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Architecture is usually not part of a high school curriculum, yet the skills and discipline needed to begin a career as an architect are acquired early on. Many paths can lead to an architectural career - some roads are traditional and others are not. If you are a high school student considering a career in architecture, consider taking the following steps to prepare for your future profession.
- Make sure your high school curriculum includes humanities, mathematics, science, and art courses.
- Carry a sketchbook and use it to record notes and sketches of your surroundings. Even a family vacation to Disneyland is an opportunity to observe new building styles.
- Consider attending an architecture camp to develop your skills.
Plan to Pursue Higher Education
College is the traditional route to an architecture career. While still in high school, you should plan a strong college preparatory program. You'll make important connections (fellow students and professors) in what is called higher education, and the university program will help you become a registered architect. An architect is a licensed professional, like a medical doctor or public school teacher. Although architecture was not always a licensed profession, most of today's architects have been to college. A degree in architecture prepares you for any number of careers, if you decide the architecture profession is not for you - the study of architecture is interdisciplinary.
High School Courses to Prepare for College
Humanities courses will sharpen your communication skills and your ability to put ideas into words and concepts into historic context. Presentation of a project is an important business aspect of the profession and vital when working in a team of professionals.
Math and science courses help develop problem-solving techniques and logic. Studying physics will get you familiar with important concepts related to force, such as compression and tension. Tensile architecture, for example, "stands up" because of tension instead of compression. The PBS website for Building Big has a good introduction and demonstration of forces. But physics is old school - necessary, but very Greek and Roman. These days you want to know about the changes in Earth's climate and how buildings must be built to stand up to extreme weather above the Earth's surface and seismic activity below. Architects must keep up with building materials, too - how does the new cement or aluminum affect the environment during its entire life cycle? The research in the growing field of Materials Science affects a broad range of industries. Research in what architect Neri Oxman calls Material Ecology explores how building products can be more biological in nature.
Art courses - drawing, painting, sculpture, and photography - will be helpful in developing your ability to visualize and conceptualize, which are both important skills to an architect. Learning about perspective and symmetry is invaluable. Drafting is less important than being able to communicate ideas through visual means. Art history will be a lifelong learning experience, as movements in architecture often parallel visual art trends. Many people suggest that there are two avenues to an architecture career - through art or through engineering. If you can have a grasp of both disciplines, you'll be ahead of the game.
Electives to Take in High School
In addition to required courses, the optional classes you choose will be extremely helpful in preparing for a career in architecture. Computer hardware is less important than knowing about how software works and what you can do with it. Consider the simple value of keyboarding, as well, because time is money in the business world. Speaking of business, think about an introductory course in accounting, economics, and marketing - especially important when working in your own small business.
Less obvious choices are activities that promote cooperation and consensus. Architecture is a collaborative process, so learn how to work with many different kinds of people - groups that have common objectives to attain the same goal or make one product. Theater, band, orchestra, chorus, and team sports are all useful pursuits… and fun!
Develop Good Habits
High school is a good time to develop positive skills that you will use your entire life. Learn how to manage your time and get your projects done well and promptly. Project management is a huge responsibility in the architect's office. Learn how to get it done. Learn how to think.
Keep a Journal of Travel and Observations
Everyone lives somewhere. Where do people live? How do they live? How are their spaces put together compared with where you live? Examine your neighborhood and document what you see. Keep a journal that combines sketches and descriptions - pictures and words are an architect's lifeblood. Give your journal a name, like L'Atelier, which is French for "the workshop." Mon Atelier would be "my workshop." Along with art projects you may do in school, your sketchbook could become part of your portfolio. Also, take advantage of family travel and be a keen observer of your surroundings - even a water park has organizational design and color, and Disney theme parks have loads of different architecture.
