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Becoming an Architect

How do I become an Architect?

In Ireland the title ‘architect’ is protected by legislation.  This means that if a person wishes to describe themselves as an architect they must be admitted to the Register for Architects.

There are a number of routes to registration, but typically if you are studying in Ireland you will:

1) Graduate with a prescribed degree in architecture [see "Studying Architecture in Ireland" below];
2) Obtain at least two years of approved postgraduate professional training;
3) Successfully complete a prescribed examination in professional practice [see "Prescribed Examinations in Professional Practice" below].

Duration of Studies

Prescribed degree courses in architecture take five years of full-time study. Many students take a year out for practical experience between the third and fourth years. So the whole process, from start to full professional qualification, generally takes seven to nine years.
Sometimes the five years of study are split into a three-year course followed by a two-year course, or a four-year course followed by a one-year course. Graduates of the three-year or four-year courses in Architecture are not eligible for any class of RIAI membership or for Registration.

Studying Architecture in Ireland

In Ireland prescribed degrees in architecture are awarded after the full five years of study have been completed. The following Schools of Architecture offer prescribed degrees in Architecture:

University College Dublin
School of Architecture, University College Dublin, Richview, Clonskeagh, Dublin 14. Tel: +353 1 716 2757 Website: http://architecture.ucd.ie. This degree is accredited by the RIAI.

Dublin Institute of Technology
Dublin School of Architecture, Faculty of the Built Environment, Dublin Institute of Technology, Bolton Street, Dublin 1. Tel: +353 1 402 3000 Website: www.dit.ie. This degree is accredited by the RIAI.

Waterford Institute of Technology
Department of Architecture, School of Engineering, Waterford Institute of Technology, Cork Road, Waterford. Tel: +353 51 302035 Website: www.wit.ie. This degree is accredited by the RIAI.

University of Limerick
School of Architecture, University of Limerick (SAUL), Limerick. Tel: +353 61 213438 Website: www.ul.ie/architecture. This degree is accredited by the RIAI.

University College Cork / Cork Institute of Technology
Cork Centre for Architectural Education (CCAE), 9/10 Copley St, Cork. Tel +353 21 429 8401 Fax: +353 21 429 8419. Email: architecture@ucc.ie. Website: www.ucc.ie/en/architecture/. This degree, run jointly by UCC and CIT, is accredited by the RIAI.

Studying Architecture in Northern Ireland

You may consider studying architecture in Northern Ireland. The Architects' Registration Board (ARB) is the statutory regulator and competent authority for architects in the UK.

Queen’s University Belfast
School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering, Queen's University Belfast, 2 Lennoxvale, Belfast BT9 5BY. Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 4198 Website: www.qub.ac.uk. This course is accredited by the Architects Registration Board UK and the Royal Institute of British Architects.

University of Ulster
School of Art & Design, University of Ulster, York Street, Belfast BT15 1ED. Tel: +44 8700 400 700 Website: www.arts.ulster.ac.uk. This course is accredited by the Architects Registration Board UK and the Royal Institute of British Architects.

There are over thirty recognised schools of architecture in the UK. You can get a listing, with contact information for all recognised UK schools, from the Architects Registration Board (ARB), 8 Weymouth Street, London, W1W 5BU. Tel: +44 20 7580 5861; Fax: +44 20 7436 5269. Email: info@arb.org.uk. Website: www.arb.org.uk. For further information on the requirements for Registration as an Architect in the UK see www.arb.org.uk.

Further information on entry to the Register of Architects with a UK recognised qualification is available in the Admissions section of the RIAI website.

Studying Architecture in the EU

You may consider studying Architecture in another EU State. Architecture Qualifications currently recognised by the EU are listed in the Directive 2005/36/EC on the Recognition of Professional Qualifications http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/qualifications/index_en.htm.

Further information on entry to the Register of Architects with an EU recognised qualification is available in the Admissions section of the RIAI website.

Prescribed Examinations in Professional Practice

The examination in professional practice is the final stage in qualifying for admission to the Register of Architects and to RIAI Membership.  In Ireland there are currently two prescribed Examinations in Professional Practice available to architectural graduates.

University College Dublin
School of Architecture, University College Dublin, Richview, Clonskeagh, Dublin 14. Tel: +353 1 716 2757 Website: http://architecture.ucd.ie. This examination is accredited by the RIAI.

Dublin Institute of Technology
Dublin School of Architecture, Faculty of the Built Environment, Dublin Institute of Technology, Bolton Street, Dublin 1. Tel: +353 1 402 3000 Website: www.dit.ie.  This examination is accredited by the RIAI.

