete, depending on a student's architectural education. Doctor of Architecture programs also are available.

Complete an Internship

Step 2: Complete an Internship

Graduates of architecture programs must complete an internship, which typically lasts a minimum of three years. State architectural registration boards mandate serving an internship under the supervision of a licensed architect as a precursor to taking the licensing test. Internships are usually served with architectural firms, but some internship training might take place with engineering firms or general contracting businesses. Some of the time spent in a college internship might satisfy part of the internship training requirement.

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) runs an internship program with standards that are used by most state registration boards. NCARB requires that interns gain a total of 5,600 hours of experience in project management, practice management, pre-design, and design.

Take the ARE

Step 3: Take the Architect Registration Examination

Licensing boards in all states require that aspiring architects pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), which gauges whether the applicant possesses the building design and project planning skills to work as an architect. The test's seven sections have no set order for completion and testing centers across the U.S. offer the computerized exam. To be eligible to take the ARE, applicants must meet the standards established by their state's licensing board.

Individuals can download free guidelines, test guides, and practice programs from the NCARB to prepare for the ARE. These downloads can provide aspiring architects with information about the testing process, sample questions, and study suggestions.

Get Licensed and Begin Working

Step 4: Get Licensed and Begin Working

Every state requires licensing for architects. After earning a professional degree, completing an internship, and passing the ARE, prospective architects become eligible for a state licensure. Additional licensing requirements depend upon the individual state.

After becoming licensed, architects might find entry-level employment with architectural or engineering firms. Due to an increasing number of architecture students, the BLS projects keen competition in the job market, particularly for positions with prominent firms. For this reason, new architects might benefit from starting out at smaller, less prestigious firms and working their way up to more desirable positions by showcasing their creativity and design skills. Individuals might have to work in the field for years before advancing to lead architect status. Employers often require that lead architects have a minimum of seven years of experience.

In the majority of jurisdictions, licensed architects must meet continuing education standards throughout their careers to maintain licensure. Such continuing education might be in the form of workshops, conferences, college courses, and approved self-study. Employers often pay continuing education costs for architects.

Consider Certification

Step 5: Consider Certification

Many architects obtain optional certification from the NCARB. The BLS reported that NCARB certification was held by about 39% of all licensed architects as of 2018. To be eligible for certification, candidates typically must have received a professional degree from an architecture program accredited by the NAAB, finished internship training, passed the ARE, and obtained a license. The NCARB also offers certification programs for American architects without a professional degree from a NAAB-accredited school and for foreign architects.

In summary, becoming a lead architect involves earning a professional degree in architecture, completing an internship, passing the Architect Registration Examination, securing state licensure, and gaining several years' experience.

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