Observe how problems are solved. Examine how architects, designers, and urban planners have solved the problems of people living and working on the planet and in space (for example, the International Space Station). What choices do governments make about the built environment? Don't simply be critical, but come up with better solutions. Do towns and cities seem planned or have they gotten bigger by simply adding on, in all directions including skyward? Are designs chosen because they fit into their surroundings or because they dignify the architect's vision of engineering or beauty? The Brenner motorway bridge is the most important thruway over the central Alps, connecting the Austrian region of Tyrol with Italy's Southern Tyrol - but does the roadway destroy the natural design of its environment and the place where people have chosen to live quietly? Can you make an argument for other solutions? In your studies you'll also discover the politics of architecture, especially when it comes to the power of eminent domain.
What Others Say
Since 1912, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) has been a leading organization in architectural education. They have written that aspiring architects "should learn as much as possible about the field of architecture, by talking to architects and by visiting architectural offices." When you have a research project for a humanities course, keep in mind the profession of architecture. For example, a research paper for an English Composition class or an interview project for European History are good opportunities to get in touch with architects in your community and find out what influences their thinking. Research historic architects of the past to gain a broader perspective of how the profession has changed - construction materials, engineering, and a sense of what is beautiful (aesthetics).
Many schools of architecture, both in the U.S. and abroad, provide summer opportunities for high school students to experience architecture. Talk with your high school guidance counselor about these and other possibilities:
- Career Discovery, University of Notre Dame School of Architecture, Indiana
- Teen ArchStudio Summer Institute, UCLA, Los Angeles, California
- Summer Academy, Boston Architectural College, Massachusetts
- Summer Design Academy, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte
- Architecture Summer at Penn, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
- Youth Adventure Program, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
- Summer College for High School Students, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York
- Summer Pre-College Program at Tulane School of Architecture, New Orleans, Louisiana
- Summer College at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
- CU Summer Scholars, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina
- Ongoing Programs at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin, Spring Green, Wisconsin
- Project Pipeline Architecture Camps, The National Organization of Minority Architects
What if You Don't Want to Go to College?
Only registered architects can put "RA" after their names and really be called "architects." But you don't have to be an architect to design small buildings. Maybe being a professional home designer or building designer is what you really want to do. Although all of the courses, subjects, and skills listed here are equally valuable to the professional home designer, the certification process is not as rigorous as licensure to become an architect.
Another avenue to a career in architecture is to seek a career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The USACE is part of the U.S. Army but also hires civilian employees. When talking with an Army Recruiter, ask about the Army Corps of Engineers, in existence since the American Revolution. George Washington appointed the first engineer officers of the Army on June 16, 1775.
A book such as The Language of Architecture: 26 Principles Every Architect Should Know by Andrea Simitch and Val Warke (Rockport, 2014) will give you the scope of what an architect needs to know - skills and knowledge that are not always obvious in the profession. Many career advisors mention "hard" skills like math and "soft" skills such as communication and presentation, but what about tropes? "Tropes build connections between many aspects of our world," write Simitch and Warke. Books such as these help you make connections between what you learn in the classroom and the real world profession of designing and building things. For example, you learn about "irony" in English class. "In architecture, ironies are most effective in challenging beliefs that may be entrenched, or in overturning formal complexes that have been overcome by facile interpretations," write the authors. What you need to know to become an architect is as diverse as architecture itself.
Other useful books for students interested in a career in architecture are the "how-to" types of books - Wiley publishers have a number of career-oriented books, such as Becoming an Architect by Lee Waldrep (Wiley, 2014). Other handy books are ones written by real, live, practicing architects, such as Beginner's Guide: How to Become an Architect by Ryan Hansanuwat (CreateSpace, 2014).
Make a smooth transition from high school to college life by understanding the different types of architecture programs available. The course of study in colleges can vary from place to place, just like house styles can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. You don't need to be a mathematician to be an architect.
- Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), High School Preparation, //www.acsa-arch.org/resources/guide-to-architectural-education/overview/high-school-preparation; //www.studyarchitecture.com/