Interested in where an architecture degree could take you? Explore everything from interior design to structural engineering in this useful career guide.
Whether you’re passionate about design or simply want a degree that’s equal parts creative and analytical, a degree in architecture could pave the way to an exciting and fulfilling career. While it’s natural to think an architecture degree could only lead to a career in architecture, it has so much more to offer.
An architecture degree will put you in prime position to take your pick of roles in a number of industries. After all, you’ll have developed research, project management, technical and maths skills plus an understanding of the construction and design industries.
If you’re interested in joining a cohort of over 20,000 students who study architecture each year, you’re in the right place. So, what can you do with an architecture degree? Great question – keep reading to find out.
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The obvious answer is, of course, an architect. It goes without saying that an architecture degree leads to a career as an architect. According to a study by The Architects’ Council of Europe (ACE) in 2022, there are 620,000 architects and counting in Europe. As the industry’s gender and pay disparities continue to shrink and demand rises, there’s never been a better time to train to be an architect.
What does an architect do?
An architect’s role is to plan the construction and development of buildings and spaces, from design to its final stages. These projects could include new builds, renovations or extensions to older buildings.
While design plays an integral role as an architect, day-to-day life will include a lot more responsibilities. Architects will also work with clients and engineers, plan and prepare reports and presentations, complete site visits and work with contractors during construction amongst other things.
As an architect, you’ll be able to focus on one (or more) specialisms, some of which include:
- Landscape architect – working with outdoor, green and public spaces and structures.
- Restoration architect – that’s responsible for the preservation and conversion of old buildings.
- Green building/sustainable architect – working solely on sustainable building projects.
Generally speaking, you can expect to earn on average £40,805 a year in the UK but salaries can reach over £70,000 a year at director level.
How to become an architect
So, if you’d like to follow in the footsteps of Antoni Gaudí, Zaha Hadid and Frank Lloyd Wright, here’s what you need to do.
- Complete your qualification in three parts, typically made up of five years of study and two years practical training and an exam, although apprenticeships are now available.
- After successfully completing your BArch, MArch or Diploma, register with the Architects Registration Board (ARB) to legally be considered an architect.
- Apply for a chartered membership at RIBA, the Royal Institute of British Architects, once you’ve qualified as an architect.
While studying for a degree in architecture, you’ll quickly become familiar with different design techniques and software. One you’ll probably hear more often is computer-aided design or as it’s more commonly known, CAD.
What does a CAD technician do?
CAD technicians use CAD software to create 2D and 3D drawings (of buildings, structures or machinery) which are then used for construction or engineering.
For CAD technicians, day-to-day responsibilities include:
- Creating and modifying detailed technical CAD drawings of maps, buildings, bridges and structures.
- Planning, coordinating and storing these drawings.
- Working with other designers and making site visits as necessary, amongst other responsibilities.
How to become a CAD technician
An architecture degree will give you the foundational skills needed to start a career as a CAD technician. You’ll need IT skills, technical drawing skills, maths skills and design skills, all of which you’ll no doubt develop during your studies.
Likewise, you’ll already be familiar with being architecturally-inclined and working with architects, but you can also expect to work with engineers. All that’s left is to gain the relevant work experience and start your first role.
From Hannah Beachler’s Afrofuturist production design for Black Panther to Adam Stockhausen’s distinct production design on The Grand Budapest Hotel, no one understands space more than a production designer. That’s why an architecture degree is an excellent entry way into a career in production design.
What does a production designer do?
Production designers are responsible for the sets you see in your favourite TV shows, films and theatre productions.
Along with a director, director of photography and other visual department heads, a production designer will craft a set that brings the script to life. As production designers need to be skilled in art and design and have an understanding of history, film and photography, the skills developed while studying for an architecture degree will help set you up for success.
As a production designer, you can expect to:
- Work alongside researchers, set decorators, art directors, production buyers, concept artists and runners.
- Read scripts and conduct background research.
- Source materials and manage the production design budget.
- Create visual concepts and drawings.
- Manage a team and work with the costume designers and lighting department to ensure everything runs smoothly.
How to become a production designer
Production designers usually start out as art department trainees and work their way up to the role of production designer. As production design is a freelance role, pay can vary depending on the project and experience, but as an estimate, yearly salaries average at just over £30,000 in the UK.
Like a production designer, a career as an interior designer merges your understanding of space and design with the skills developed during an architecture degree.
What does an interior designer do?
Arguably one of the more familiar roles on the list (thanks in part to so many design shows), interior designers work with a range of clients to plan and create spaces according to their needs and wants. These clients can include everyone from individuals looking to renovate their home to new restaurants and hotels looking to make their mark on the hospitality industry.
While technical design skills and creativity are integral to interior design, great communication skills separates the good interior designers from the great ones. While each day will be different, you can expect to:
- Work with your clients to make their vision a reality.
- Work with designers and suppliers on your client’s brief.
- Liaise with tradespeople and other industry professionals.
- Assess the possible opportunities and limits of each space you work on.
- Stay up-to-date with trends.
How to become an interior designer
While interior design roles are competitive, having a portfolio that shows off your skills will put you in a great position. Interior designers can work as part of a studio or freelance, with average salaries starting at £18,000 and reaching up to £45,000 for more experienced designers – but you can expect freelance rates to vary depending on the project.
For something a little more community-minded, consider town planning.
What does a town planner do?
Town planners, also known as urban planners or spatial planners, design and develop plans for outdoor spaces and help shape the development and management of villages, towns and cities.
