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How do I become an Architect?

So you are settling back into 5th or 6th year of secondary school and you have an inkling that the architecture world might be something that would interest you. Below you will find some information, largely from the RIAI website, that will hopefully help you along your path!

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; 

2) Obtain at least two years of approved postgraduate professional training;

3) Successfully complete an examination in professional practice specified by the RIAI

DURATION OF STUDIES

Prescribed degree courses in architecture take five years of full-time study. Some students take a year out for practical experience between the third and fourth years. So the whole process, from start to full professional registration, 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. Only the final award (after five years) is formally accredited or recognised.

STUDYING ARCHITECTURE

1. When choosing a programme in architecture check that the programme you are interested in is properly accredited and prescribed for access to the profession.

2. Architectural awards are recognised on the basis of five years of study. The RIAI does not accredit on the basis of less than five years of study. Please note that “Part 1”, “Part 2” and “Part 3” terminology is relevant to the UK only.

3. While it is possible to move between programme and even country/State of study during your studies extreme caution is advised. Contact the RIAI for advice in advance.

4. Some architectural programmes are moving into the Bachelor/Masters model (away from the old ‘ab initio’ five year Bachelor model). Take note when entering a programme if the final phase will take the form of a Masters and what the fee burden is likely to be so that you can prepare in advance.

CHOOSING A PROGRAMME

Architecture is regulated in most European countries and programmes must be recognised by the regulator/registration body to give access to the profession under law.

When selecting a programme of study it is essential to check that it is properly accredited and prescribed for access to the profession.

In Ireland programmes in architecture are accredited by the RIAI, as the Registration Body and Competent Authority, and recommended to the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government for ‘prescription’ under the Building Control Act 2007, which means legal recognition as a qualification in architecture.

Only the following five qualifications in architecture are currently legally recognised in the Republic of Ireland:

University College Dublin

Technological University Dublin (formerly DIT)

Waterford Institute of Technology

University of Limerick

University College Cork / Cork Institute of Technology 

Institute of Technology Sligo (Provisional Approval)

MOVING BETWEEN PROGRAMMES OF STUDY

Architectural awards are usually recognised on the basis of a full five years study. While it is possible to move between awards, for example after the third year, this will be dependent on the college you move to confirming that your final award will meet the requirements for a prescribed qualification in architecture.

While it is possible to move between States, extreme caution is advised. Qualifications are accredited and prescribed by national authorities. While there is a common minimum standard in the EU individual Member States have their own standards and requirements above and beyond this. 

Those considering moving from Ireland to the UK to complete the five years of study must take particular care. Irish programmes, like most others in the EU, are recognised on the basis of five years study. The UK alone breaks the study into two elements referred to as Part 1 and Part 2. Moving to the UK to take a UK ‘Part 2’ will mean that the UK authorities, the Architects Registration Board (ARB), will only confirm the status of your UK ‘Part 2’ award if they have also assessed the earlier phase of your studies in Ireland against their standards. At the time of writing the cost of this ‘prescribed examination’ is at least STG£1,671.

STUDYING OUTSIDE THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

Because architecture is a regulated profession those seeking entry to the profession with qualifications from outside Ireland are subject to checks. For those qualifying in an EU or EEA country or Switzerland, agreements are in place for the recognition of those qualifications under EU law.

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.

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 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.

In all schools you will receive a Bachelor’s or Master's Degree or a Diploma in Architecture after Fifth Year. In some schools you will receive a B.Sc. in Architectural Science or equivalent degree after Third or Fourth Year (depending on the school). Some schools do not award an intermediate qualification but they offer an exit award should you choose to leave the programme on successful completion of Third Year. As per item 2. above Architectural awards are recognised on the basis of five years of study. The RIAI does not accredit on the basis of less than five years of architectural education. The advantage of receiving an intermediate qualification or exit award prior to the completion of five years of study 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 successfully completed five years of architectural education with an award 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. 

Once you have completed a minimum of two years of approved experience you can undertake an Examination in Professional Practice. Your Practical Experience is reviewed at the point when you enrol for a Professional Practice Examination/Diploma by the Educational Institution providing the qualification.

PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE EXAMINATION

Currently two Professional Practice Examinations/Diplomas are offered in the Republic of Ireland by UCD and by Dublin School of Architecture (TUD). Details of these are available here. 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 the examination in professional practice you are eligible to apply for admission to the Membership of the RIAI and the Register for Architects.

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. 

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. For those students who choose to take a year out, for example between the third and fourth year, it 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. The situation has changed again in the past few years and employment opportunities are more promising. A good measure of current employment opportunities is the number of positions advertised on RIAI Job-search. Given that 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.

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 CHOOSE?

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.

To keep you interested, here are some architecture events happening over the next few months:

Open House Dublin:

Open House Dublin 2019 is taking place on 11-13 October. The Open House Dublin 2019 website is not ready yet but you can find out more about the event here. To get a flavour of last year’s event take a look here.

AAI Site Visits:

The Architectural Association of Ireland often has open site visits where you can go along to new buildings under construction. You can find out about upcoming events here.

by Richard Hatch

How do I become an Architect?

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