Points and Subject Requirements 

Points and subject requirements for Architecture vary from year to year and from one school of architecture to another. Some schools of architecture require you to submit a portfolio; others don’t. You can get all of the up-to-date information from the Central Applications Office (CAO) website: www.cao.ie.

For schools of architecture in Northern Ireland check the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) website: www.ucas.ac.uk.

You should also visit the website of any course you are considering to check out the details.

Most schools of architecture also have procedures for admission of mature students (candidates who are 23 or over on 15 October of the year of entry) and students transferring or stepping up from other courses. These procedures vary depending on the school of architecture and the category of candidate. They will usually involve submitting a detailed CV, records of any courses or examinations taken and any merits, distinctions or other awards the candidate has gained. A substantial track record of relevant work experience will be helpful and an interview and portfolio will certainly be required. In all cases the school's objective will be to assess the candidate's aptitude, interest and motivation, and their ability to complete the course successfully. Competition is stiff and very small numbers are admitted into courses in architecture by this route.

So What Subjects Should I Do in my Leaving Cert?

If you want to keep your options as open as possible, a good combination would be English, Maths, Irish, Art, Physics and another language. But provided that you have English and Maths and enough points you should be eligible for admission into some schools.

What about Construction Studies or Technical Drawing? These subjects will not give you any advantage. Most schools of architecture prefer you to get a good general education in a broad range of subjects before concentrating on architectural topics; and architectural drawing and building construction are taught from foundation level in every architecture course. In addition, the kind of drawing skills required by an architect are different from those taught in Technical Graphics. However, if you really enjoy these subjects, do well at them, and reckon that they will give you your best chance of getting the points you need, then go ahead.

And What About a Portfolio?

What do you do if a portfolio is required and you haven't done Art for your Leaving Certificate? Technical Graphics work alone will not make a suitable portfolio. If you did Art for the Junior Cert you could include a small number of items done at that time, but recent examples of work done in your spare time or during summer holidays are more useful. If you have an art, craft or design related hobby - sketching, photography, woodwork, ceramics, for example - include samples or photographs. Many community colleges and colleges of art or design around the country offer Summer Portfolio Preparation courses. If you are not doing Art at school it may be a good idea to take one of these. If you do this two summers in succession you will have plenty of time to develop and to build up a good portfolio. Another option, if you are taking a year out to work, perhaps, between Leaving Cert and Third Level is to do a part-time evening Portfolio Preparation course. This has the added benefit that you will be one year older when you start your degree course, and maturity is a distinct advantage for a student of architecture.

Interviews do not allow a lot of time for looking at your portfolio, so quality is more important than quantity.

Getting your Degree or Diploma

The demands an architecture course makes on students are different to those of most other disciplines.

Your days will be very full and working from 9.00 a.m. till 10.00 p.m. is quite normal. Most of your time will be spent in the studio or out on study visits, where, with the help of a team of design tutors you will develop your awareness of the environment, analyse buildings and open spaces, and work on a series of design projects for spaces, structures and buildings of increasing complexity. In studio you will also acquire skills in drawing, CAD and model-making.

In parallel you will be attending lectures. Schools of architecture vary somewhat in the subjects covered in the first year: some require you to take maths or physics and others don't. But in any school of architecture you can expect to cover during your five years: history and theory of architecture, structures, building technology, environmental science, surveying, computer applications, building economics and professional practice.

At the end of third year many students take a ‘Year Out’, to get experience in an architectural practice. In UCD, DIT, WIT, UL or CCAE this is optional. In QUB, UU or any UK school the Year Out is mandatory, and must be spent working in an architectural practice. During Fourth Year students often take the opportunity to spend a term or a year studying in a school of architecture abroad.

In UCD, WIT, QUB, UU or any UK school you will get a B.Sc. in Architectural Science or equivalent degree after Third Year. DIT and UL do not award an intermediate qualification after Third Year. In all schools you will get a Bachelor’s Degree or Diploma in Architecture after Fifth Year. The advantage of the intermediate qualification is that it allows you to make a change in career direction if you find that you are not happy with architecture. Within UCD, for example, you can transfer to Urban and Regional Planning or to Landscape Architecture. But there are many other career or advanced study opportunities.

Once you have your degree from a recognised school you will be eligible to become an Architectural Graduate member of the RIAI.

Practical Training

Once you have your degree you will need to get some practical training in an architect’s office. To be recognised by the RIAI as ‘Approved Experience’ your work has to be done under the supervision of a Member of the RIAI, someone on the Register for Architects, or equivalent.

