Is becoming a residential architect right for me?

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What do residential architects do?

Still unsure if becoming a residential architect is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a residential architect or another similar career!

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How to become a Residential Architect

High School
If possible, aspiring residential architects should tailor their high school education to lay a foundation for their career. Courses in physics, geometry, and pre-calculus will prepare them for the mathematical/scientific aspect of the work, while those in the arts and humanities will help to cultivate aesthetic sensibilities.

Architecture Degrees
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) articulates the required path to entering the profession: Architectural licensing is granted only when candidates demonstrate sufficient professional education, complete a rigorous program of real-world experience under the supervision of a licensed architect, and pass a comprehensive professional examination.

To meet the educational standards for the profession, residential architects must hold a degree from a program accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB). There are three degrees that are recognized by the NAAB: Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.), Master of Architecture (M.Arch.), and Doctor of Architecture (D.Arch.). Most architects in the US and Canada have a bachelor’s or a master’s.

B.Arch. programs, which last between four and five years, focus on:

  • History of architecture
  • Fundamental design concepts
  • Spatial reasoning and visualization
  • Interior space and proportions
  • Calculus for architecture
  • Properties of materials
  • Structural systems
  • Environmental systems
  • Building science technology
  • Codes and specifications
  • Project management and contract negotiations
  • Computer-aided design and drafting (CADD)
  • 3D modeling / Building information modeling (BIM) software

M.Arch. programs, which typically last between one and two years, cover many of these same subject areas, though at a more advanced level. They may also focus on specializations, such as:

  • Theoretical, technological, historical, and cultural aspects of design
  • Ecologically sustainable building practices / solar design
  • Historic preservation and urban planning
  • Digital design

After completing an accredited degree program, prospective residential architects must complete the Architectural Experience program (AXP), a three-year training period under the supervision and mentorship of a licensed architect. AXPs are paid internships administered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). They are comprised of four main experience areas: pre-design, design, project management, and practice management.

All US states require practising architects to be licensed. Therefore, in addition to earning a degree and completing the AXP training program, residential architects must pass the NCARB’s Architect Registration Examination (ARE).

There are seven exams which make up the ARE:

  • Construction Documents and Services (CDS)
  • Programming, Planning, and Practice (PPP)
  • Site Planning and Design (SPD)
  • Schematic Design (SD)
  • Structural Systems (SS)
  • Building Systems (BS)
  • Building Design and Construction Systems (BDCS)

Additional state licensing may be required in some jurisdictions.

Professional Organizations and Certifications
As the field of architecture is constantly evolving, it is important to stay up to date with the latest technologies, industry developments, and best practices. Several industry organizations provide advocacy efforts, access to professional events, continuing education opportunities, and industry research and resources, as well as a network of like-minded professionals working in the field.

Many residential architects hold certifications offered by these organizations, which demonstrate expertise in the field as well as a commitment to ongoing learning and professional development. While they are voluntary, some companies may stipulate one or more of these certifications, described below, as a condition of employment, particularly in more senior roles.

  • Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accreditation – LEED is a certification program that recognizes architects and other building professionals with expertise in sustainable building design and construction. The LEED credential is granted by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI).
  • National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) Certification – As noted above, the NCARB is an organization that oversees the licensure and credentialing of architects in the United States. It also offers the NCARB certificate, a professional credential that facilitates licensure across borders.
  • Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) – CAPS is a certification program that recognizes architects and other building professionals who specialize in designing homes that meet the safety, comfort, and accessibility needs of aging adults. The CAPS credential is offered by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
  • Certified Residential Architect (CRA) – The program leading to CRA designation is offered by the American Institute of Building Design (AIBD). The certification recognizes architects who specialize in residential design and have met certain education and experience requirements.

Also supporting the architectural community are the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the American Society of Architectural Illustrators (ASAI).