National Gallery of Victoria

National Gallery of Victoria,
Sir Roy Grounds. Photo: NGV Photographic Services

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Becoming an architect

Architects deal with many of the critical issues in today's society. They push boundaries when it comes to living, investigate new technologies and materials, and help ensure that what we build is environmentally sustainable. Importantly, they design not just for today, but for future generations.

A career in architecture

Architecture is one of the most influential professions in our global society. A career in architecture offers opportunities to shape, perhaps even transform the environment in which we live. Architecture brings together the arts, environmental awareness, sciences and technology. The profession of architecture involves everything that influences the way in which the built environment is planned, designed, made, used and maintained.

Architects combine creative design with technical knowledge to provide integrated solutions for built and natural environments. Architects are not only involved in mainstream architectural practice but are working increasingly in occupations ranging from urban planning and property development to teaching, furniture design and disaster relief.

Required skills?

The role of an architect is quite diverse, and so are the skills and personal qualities required:

  • imaginative and creative thinking skills
  • ability to analyse and critically assess problems
  • ability to see the big picture as well as giving attention to the smallest detail
  • ability to communicate effectively
  • understanding of history, and cultural and environmental concerns

Through their professional work architects develop:

  • practical and technical understanding of building materials and elements, structures, construction and services
  • coordination and interpersonal skills to manage a complex project team of consultants
  • negotiation skills to resolve complex building issues
  • lateral thinking skills to solve complex problems
  • ability to mediate and administer a building contract fairly

What do architects do?

Architects are professionally trained designers who work on buildings and the built environment. They combine creative design with a wide range of technical knowledge to provide integrated solutions for built and natural environments. During the five typical phases of a project the architect has a variety of roles:

Starting the project – The architect talks to the client about their expectations, project requirements and budget, and then this information forms the design brief.

Design phase – The architect analyses the design brief and the building site conditions, and determines the best location and orientation. The architect then develops ideas through rough plans, sketches and models. These ideas are brought together into concept design drawings.

Design development, documentation & building approvals – The architect compares the concept design drawings with the design brief and develops the technical detail for the project with the project team. Detailed drawings and specifications are prepared for the builder. The drawings are lodged to obtain local authority building approval. The method of engaging a builder for the project is determined.

Construction – The architect works with the builder and other project team members to ensure that the project is constructed in accordance with the drawings and specification.

After construction – Projects have a warranty period called the defects liability period. It is the architect’s responsibility to follow up any relevant issues or outstanding work with the client and the builder.

Graduate career opportunities

Many graduates will take up a career in private practice or government. Many become specialists in heritage, sustainable design or commercial projects. However, because an Architect’s skills and training are so broad, there are also many opportunities outside mainstream architecture practice.

  • asset management
  • conservation
  • construction law
  • construction management
  • disaster relief
  • furniture design
  • industrial design
  • interior design
  • project management
  • property development
  • research
  • teaching
  • theatre design
  • urban design
  • urban planning

Salary & awards

For information about the Architects Award please refer to the Fair Work website or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.

Learn about architecture

Primary & secondary schools

The Institute and its partners have produced a range of educational resources for primary and secondary school students. Go to the Resources page for teacher classroom kits and other resources.

Higher education

The Institute provides links to all architecture schools in Australia. For more information, go to the Schools & education page.

Career profiles

Architecture students

Sarah Herbert

Five years ago, I was faced with the dilemma of being good at science and math, but having a passion for the arts and design. Career options seemed to fall into two undesirable categories; high paying but utterly boring or fun and stimulating but few jobs. I also craved something that would give me a worthwhile purpose in life. And then I discovered Architecture.

Architecture is one big problem solving journey, pulling knowledge from every discipline imaginable. There's maths in the logistics of the brief, science in the environmental workings of the building, and art in the delight of the space. At university I've studied history, art and drawing, business, technology (structure and basic engineering), and architectural design. My projects have included a lake house, a chapel, a university master plan, a gallery, a supreme court, and we even built our own prototype of one of our technology projects. This semester we are designing a capital city, and are studying density, transport, symbolism of a capital, landscape treatment, urban agriculture, politics, indigenous studies, alternative energies, and historical examples of planned cities.

I used to read about students and architects that constantly talked about architecture as an addiction. I'm starting to understand what they mean. Architects and architecture students work hard; we do long hours, often for little reward, and we become so obsessed by our constant immersion in our world that even when we're not at work or studying we have to hang out with other architects because they are the only people who really understand us. In a typical week I attend 12 hours of class, work two days a week, tutor for half a day, and work on my university projects for another 28 hours. At my work I mainly do computer drafting, and it'll be a few more years before I have enough experience to actually design something. But that is part of the beauty of Architecture - you are constantly learning and constantly stimulated by a new idea or new problem. And when I do get that chance to see the lines I have drawn on paper as a real building standing in front of me, it will all have been well worth it.

Benjamin Khatibi

I am an international student from Sweden. I am currently completing my second year at Griffith University, studying Bachelor of Environmental Design (Architecture). In general, I spend four days of the week at university. During my spare time I play basketball with the university team and go to the gym.