During your first two years you will want to get direct experience of as many aspects of the job as possible, to prepare yourself for your professional practice examination.

The quality of a graduate’s practical experience is the single most important factor contributing to successful completion of the final stage of professional formation. The RIAI Policy on Post-Graduate Professional Training is intended to provide information and guidance on a graduate’s practical experience to students and graduates, RIAI members and practices, Schools of Architecture and of Architectural Technology, and State agencies with roles in education, training and employment.

Professional Practice Examination

Once you have a minimum of two years of approved experience you can take your Examination in Professional Practice. These examinations cover subjects such as professional ethics, planning and building legislation, contract law, project management, practice management, etc., and prepare you for the situation where you want to set up your own architectural practice. Once you have passed your examination in professional practice you are eligible to apply for admission to the Membership of the RIAI and the Register for Architects.

Is there another way?

Second level students, parents and careers guidance counsellors, or people considering a career change, often ask if there is any other way to qualify as an architect.

In Ireland there is no part-time route to qualification as an architect. Schools of Architecture have procedures for the admission of students transferring or stepping up from other courses and graduates from other disciplines. (See the Section on 'Points and Subject Requirements for Admission'.) If you have already covered some of the course subjects at the same level you may be granted some exemptions, or be admitted to the course at Second Year or higher level. But once admitted you will have to follow the full-time course.

The Building Control Act 2007 allows admission to the Register for Architects for people who have at least 7 years' practical experience working at the level of an architect, are at least 35 of age and have passed a Register Admission Examination. It will be difficult to find work at the level of an architect if you have no qualifications to begin with and in the Examination you will have to demonstrate that you have reached the same level of knowledge, skill and competence as someone who has had a full architectural education. But candidates who have completed the Examination Process find it challenging, exciting and a valuable educational experience in itself.

Continuing Professional Development

Once fully qualified, it is the responsibility of any professional to ensure that his or her professional skills are kept up to date. Scientific knowledge, technology and the law, for example, keep changing. So you will be expected to have a continuing involvement in courses and personal study throughout your working life. In addition, some architects choose to expand the range of skills they can offer to clients by getting additional qualifications in disciplines such as landscape design, urban planning, interior design, furniture design, architectural conservation, project management or law.

Working Life

Architecture is an exciting and satisfying profession if you are suited to it; very stressful if you are not.

Designing a building involves many steps: visiting and surveying the site; discussing with the clients what kind of building they want; developing a preliminary design for the building and refining it to make sure that it meets the clients' needs and budget and complies with the regulations; applying for planning permission; preparing detailed drawings and specifications; obtaining quotes from builders; administering the contract between the client and the builder and checking that the building is being constructed in accordance with the drawings; making sure that payments to the builder are in order.

Almost fifty percent of architects have their own practices, so are self-employed. In that sense you can be your own boss. But no building gets built by the architect alone. Except on the smallest jobs a building project involves a whole design team which may be made up of one or more architects, technologists, structural engineers, building services engineers, quantity surveyors, and planning consultants. You may have to meet the client’s legal and financial advisers, or representatives of the future users of the building (the client's tenants or employees, for example). Then there are consultations with fire, planning, health and safety, environmental and other authorities depending on the type of building involved, and discussions with the manufacturers and suppliers of building materials and components. When the design is finished and building starts, you will be dealing with the main contractor and a team of specialist sub-contractors on the site.

An architect’s job involves a lot of responsibility. You have to make complex decisions which involve the investment of other people’s money, and the quality of your work has an impact not only on your client but also on all the people who will use the buildings you design. The size of projects can vary enormously, from a small house extension to a multi-million pound complex. You may be designing a brand new building or renovating a historic one. Some projects may take only a few weeks to complete, but others take many years.

So you will almost always be working as part of a team, juggling different projects, spending some time at the drawing board or computer, some on site or at meetings. Your week will often be disrupted as the client’s requirements change or a problem emerges on the building site. The pattern of long hours will continue, as you work to tight budgets and tight deadlines.

Travel

An architect’s skills are very transportable. Since drawings and images are the main method of communication, it is not as language-dependent as many professions, and this makes it easier to work in other countries. Throughout your studies and your working life you will be aware of buildings being built all around the world. Most architecture students use their summer holidays as an opportunity to travel or work abroad and see the architecture of other countries. The ‘Year Out’ between the third and fourth year is often spent working in an architect’s office in another country. Others arrange to study abroad for a while, often during their fourth year. Spending some time working abroad after graduation is very common indeed and, provided the Irish economy is in good shape, there is no difficulty in coming back to work in Ireland.

