What does an architect do

Architects make a unique and far reaching contribution to the built environment. Their designs should be responsive to social, cultural and environmental issues, utilising the rich potential of science and technology to achieve quality in the design of spaces, forms and details. For architects to play this effective and rewarding role, the following skills and knowledge are required.


Architectural design embraces both new and adapted buildings. It goes beyond the intuitive process that characterises the work of a painter or sculptor. It relies upon a logical system of analysis and deduction to handle competently the large number of variables inherent in a building proposal. This involves compromises where judgement as well as intellectual capacity is essential. The process requires aesthetic sensibility, a demanding imagination and inventiveness.

Visual Awareness

The designer must be a trained observer of the public requirements of buildings and of the designed environment as a whole.

Building Technology

The architect requires understanding and knowledge of the properties and uses of materials, manufacturing processes, building structure, and the sequence of building operations.

Environmental Control

The architect is required to be familiar with the physics of the environment and its relationship to human responses - how hear; light, sound and ventilation affect people and the building fabric. Awareness of energy conservation, knowledge of recyclable materials and sustainable sources for these materials is essential.

Organisation and Management

Building design and construction is the responsibility not of an individual but of a team which combines different skills and aptitudes. A high order of organising ability is therefore desirable, as is skill in oral, written and graphic communication.

Subject Options

The ideal candidates in architecture will have obtained Scottish Highers/English 'A' Levels and Standard Level subjects which demonstrate a reasonable balance between arts and sciences.

Arts subjects should include English, which is essential in communicating ideas and thought processes with clarity, Art although not essential is useful in preparing creative ideas meaningfully in 2 and 3 dimensions.

History is also not essential but useful, as it can illuminate social and individual behaviour and clarify understanding of the cultural context in which current architecture occurs.

Foreign languages are extremely useful in today's expanding European and World market.

Mathematics is an essential requirement and mathematical techniques may be required to manage complex statistical data.

Physics is a useful alternative to Mathematics and enables a clearer understanding of the physical environment, within which architects are designing.

Computer Studies: Architects are almost universally using computers to handle both management techniques within the office and as tools for 2 and 3 dimensional design and communication.

Geography is not essential but useful in analysing the climatic conditions and the ecological systems that dictate the designer's response to his or her environment.

Prospective architecture students should note that the specific requirements for entry to a course, both in terms of the subjects and grades necessary, vary between the schools. We strongly recommend that you visit the links to Departments of Architecture or contact them direct for up to date information and advice about your required course.

Studying architecture

There isn't a Higher or A-level in architecture. So, as a university subject, it's new to everyone. To be a student of architecture, you need to enjoy the challenge of learning new things and thinking about familiar things in new ways. Architecture is not just building. Whilst we approach the builder to have built what we know we want, we get from the architect something that we couldn't have thought of for ourselves,

So, architecture is a profession for imaginative people; but it's also for practical people. Buildings have to stand up, serve their functions and inhabit their environment appropriately in social and ecological terms. In particular, architecture is a profession for people who want to make a difference to our living conditions. These conditions can be on the smallest domestic or the largest urban scale.

It takes a long time to become an architect - five or six years before you get a job, and another couple of years or so before you gain professional accreditation; but that's broadly typical of the professions. Students of architecture enjoy learning, and they hope to be respected for it when they qualify.

Once you've been accepted onto one of the Scottish architectural courses you will follow three general threads: artistic, scientific and cultural. In any week, you will be doing Architectural Design - the main activity - at the drawing board, in the workshops or with the use of computer; you'll be attending lectures, tutorials and practical workshop sessions in Technology and Environment; you'll be attending lectures and tutorials in Architectural History. In subsequent years, your timetable might change, but these three threads remain unbroken. The whole world of buildings is your field of study and confirms architecture as a uniquely challenging and important subject.

RIAS Guide for School leavers