The reason why I chose to study architecture was because as a child I was always curious about buildings and about how cities were created. That is why one of the areas that has been the most interesting is how to design buildings. I am interested in many areas of architecture; however, one of the areas that has captured my interest so far has been urban design. Furthermore, what has been most challenging so far has been to get what I am mentally visualising down on paper. However, what motivates me is that every day at university brings me one step closer to my dream of becoming an architect.

There have also been many highs and lows. One of the highs of student life has been meeting new people that are interested in the same things that I am. One of the lows would definitely be the stress that we go through to earn the degree. At the moment I am networking with architects and others in the field to get work experience. I am hoping that this and further studies will bring me closer to my goal of being an architect. I am not sure where in the world I want to work. Guess I will just have to wait and see where my degree takes me.

Architecture graduates

Sam Bresnehan
I am a recent graduate from the University of Tasmania. Having completed a three-year Bachelor of Environmental Design, and a two-year Master of Architecture with honours, I now currently hold a position within a design practice in Melbourne, Australia.

As part of my studies and ongoing education, I undertook a gap year as an intern with a small architectural practice. This hands-on experience was lots of fun, and proved to be of great value to my understanding of architecture as a profession. Work experience and intern opportunities exist within most practices.

I found that studying architecture soon became a lifestyle; an ongoing development in approaches and outlooks which, in turn, developed a strong sense of self. I learnt that architecture demands discipline across many scales. It can be gruelling, stressful, frustrating, and complicated. But it can also be both professionally and personally rewarding, stimulate both body and mind, and be of great value to the people it affects.

Now, as a graduate architect, I am challenged on a daily basis, and regularly have opportunities to work both individually or as part of a team; with clients, project managers, surveyors, engineers, carpenters, fabricators and product suppliers, as well as across related fields of interest such as graphic design, urban design and interior design. I look forward to pursuing opportunities that will contribute to the future of the architectural profession, and being rewarded by the experience.

Louisa Gee
Recent graduate, Master of Architecture (University of Queensland) 2009

There are mixed feelings when the long and arduous degree of architecture finally comes to an end. Almost at once the cord is cut and your head feels full of everything absorbed and accumulated over the many years spent at uni. However, once working within the industry it quickly becomes apparent that in fact there is still a lot to learn.

In these first few years following graduation you feel like a sponge, soaking up anything and everything there is to learn about the craft of architecture. When trying to work out which direction to take it's useful to consider how and where to get experience that realistically matches your ambition. It sounds obvious, but upon graduation it's easy to be distracted by award winning and high profile firms, often encircling us through media and journals. Since working within the industry however, I found a whole new interest and respect for local unsung architects and the knowledge they have to offer.

While it may not seem like much, it is invaluable to sit down for a few minutes over a cup of tea and think consciously about what you want to achieve in the first few years after graduation. Consider what experience you are looking for, then build relationships and seek work that will best expose you to that experience. Since finishing my degree in Brisbane two years ago my career outlook has taken on several changes. No doubt your expected outlook will change too; give yourself access to a broad range of views, experiences, skills and knowledge, and these things will only make you more valuable to the profession.

Practising architects

Sally Bolton

I began studying a Bachelor of Arts at Adelaide University in 1991, as I was unsure what career path to take when leaving school. With a strong background in art and after studying some architecture elective subjects, I applied for a Bachelor of Architectural Studies and then a Bachelor of Architecture, after completing the first degree.

University was a wonderful experience and enabled students to learn about the history of architecture, design, architectural practice and related disciplines while developing an amazing appreciation for the world in which we live. Walking down the street is a whole new experience after completing a degree in architecture, as is the appreciation for the finer details of buildings, all things that contribute to the built environment and also our natural environment. It provides you with a way of thinking and problem solving skills that will be with you forever and be valuable to anything you choose to do throughout your career.

My first full time role after graduating from architecture was with an architect who was also a builder, working on residential developments. This role provided me with a first-hand experience of how buildings go together, which was extremely important for me to develop confidence in designing and documenting buildings and also for working with the trades who build them. This role in a non-traditional architectural practice provided me with organisational skills that would be valuable to many of my future career choices, including my next role in an architectural practice working on educational, residential and other Government projects - administering contracts whilst the projects were being built - liaising with clients and builders throughout the process.

Relocating to Melbourne was the next major step in my career and I worked with an architect who specialised in residential projects. This was a fantastic experience working with someone who was extremely passionate about design and the process of achieving high level outcomes for clients.

Studying an architecture degree provides you with a broad range of skill sets as the practice of architecture involves many different facets to achieve built outcomes - including planning, communication, managing relationships with clients and builders, project organisation, design, documentation, contract administration and many more.

After working within the profession for many years, I decided to work in an advocacy role for the design industry taking on a role at the Australian Institute of Architects in Melbourne. The organisational and project management skills I had gained working as an Architect were transferrable to my advocacy role and my architectural background was invaluable for working in a role advocating for the value of design, the built environment and making better places for us all to live in.

