How to hire an architect for your team
Need an architect for your project or team? Here’s where to start.
What does an architect do?
An architect brings their vision and their client’s to life within a specified budget and according to building codes and regulations. That includes:
- Hand-drawing sketches for building concepts and plans
- Using CAD software to create detailed technical plans and 3D models
- Designing buildings, interior spaces or exteriors
- Designing within safety regulations and building codes, including ADA compliance regulations
- Selecting or advising material choices
- Communicating ideas and plans with clients, designers, engineers and architect technicians
- Visiting construction sites to monitor building progress
- Responding to RFPs and creating job proposals
An architect may work as part of an architecture firm, as a freelancer or as an in-house designer for a company. Their area of expertise varies widely. You will find architects in every industry, focused on specialties such as:
- Commercial architecture - Designing office buildings, towers, retail buildings, museums, hospitals, hotels, government properties, etc.
- Residential architecture - Designing homes and apartment buildings
- Sustainability / green architecture - Designing environmentally friendly builds
- Industrial architecture - Factories, warehouses, power plants, terminals and more, where functionality is of utmost importance
- Urban design - Designing areas within a city or town to determine where parks, streets, residential areas, shopping and more will be built
- Landscape architecture - Designing gardens, lawns, parks and other outdoor spaces
- Conservation architecture - Restoring historic buildings and properties
- Interior architecture - Designing the structure of an interior space, which may or may not include the interior design
What skills should an architect have?
It depends what type of architecture they do. For example, some architects are focused on the design aspect of architecture and hand off the technical details, like ensuring a building meets safety regulations, to an architect technician.
However, most architects possess the following skills at a minimum:
- Design skills, including an understanding of composition, balance and color
- Technical drawing skills
- Attention to detail
- Ability to turn concepts into technical design plans
- An understanding of building regulations and safety codes
- 2D and 3D modeling and rendering skills
- A foundational knowledge of building and construction
- Excellent communication skills
- Mastery of CAD software and other industry tools
While the software and tools a designer uses depends on their area of focus, you can expect an architect to be skilled in at least a few of the following architecture tools.
Common architecture software
- AutoCAD Civil 3D
- Chief Architect
- 3DS Max
- All Plan
- Vectorworks Architect
Most architects have at least a bachelor degree in architecture, with some going on to earn a master’s degree. In the United States, anyone calling themselves an architect is required to be licensed in the state they’re practicing in. Some unlicensed architects, however, will practice as an architectural designer.
The architect you hire, their skills and area of focus will all depend on your project, your budget and your vision.
What to consider when hiring an architect
The first place to look: Their portfolio.
You should know what clients the architect has worked with, the type of work they typically do, their philosophy and process, similar projects they’ve completed successfully, any references they can share, their ability to solve problems, and their level of skill and experience. All of that will be clear in their online portfolio.
Every professional architect today has an online portfolio or personal website. If they don’t, their credibility and skill may be questionable.
Their portfolio will determine whether the architect’s process, values and experience align with your interests. All of which you can expand on in an interview.
What to ask when interviewing an architect
Considering an architect but unsure if they’re the right fit for the job? If you’re an architecture firm hiring for your team, here are the questions to ask. If you’re a client looking for an architect for a project, skip to the next set of questions.
Q: What is your philosophy for your work?
This is an opportunity for the architect to articulate their passion and values. You’re not necessarily looking for their style, but rather an insight into their personality, work ethic and confidence.
Q: What project are you most proud of in your portfolio?
This question will hopefully allow the architect to relax as they walk through a specific project in detail. Their answer will reveal their skill level, experience and measure of success.
Q: What has been your most challenging project?
Here you will learn how the architect solves problems. It will also demonstrate their general experience level and attitude about their work.
Q: Why do you want to work for our firm?
With this question, you can understand how your firm’s interests and values align with the architect’s.
If you’re a client hiring an architect for a project, the following questions will help you get to know your architect, their process and their skill level.
Q: How long does a project like this typically take?
You’ll want to understand their timeline to plan the project accordingly. But this will also reveal their experience level and confidence doing the type of project you’re hiring them for.
Q: What do you need from me for this project to be successful?
You will want to understand the architect’s workflow and process before starting a project together. But they will also ask a number of questions about your vision and expectations, to make sure you’re both on the same page.
Q: What are the important considerations or potential challenges of this project?
Most issues or challenges can be identified before the architect begins designing or making their plan. With this question, you can get a sense of their big-picture thinking and proactivity – both important qualities when it comes to architecture.
Q: What is your involvement and my involvement in the construction phase?