Job Opportunities

Once you qualify as a professional architect the variety of work open to you is wide. You can work for yourself, or as part of a team in a small or large private practice, or in the architectural section of a Government Department, Local Authority, Semi-State or commercial organisation. You can specialise in certain types of building, or concentrate a particular aspect of the job, such as design, technology, architectural conservation or project management, depending on your own interests, abilities and opportunities. Some architects choose instead an academic career, involving themselves in teaching and research.

Career possibilities are very much dependent on the state of the economy, and the employment picture can change very quickly. When things are bad the building industry is disproportionately affected. During the 1980s a high percentage of architectural graduates had to find jobs abroad, which they did without difficulty. In the 1990s the position reversed and until 2007 there was a shortage of architectural graduates. In 2008 the position reversed again, and this time jobs abroad are also scarce. But it takes at least seven to eight years to become fully qualified, so it is impossible to tell when you start what the jobs position will be when you finish.

Salary Levels

The RIAI has no current information on salaries in the private sector. They vary with experience, responsibility, market demand and location. The websites of employment agencies often contain information on current salary levels in private practice.

Salary levels in the public sector are fixed according to rank; variations within any rank depend on years of experience at that level.

 

Civil Service (Government Department) Salary Scales 2010
(Salary level within each range depends on qualifications and length of service)

Position Salary
Principal Architect €160,000
Assistant Principal Architect €82,000 – 103,000
Senior Architect €62,000 – 84,000
Architect €37,000 – 67,000

Local Authority Salary Scales 2010
(Salary level within each range depends on qualifications and length of service)

Position Salary
City/County Architect €78,000 – 96,000
Senior Architect €73,000 – 87,000
Senior Executive Architect €62,000 – 78,000
Executive Architect €46,000 – 66,000
Assistant Architect €40,000 – 57,000
Graduate Architect €31,000 – 38,000

How Can I Tell if I Would be Good at it?

Because of the nature of the job an architect has to do he/she needs a broad range of abilities: creative, visual, technical, organisational, and social. A fascination with buildings and design, visual sensitivity, the ability to think in three dimensions, to analyse complex problems and arrive at creative solutions are all essential. Characteristics that are valuable, as in any career, include good personal organisation, the ability to juggle several tasks at one time, to evaluate complex options and make clear decisions about them, to collaborate in a team, to understand other people’s needs and to communicate your own ideas effectively - plus perseverance and sound common sense. It is unusual to find all of these qualities in one person, but there are opportunities within the profession for people with different strengths.

How do I Chose?

It is difficult to tell in advance if you have the aptitude for architecture, because there is nothing that you experience at Second Level that is anything like it. Courses in architecture and architectural technology are of their nature vocational. In choosing one you are usually making quite a big decision about your career direction. So it is important to research it well.

Collect all the information you can from the course booklets published by the educational institutions. Look at the subjects you will have to study during the course - do they appeal to you? Talk to your parents and school career guidance counsellor. Talk to an architect if you know one. Go to Open Days.

Try reading one or more of the following books. If you find them fascinating you are probably on the right track. If you find them boring, then think again.

  • Francis Ching. Architecture: Form, Space, Order. John Wiley, 2007.
  • Francis Ching. Building Construction Illustrated. John Wiley, 2008.
  • M. Frederick. 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School. MIT press, 2007.
  • J.E. Gordon. Structures, or Why Things Don't Fall Down. Penguin, 2003.
  • Patrick Nuttgens. The Story of Architecture. Second edition. Phaidon, 1997.
  • Steen Eiler Rasmussen. Experiencing Architecture. MIT Press. 1959.
  • Sean Rothery. A Field Guide to the Buildings of Ireland. Lilliput Press, 1997.
  • Yasmin Shariff and Jane Tankard. Towards a New Architect: the guide for  architecture students. Architectural Press, 2010.
  • Anne Gorman and Miriam Delaney. Studio Craft and Technique. University College Dublin, 2011.
  • Marie Brennan and Ann McNicholl. Shaping Space: Architecture in the Transition     Year. RIAI, 1998.

These books are available through the RIAI Bookshop.

If your school offers a Shaping Space module in Transition Year, get involved.

If these books interest you, but you think architecture may not be for you, consider the other careers involved in the design of buildings and the built environment: Interior Designer, Structural Engineer, Building Services Engineer, Quantity Surveyor, Landscape Architect, Urban or Regional Planner.

Finally, if you are seriously thinking about a career in architecture, try to get some work experience, however short, in an architect’s office. This will give you a better idea of what the life is like, and whether you would find it satisfying, before you commit yourself to the many years of training it requires.