I have since moved home to Adelaide and am currently the CEO of 3 year old twins and taking time out from the profession to be a mum. The organisational, planning and creative skills are also proving to be invaluable to my role as a mum. I will continue to use them in everything I do as my career takes the new journey as a part time worker and full time parent.

I believe careers paths will always change as we develop and explore our skills and passions. I wouldn't change any choices I have made as they have all contributed to broadening my knowledge and confidence in the roles that I have chosen. Studying Architecture can provide you with opportunities to work in many different roles within the architectural profession and also in relating fields and it is a truly fulfilling field to work within.

Howard Tanner

My interest in architecture was sparked by an aunt, an impressive woman who edited a design magazine, and who conveyed the excitement of the latest architecture and styling. I spent my high school years sketching ideas for new houses, which later were refined and published.

I had six wonderful years at Sydney University, an attractive and historic campus, with a good mix of fellow students. As preparation for practice, the architectural course was excellent in its way, it broadened one's knowledge and horizons, but equally important were the 4 or 5 years as an assistant to a competent architect in practice. The university offering had enough riches and freedom for me to pursue diverse interests, which in my late 20s turned into books on Australian housing, architectural heritage, and landscape design.

In certain terms, building my career as an architect has never stopped. At 27 I went into a joint venture with a slightly older fellow architect. This provided an established framework which enabled me to design my first houses, undertake pioneering urban heritage studies, author or edit half a dozen books, and teach part-time at university. It was pretty frantic! I moved to independent practice aged 36, and focused on areas which had design interest, growth and reasonable remuneration. It was vital to have a simple, yet sound, business model. Housing, educational buildings and heritage projects enabled the practice, as Tanner Architects, to gain an established footing and move beyond small projects to a team of 50 people with offices in Sydney and Brisbane.

It's wonderful to revisit early projects to find they still please me and are appreciated by their owners. We've had good opportunities to design new buildings which enhance existing precincts and fulfil important community roles. For me, the invitation to undertake two major restorations of the Sydney Town Hall represents a kind of public endorsement.

My architectural career has always had a very public dimension, culminating in my being national president of the Australian Institute of Architects. If I had my time again, I would use my architecture degree and expertise to give a breadth of architectural endeavour to the most influential realms of public life.

Other careers

Alysia Bennett

My name is Alysia Bennett and I am a public servant, consultant and freelance writer. Although I do not practice architecture in the traditional sense I consider my role in government as just as important to the progression of quality architectural outcomes as being a registered architect. In this respect architecture has not so much assisted my career, it is my career.

My main position within the Office of the State Architect, Tasmania, is a diverse role ranging from the development of strategic plans and policies to supervising student interns. Ultimately, this career choice wasn't one that I planned to take but was the happy culmination of many enjoyable experiences within my architectural studies and the early exposure to the profession.

I became involved with the architectural profession as a student first via the Student Organised Network of Architects (SONA) and subsequently the Australian Institute of Architects, where I developed an interest of the issues within the profession alongside my own architectural studies. Additionally, I loved every moment of architecture school at UTAS - the close community of diverse yet liked minded people, studying the culture and customs of other societies through the development of their built fabric and gaining an understanding of technology and natural science. Subsequently, architecture is a very broad discipline full of many opportunities.

Architecture uniquely provides a general education based on optimism and problem solving that equips its graduates to not only make better buildings but drives us to positively contribute to society. In order for the profession to pursue its social, environmental and economic goals it relies on the expertise of a wide range of allied professionals with a thorough understanding of design principles, an optimistic mindset and a holistic perspective. I'm not sure what is next on my satisfying trek off the well-beaten architectural path but I welcome new opportunities and look forward to new challenges.

Naomi Stead

I decided to study architecture because I like the idea of designing places in which people's lives and stories would take place. I thought of it as a more permanent form of theatre set and stage design, where the 'drama' was people's everyday lives, playing out in private and public buildings. Almost every person on the planet uses some kind of building every day - you can't say that for most of the arts, or even most professions, and it makes architecture pretty important. I liked the idea of being part of that, and it also seemed to take advantage of the subjects I was most good at - art, physics, and English.

I loved architecture school, and I still think it was a fantastic general education, but part way through the degree I realised that I was more interested in abstract ideas and concepts than I was in actual concrete buildings. I decided then that I wouldn't practice as an architect, but would become an academic - writing, researching, and teaching about architecture in a university. I had to do a PhD first, which meant another three years of advanced study on top of five years' architectural training. By the end of all that I was sick of being a poor student! But it was all worth it when I got a job in a university, which is where I have worked for the ten years since. As well as my scholarly work, I also have a practice as a freelance architectural critic, and this leaves me with the best of both worlds. I get to be part of architectural culture, to talk to architects and see how buildings come about, but I also get to study and teach architecture, to help my students realise their own architectural dreams.

I don't think I could necessarily have planned the career I have ended up with, but it has been fantastically stimulating, challenging, and enjoyable. I am still interested in the stories of people's lives as they take place in buildings, and now I can think and write about these every day.