Day-to-day, town and urban planners:
- Meet the needs of the community and the environment
- Work with stakeholders
- Attend meetings
- Conduct site visits
- Devise plans for affordable housing and building conservation
Like an interior designer, communication, and being able to communicate with everyone from stakeholders to public officials is an important part of this role as well as technical ability, research and project management skills.
How to become a town planner
Using an architecture degree to enter the world of town planning (whether for the private or public sector) is a great way to think about space on a larger scale. To become a qualified town planner, you’ll need a postgraduate qualification that’s been accredited by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). You can do this full-time or part-time while working in a junior role.
On average, town and urban planners earn just over £44,000 a year in the UK.
Everyone who has ever tried to buy a new piece of furniture knows two things to be true. One, there are always more shades of brown than you think and two, furniture is expensive. If you consider yourself a design buff, a career as a furniture designer may be the next step after earning a degree in architecture.
What does a furniture designer do?
It’s pretty self explanatory, but furniture designers design and craft pieces of furniture. Some designers prefer to work for a mainstream brand whereas others may decide that their style works best freelance, complete with their own brand.
From briefs, research and creative brainstorming to development and working with manufacturers, you can expect that each day will be different and you’ll be using a mix of creative and analytical skills.
How to become a furniture designer
Like interior design, a portfolio that showcases your best work will help you stand out in a sea of applications. Whether you want to work for a design studio or start your career freelance, shadowing a senior designer will build that all-important experience.
On average, furniture designers earn a little over £38,000 a year, according to Glassdoor, but as usual, expect that to vary for freelance projects.
At its core, architecture is about quality (whether that’s design or structure). Luckily, building surveyors know a lot about quality too.
What does a building surveyor do?
Whereas architects work on designing new buildings or extensions, building surveyors assess the quality of buildings and then advise on next steps via a building survey (which is essentially a report on what actions to take on either the conservation, restoration and suitability of both old and new buildings).
Unlike most of the roles listed in this article, building surveyors need a relative level of fitness, due to the regular site visits and ongoing surveying of construction sites and buildings.
As you’ll need technical and IT skills (including an understanding of CAD software), attention to detail and an understanding of the construction industry, an architecture degree could set you on the path to becoming a building surveyor.
How to become a building surveyor
To get qualified as a chartered building surveyor, you’ll need to have completed a conversion course, apprenticeship, degree or master’s degree accredited by The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), where you then could go on to earn up to £70,000 a year, according to the RICS.
If a career in education feels like it might be the right path for you, then an architecture degree could pave the way for a role as an architecture lecturer.
What does an architecture lecturer do?
As expected, you’ll be responsible for preparing seminar and lecture material, marking exams and assessments, setting coursework and supervising students, amongst other responsibilities.
How to become an architecture lecturer
Experience as a working architect is always best, especially as you’ll be helping shape the minds and learning experiences of future architects. Alongside this, a PhD and a teaching qualification will help set you in the right direction, for a career that brings in an estimated £56,312 a year.
However, it’s always best to go straight to the source – and who else but an architecture lecturer to answer your most pressing questions about this career?
While studying an architecture degree, you’ll quickly learn that function and practicality is just as important as a stylish and modern design. A career as a structural engineer should feel like a natural progression from your studies, then.
What does a structural engineer do?
Structural engineers are responsible for ensuring safe and strong building structures. From planning and designing to working with designers, contractors and other professionals, structural engineers’ number one priority is making sure that their structures are secure and can withstand anything.
Attention to detail coupled with accurate and excellent technical and design skills are just some of this role’s most important skills.
How to become a structural engineer
A master’s in structural engineering accredited by The Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE), followed by experience in the workplace, an Initial Professional Development (IPD) and a review will give successful candidates access to Chartered or Associate membership with IStructE, and potentially The Engineering Council. On average, structural engineers earn £41,445 annually.
While architecture is so much more than just drawing, excellent drawing and design skills are central to successfully completing a degree in architecture. With that in mind, becoming a professional illustrator seems like another obvious choice.
What does an illustrator do?
It’s pretty self-explanatory but illustrators create drawings. Like architecture, your specialism can purely be determined by what you’re interested in – whether that’s fashion illustration, book illustration or even courtroom illustration (yes, really).
How to become an illustrator
The only answer is to draw and keep drawing. Practice makes the professional and over time, and spending time honing your craft will only spotlight your distinct drawing style. Perhaps, you only illustrate in black or white, or exaggerate particular details – practice will help build a portfolio to demonstrate that.
Illustrators can work for studios, agencies, in-house at a single company or go freelance. The choice is yours, but connecting with other freelancers and sharing your work will make the world of difference.
While average salaries are reported at £30,456 a year, the sky’s the limit with illustration. Freelancers have gone on to work with major clients, collaborating with other creatives to create iconic illustrations (see: Quentin Blake and Nick Sharratt) of their own, so do take that figure lightly.
Craft your career path with FutureLearn
Hopefully, this has shed some light on what routes an architecture degree can open for you. Whatever you decide to do, FutureLearn is here to give you the right tools to expertly craft your career path. Join our learner community and learn in your own time, and who knows, you might just inspire your next move.
Online architecture, building and design courses
- Introduction to Freehand Drawing for Architecture, Interiors and Design by University for the Creative Arts
- Modern Building Design by University of Bath
- Placemaking and Public Space Design: Unlocking Design Potential by Luleå University of Technology
- Sustainable Building and Energy Efficiency Development by Taipei Medical University