10 Potential Career Paths Within Architecture

One of the many perks of pursuing a career in architecture is that you are not restricted to a particular role. There are many different paths you can follow within the architecture profession. 

Depending on the size of the firm these specialization hats could all be worn by one architect. In a larger firm there could be one person or a whole team assigned to each topic.

In addition, some of these roles may be as an outside consultant on behalf of the primary architecture design office. For example it is common to contract a Spec Writer from outside the office to prepare the building specification rather than having a full time in house staff member.

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Here are some of the architect specializations currently in the marketplace:

1. Technical Architect

Generally larger firms will separate technical and design architects. Most architects often lean towards one or the other as their career evolves. The simple answer for the difference between technical  and design architects is the phases is which they do most of their work.

A Design Architect will typically start the project and work from the Schematic Design Phase through Design Development. At that point a Technical Architect will take it through Construction Documents and Construction Administration.

A Technical Architect will often draw how the building is put together, rather than define the overall look of the project. For example resolving the drainage detail on a flat roof and detailing the drawings for it would be a technical task.

2. Design Architect

There are several different levels of designers, these are not official titles but are generally accepted in the architecture industry. A Junior Designer will typically have 3-5 years of experience, an Intermediate Designer (6-9 years) and a Senior Designer (10+ years). Less that three years of experience is considered an Intern and is often enrolled in the Intern Development Program (IDP) as a path to licensure.

A Design Architect is probably what most people picture architects to be. Depending on the firm size the design architect will generally be leading the overall concept of the project design. This is done by analyzing the program (written description of the project requirements from the client) and translating it into a building. 

This process is different for every architect but is often starts with performing site analysis. This is involves the architect identifies the project site, photos, surveys and any existing conditions. Using this information as a starting point the architect can begin to develop the massing and plans to fit the given program and site constraints. This will often start with simple hand drawings then evolve into 2D and 3D development using the software mentioned previously. 

Both design and technical architects can work their way up within the larger architecture firms to a Director or Partner position. In this role you will often oversee the development of multiple projects at once. At this level it would be expected for the person to bring in new work for the office in addition to management and guiding the future of the practice. Traditionally the leadership of most architecture offices consists of licensed architects, of course there are many exceptions. 

3. BIM Manager

As mentioned above BIM is a complete 3D model of the building. Typically on larger projects there is a BIM Manager that is in charge of the model and the updates. There is little design associated with this role and is more of a consultant management and technical position.

The BIM Manager will coordinate multiple models with outside consultants. For instance, the structural engineers have a structure BIM model that must be linked with the architectural model. Especially on large projects this process can get extremely complicated so this role is very important for effective project delivery. 

4. Specifications (Spec) Writer

Specification writers create a written document that describes to builders the different types of materials and how they are used on a project. The spec writer's job is to make sure that the many components of a building fit and work together. This is especially important on large construction projects, with a 1000+ page specification document.

5. Project Manager

As defined by the AIA, a Project Manager is responsible for carrying out day-to-day duties and responsibilities. PM's marshal and apply their knowledge and skills to lead, solve problems, motivate others, advocate, measure, document, and communicate.

He or she is also in charge of planning, organizing, and staffing the project. They must develops a primary understanding of how and when the project will be worked on and what leadership and staff will be needed to perform the work.  

Development of a work plan for the project begins with consideration of schedules, ways to organize relationships between the parties, the firm’s available resources, and perhaps fees. In addition to the above, the PM typically monitors the project progress and the conclusion of the project.

6. Interior Designer

Depending on the size of the project there may be a separate interior designer or interiors team. For example, on a single family residence the architect will carry out the interior design. However, on a large commercial project this task is often contracted to an interior design firm.

There is a separate licensing body, the Council for Interior Design Qualification regulates the interior design profession. Some architects transition to the interior design field and work for a specific firm specializing in interiors or may work within an architecture firm.

As defined by NCIDQ an interior designer's roles and responsibilities include:

  • Research and analysis of the client's goals and requirements

  • Formulation of preliminary space plans and two and three dimensional design concept studies and sketches

  • Confirmation that preliminary space plans and design concepts are safe, functional, aesthetically appropriate, and meet all public health, safety and welfare requirements, including code, accessibilityenvironmental, and sustainability guidelines.

  • Selection and specification of furniture, fixtures, equipment and millwork

  • Preparation of construction documents, consisting of plans, elevations, details and specifications, to illustrate non-structural and/or non-seismic partition layouts; power and communications locations; reflected ceiling plans and lighting designs; materials and finishes; and furniture layouts.

7. Workplace Consultant

Workplace consultancy is common with large projects and can be a career specialization option for some architects. It is an interesting option that takes on more of a research position as opposed to strictly design.  Typically the WC team will interview clients and staff on for a potential project. The purpose is to get feedback on what is and isn't working in the current building.

Often working closely with the interior designers they optimize future desking arrangements and meeting spaces. The overall goal of workplace consultancy is for the client to get the most out of their project in terms of employee satisfaction and productivity.

For example HOK's workplace consultancy team provides a description of this service. Our consultants help clients align their physical space and organizational requirements to support their business goals. HOK helps organizations of all types optimize their real estate portfolios to support current and future business needs. Our workplace consultants create solutions that inspire collaboration, promote alternative work strategies, improve employee mobility and streamline space use.

8. Sustainability Consultant

As part of a large office or as a consultants an architect can specialize in sustainability. Sustainability is becoming a very important aspect of building design and will be increasingly important in the future. The goal of sustainable design is to reduce the impact buildings have on the environment and natural resources.

The leading organization in the United States is the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The USGBC is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to sustainable building design and construction. The USBC developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) which is a set of rating systems for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of green buildings, homes, and neighborhoods.

The first step for any architect interested in becoming a sustainability consultant is to become LEED Accredited.

9. Urban Designer

The Urban Design profession is regulated by The American Planning Association . While outside what is generally considered an architect's responsibilities, like interior design, some architects choose to specialize in this area.

Urban Design is defined as the arrangement, appearance and function of our suburbs, towns and cities. It is both a process and an outcome of creating localities in which people live, engage with each other, and engage with the physical place around them. 

10. Sole Proprietor

This is a one man band architecture office. He or she may have an assistant and a few consultants but generally carries all of the work alone. This is quite common in small scale residential projects as the workload is manageable for one person.

As mentioned above Sole Proprietorship's make up almost a third of all architects working today. 

This is perhaps the option that offers the most freedom and flexibility when it comes to the architecture profession. You can set your own hours, select what projects you want to pursue and create designs exactly as you wish (along with the client of course). However with this flexibility comes all of the risks of entrepreneurship. That being said, the benefits both monetarily and professionally can be very rewarding. 

I hope this list of potential career paths within architecture has been helpful for your own professional goals. This is by no means an exhaustive list, as there are many other niches with in architecture that can be very rewarding. However this should have given you a broad overview of what may be a good fit for your skills and talents within architecture.

Want to find your dream architecture job?
Check out The Architect's Guide Resources.

To help you with your architecture job search, I've created a mega-pack of free resources that includes architecture resumes, cover letters, and an extensive collection of application documents. Click for a free download:

For further reading on applications, portfolios, interview preparation and questions see The Complete Package.

Thanks for reading, see also my posts on:

The Two Page Architecture Portfolio

Where To Apply For Architecture Jobs Online

25 Things To Consider When Choosing An Architecture Job Offer

Good luck!

Brandon Hubbard, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C

Have a suggestion for a future blog post? Please let me know in the comments below.