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Students' embarking on their career journey – Is Féidir linn

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Working in Architecture




SPEAKER: Neil Lamb, Architect and Course Leader in Architecture Courses at

The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen.

DEFINITION OF CAREER AREA: Architects plan, design and oversee a building’s construction. The word “architect” comes from Latin architectus, which in turn derives from Greek arkhitekton (arkhi, chief + tekton, builder”). In its broadest sense, an architect is a person who translates a user’s requirements into a built environment.

Architecture is the measure of civilisation from ancient history to modern times. It is extraordinary: it can improve peoples’ lives, particularly poignant at a time where we are all increasingly becoming more aware of the environment around us and the way we shape it. Architects therefore make a unique contribution to the built environment. They are responsible for making designs that consider social, cultural and environmental issues, utilising the rich potential of science and technology to achieve quality in the design of spaces, forms and details.

What does an Architect do? The Architect receives a commission (or contract) from a client. This could involve the design of a single building or a group of buildings and the spaces between them. The client may be a person, a board of directors, a government department, a business or even the architect themselves. The Architect leads a team of specialist consultants including structural, mechanical and electrical engineers to design and manage the realisation of the design.

The Architect must also understand and deal with building codes and keep everyone on time and on budget. Technical knowledge, good people skills and no-nonsense business sense are all important to this task. Architects have to be creative but yet practical – applying key communication skills; drawing, writing and speaking.

TYPICAL DAY: It’s hardly surprising to say that there is really no such thing as a typical day: the job is extremely diverse and it is this very diversity that many architects like. Working hours could be said to be typically nine to five but it is not uncommon for architects to work long hours, especially in busy periods. Architects work in a variety of environments from small one-man operations to large multi-national operations. Throughout any given day an architect could be dealing with a number of small jobs that could be at different stages of completion or could be focusing on one large complex design that may take a number of years to complete. Generally they will be involved in some if not all of the following on a daily basis: designing, meeting with clients, winning contracts, solving problems, estimating costs, meeting with consultants, producing drawings, presenting ideas, drawing up specifications, calling tenders (bids), visiting construction sites and manufacturing establishments.  

SKILLS USED IN THE JOB: An architect has to cope with a broad range of activities, therefore they have to be: creative, visual, technical, organisational and social. They should have a fascination for design, a visual sensitivity and the ability to think in three dimensions, to analyse complex problems and arrive at creative solutions. 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 to practice architecture in different ways. 

STUIDYING ARCHITECUTRE: Practicing under the name, style or title “architect” is restricted by law in many countries. In the United Kingdom, all architects have to be registered by the Architects Registration Board (ARB) or RIAI in Ireland. It usually takes a minimum of seven years to obtain the necessary qualifications and experience for registration although it can take some years after completing the registration process to become fully competent.

Those wishing to become registered must first study at a recognised university-level school of architecture. The basic principle is that in order to qualify as an architect a candidate must pass through three stages or “parts” as they are called:

In the United Kingdom, on completing an initial degree in architecture (usually 3 or 4 years, usually either a B.A, BSc, or B.Arch) the candidate receives exemption from ARB/RIBA Part I. There then follows a period of paid employment (usually one year) which the candidate spends in an architect’s office gaining work experience.

The candidate then completes a post-graduate university course, usually two years, to receive either a Post Graduate Diploma (Dip. Arch), Masters (M.Arch) or B(Arch). On completing that course, the candidate receives exemption from Part II of the ARB/RIBA process. The candidate must undertakes a further period of Practical Training taking them up to two years post-Part I experience before being allowed to take the final ARB/RIBA Part III examination in Professional Practice and Management. On successful completion of all three parts the candidate can register as an architect.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Generally, there are core subjects required of most courses focusing on English and a mixture of arts and sciences. Although it is not always necessary to study art, candidates should enjoy freehand drawing and have an interest in making things. If academic experience in art is not evidenced some universities require students to prepare a portfolio containing sketches, paintings, photographs and other creative material for inspection as part of the admission process. 

STUDY: The focus of each School of Architecture can be quite different. Some focus on the arts, while others can be more technical. It is important that candidates try to visit a School at Open Days or at Degree Shows to get a flavour of that School. 

Study combines a mixture of Lecture and Studio based education. Travel is an important aspect and most courses offer the opportunity for exchange programs with foreign institutions. The early years focus key skills and knowledge while specialisms are introduced latterly.

SALARY: Architects’ salaries range widely depending on experience, and where and how they work. Salaries also vary depending on the size and location of the practice they work in. Earnings have traditionally been dependent on the local economic conditions but, with rapid globalization, this is becoming less of a factor for larger international firms. The RIAI do not offer current information on private practice salaries in Ireland but quote the following on its website:

Civil Service (Government Department) Salary Scales 2007 (Salary level within each range depends on qualifications and length of service at that level)

Principal Architect €144,000; Assistant Principal Architect €80,000 – 101,000; Senior Architect €60,000 – 82,000; Architect €37,000 – 67,000

Local Authority Salary Scales 2007 (Salary level within each range depends on qualifications and length of service at that level)

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


Arbiter, Architectural Critic, Graphic Designer, Architectural Photographer, Heritage Planner, Architectural Programmer, Illustrator, Architectural Rendered, Industrial Designer, Interior Designer, Landscape Architect, CAD Coordinator, Campus Planner, Model Maker, Carpenter, Municipal Architect, Cartographer, Computer Presentation Designer, Printmaker, Computer Systems, Analyst, Professor, Conservator, Property Assessor, Construction Inspector, Publisher, Construction Manager, Estate Agent, Contractor, Project Manager, Build Team Manager, Set Designer, Developer, Structural Engineer, Document Designer, Technical Writer, Environmental Planner, TV/Film Producer, Furniture Designer, Urban Planner 

Architecture influence many aspect of peoples’ lives; Architects have a unique opportunity and responsibility to shape the future environment in which we all live.  

Several sources have been used in the compilation of this introduction.


One Response to “Working in Architecture”

  1. John mc Gowan said

    I am an architect 43 years old with 14 years experience. I work as an associate in a medium size architectural firm. In august 2010 my salary was reduced from 70,000 euro to 30,000 euro per annum. Still busy working 9 till 6.30-7.30 pm 5 days a week. Things have not changed since. I would be interested to know what other irish architects are currently being paid.

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