Mobility, Mood and Place - A Craft Community
Alice Mears – Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture

© Alice Mears

Becoming an Architect

A Challenging Profession

Architecture is a profession for imaginative individuals; but it is also for practical individuals. Buildings require to stand up, serve their functions and contribute to their environment appropriately in social and ecological terms. In particular, architecture is an exciting profession for inspired people who would like to make a difference to the way people live. These principles apply to the smallest domestic building or the largest scale urban project.

A Special Course

There are no Higher or A-level examinations in Architecture. Therefore, as a university subject, it is new to everyone. To be a student of Architecture, you need to enjoy the challenge of learning about new concepts and thinking about familiar concepts in new ways. Architecture is not only about buildings. Builders can transform clients’ ideas into reality and under the instruction of a creative Architect, they can achieve a result which goes beyond mere building and becomes truly inspirational.

© Chris French and Stuart MacKellor

Dedicated Study

There are no shortcuts to becoming an Architect. Typically, you will require five years of academic study (Parts 1 and 2) before obtaining full time employment and another two-years minimum before you gain professional registration (Part 3). Students of architecture enjoy learning, and this enquiring mindset and the broad educational base of the course is highly valued by society. In a time of great social and economic change society needs Architects with vision, capable of transforming the lives of others in a positive way.

Theory, Practice and Vision

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 actively involved in the process of Architectural Design – the main activity – at the drawing board, in the workshop or using computers; you’ll be attending lectures, tutorials and practical workshop sessions in Technology, Environment and Architectural History. In subsequent years, your timetable might change, but these three threads remain unbroken.

The entire planet is your chosen field of study and confirms architecture as a uniquely challenging subject where you can make your own exciting personal contribution for the benefit of future generations.

Drifting City / Venice
Douglas Tullie, Ben Watson, Phoebe Yu – Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture

© Douglas Tullie, Ben Watson, Phoebe Yu

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 competently handle the large number of variables 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.

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.

Visual Awareness

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

Environmental Control

The architect needs to be familiar with the physics of the environment and its relationship to human responses - how heat; 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 essential, as is skill in oral, written and graphic communication.

© Emmeline Quigley

Considering a Career in Architecture?

Eight questions to ask yourself if you are considering a career in architecture…

1. Are you passionate about buildings and the built environment around you?

This is by far the most important question. If the answer is yes, then architecture could be the career for you - so keep reading! Most successful architects are highly passionate about the built environment. If your interest in buildings is merely a vague one you may find that seven years of intense training will be enough to kill your enthusiasm. Entry to most schools of architecture is competitive, courses are tough and drop-out rates are high. In other words, only consider studying architecture if you feel you are absolutely committed to it.

2. Do you enjoy being creative?

As part of their selection process some schools of architecture will ask you for a portfolio of work that will demonstrate your creative skills. Some may not but bear in mind that on any architecture course you may without an ability to communicate through drawing or model-making. These days a lot of drawing work can be done on the computer but you are unlikely to be able to rely on this alone. Don’t worry if you have never worked in three dimensions before - there will be lots of opportunities to experiment and get your hands dirty. In general, creativity is a huge advantage in the world of architecture.

It is also worth knowing that you will require your mathematical and scientific knowledge on a regular basis and will also be writing a series of complex essays on subjects such as architectural history.

3. Are you in it for the money?

If making big money is your top priority, then you may want to reconsider your choice of career! That is not to say that it is impossible to strike it rich as an architect - but the reality is that many get by on a relatively modest salary considering the length of time spent training.

4. Are you looking for a 9 to 5 job?

This is a question you could be asked at an entrance interview for some schools of architecture. If you answer “yes” you could be kissing that acceptance letter goodbye. Workloads at university (and in the workplace) will vary immensely as you will be working towards a series of deadlines. There are times when you will feel you can take it a little bit easy and others when you may find yourself doing an all-nighter. An ability to manage your time efficiently could help avoid too many of those! In the workplace you are also likely to be required to work extra hours to meet similar deadlines from time to time. Overtime may not always be paid.

Studying architecture may lead you down many different career paths. You could find employment within a private architectural practice, in the public sector, in project management, in interior design, within a construction company or even further afield. With a degree in architecture, you needn’t feel you MUST become an architect.

5. Can you handle (and learn from) public criticism?

If you cannot cope with criticism it is likely you will spend the majority of your university career in a state of self-doubting misery. This is not designed to scare you, merely to prepare you for the phenomenon commonly known as “The Crit”.

This involves presenting your ideas in front of a group of tutors and classmates. Don’t worry if you hate speaking in public - it is such a common occurrence that you will soon get used to it. No matter how talented you are the chances are you will get at least one really bad crit during your time as a student architect. Even although the comments can sometimes seem scathing and unduly harsh the trick is not to take them personally and to learn from your mistakes. After all one of the great things about architectural design is that there are no right or wrong answers. If you remember this you will benefit greatly from the crit system. If you are highly sensitive to criticism you may find yourself suffering from a confidence crisis by the end of First Year.

6. Are you self-motivated and well organised?

Organisational skills are an essential part of becoming a successful student architect. If you enjoy working under your own steam without being told exactly what you must do and when to do it you are likely to enjoy the practical aspect of studying architecture. Most schools provide studios for students and here you will find a real sense of camaraderie, ideas and support from fellow students. Architecture is very different from most other courses.

7. Are you absolutely fascinated by buildings and how they work?

A typical project usually involves being given a brief for a design and a series of deadlines to meet. How you meet these deadlines, and how you illustrate your ideas, will be largely up to you, although advice is always available. Working this way can be difficult if you find it hard to get motivated without being constantly pushed. If you possess determination and the drive to do well you will get the most from the studio design element of your course. These qualities will also serve you well throughout your career.

8. And finally, do you relish a challenge?

Becoming an architect is not for the faint-hearted. The training is long and arduous, you will be under frequent pressure to meet deadlines and you will need to learn to cope when your work doesn’t receive rave reviews. However, if you can motivate yourself and organise your time well, there are many rewards to be had. You will get to spend the majority of your study time doing practical activities in the design studio, such as drawing, model making and Computer Assisted Design (CAD). This is ideal if you are not too keen on constant lectures (although there will be a few). You will go on site visits, and may get the opportunity to travel to cities of architectural interest on study trips. And above all, the satisfaction you may feel when you finally complete a project that you’re proud of is second-to-none.

An Architecture for the Liminal Landscape
Cameron Brown – University of Dundee

© Cameron Brown

Subject Choices

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 two and three 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 markets.

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.

Computer Studies: architects use computers to handle both management techniques within the office and as tools for two and three 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.