An architect or firm will likely be able to recommend a contractor to lead the construction phase. Some will step back from there. Others may stay on as an agent to monitor the contractor and ensure the project is executed according to their plan. It’s important you understand their role in this phase, as you may be required to work directly with the contractor if the firm isn’t doing so themselves.
Q: What’s your fee structure?
An established architect or firm will explain their pricing structure and how you will be charged for any additional costs or changes in scope. This should all be written out clearly in your contract so there are no surprises later. Plans and details are bound to change or expand at some point in your project. It’s better to know how they will be addressed and what they’ll cost you beforehand.
Q: Is my vision possible within my budget? What is unrealistic, if not? And how will you make sure we stay within this budget?
It’s important to have open conversations about your budget from the start. Your architect should go over how they estimate costs, address cost limitations and ensure the project stays within budget. We all want the best quality for the best price. But a good architect will be realistic with you about what’s possible within your budget and what’s not – and will work to find solutions that do meet your budget.
How to get work as an architect
Looking for freelance architecture work or a full-time job at an architecture firm? Start here.
Getting started with architecture
Any architect will tell you they worked hard and lost a lot of sleep to get where they are now. They will also likely tell you they love their job, despite all its challenges.
While many creative jobs today are becoming more accessible without a university degree, the complexities and legalities of architecture require formal training. Most architects have at least a bachelor’s degree in architecture from an accredited architecture school. Others go on to receive their master’s or even doctorate degree.
Most architects will also get licensed in their state, which requires passing a rigorous 7-hour exam. In the United States, it’s not legal to call yourself an architect without being licensed.
If you’re just starting out as an architect, you will likely be working as an intern with an architecture firm to gain experience in different categories of architecture. Most states require a certain amount of hours of experience before you can be licensed.
As you gain experience as an intern, and eventually on your own or as part of a firm, you will be slowly building your portfolio. And it’s your portfolio that will determine the future of your career.
How to make an architecture portfolio
The first place a client or firm will look when considering you for a project? Your website.
It’s important to not only have an online portfolio, but to have a current one that reflects you, your taste and your understanding of modern design. An outdated portfolio is just as bad as not having one at all.
Thankfully, creating a beautiful online portfolio (and keeping it fresh) is easy today – especially if you’re using Carbonmade.
To start, curate a selection of your best projects, meaning the ones you’re most proud of. Most firms and clients want to see diversity in an architecture portfolio, so select a range of projects that show what you enjoy doing most – and what you want to do more in the future. If you’re not interested in commercial architecture, for example, don’t lead with those projects or include them at all. You’re hired based on what’s in your portfolio, so include the work you want to continue doing.
Clarity is key, so write succinct case studies that show how you approached the project, how you solved any problems that arose and how the project turned out. Every case study should be a success story that gives us insight into your process, your skill, your ability to solve problems and to think originally.
Our eyes will go straight to the images, so be sure to include high-quality images of your sketches, renderings and final results throughout your case study. Think of your project in phases and pair images with scannable paragraphs (almost like captions) that tell the story of each project. Give us a behind-the-scenes look into your process with visuals that demonstrate each phase of the project.
As an architect, it’s important to show credibility. The firm or client hiring you will want to know what type of work you’ve done, what clients you’ve worked with and whether they recommend you. If you can include any awards, reviews or recommendations on your portfolio, it will serve you well.
Finally, be sure to create a compelling About page that tells us who you are, and what philosophy guides your work. Feel free to show a little personality here as well. Your portfolio’s about the work, but we also want to get a feel for who you are and how we’ll work together.
How to make an architecture portfolio
Whether you’re being interviewed by an architect firm or meeting with a potential client, you’ll want to prepare beforehand to set yourself up for success.
First, review and refresh your portfolio. It’s likely you will walk a client or hiring manager through a project during your interview, so reviewing beforehand will ensure you can confidently navigate your site without any issues or missteps.
Next, think through your experience, your process and your philosophy around your work. You should be able to explain what is required for a project to be successful, how you solve problems and make a client’s vision (and your own) come to life on a budget. Consider past projects you’ve done and think about how you approached challenges, brought ideas to life and ultimately made the project a success story.
If you’re interviewing with a firm, research the firm before going into the interview. Look at the projects they typically do and how that aligns with your experience and interests. Read their case studies to understand their process and how it relates to yours. Get a feel for the company culture and team. Yes, they’re interviewing you, but it’s important that you feel it’s the right fit as well. By researching the company first, you’ll impress them and better understand how you’d fit in.
If you’re meeting with a potential client, they will also want to understand in clear terms the timeline, budget and process of the project. These conversations go best when both sides are honest and open about expectations and needs. So don’t stress! Focus on being clear and straightforward. Don’t worry so much about impressing, but rather aim to build trust.