15 Essential Skills Needed to Be an Architect

Illustration of a woman sitting at a desk and drawing up architectural plans

Deciding to become an architect is a wise career choice; it’s exciting, it pays well, and you’ll get to make a significant and lasting contribution to how societies are shaped. But not everybody has what it takes to fulfil this complex, technical and multifaceted role. Indeed, it takes a unique mix of skills to be a suitable candidate for a career in architecture.

If you’re interested in this fast-paced and dynamic industry, these are the required skills to stand out from the crowd!

1. Numerical skills

The entire concept of architecture is grounded within the rules and boundaries of mathematics; therefore, you’ll need to possess a strong grasp of numerical principles, especially within geometry and advanced algebra. If you haven’t already, you should look to attend your nearest A Level/high school diploma-standard maths class, as it is a basic prerequisite to enrol on any architecture degree.

2. Creative skills

If you’re going to be spending the rest of your career designing cutting-edge buildings that push the boundaries of aesthetics, then you’re going to need a flair for the imaginative. The ability to be creative and bring daring new ideas to life is an architect’s essential mission statement. If you want your work to be memorable and well-received, you need to be constantly innovating.

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3. Design skills

Of course, it’s all well and good, creating something that looks good; however, it also needs to be practical, viable and suited to your clients’ needs and demands. This is why it’s important to have a good understanding of design processes, such as knowing how to combine visual appeal with functionality; a good architect will always know how to compromise between the two.

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4. Legal knowledge

Aside from the client’s specifications and the allotted budget, the biggest restriction on your designs will be the multitude of building codes, regulations and policies that you need to adhere to. Although you will have the help of a qualified surveyor in this regard, it will save everybody a lot of time (and you a lot of design revisions) if you have a basic knowledge of what you can and can’t do.

5. Communication skills

Unsurprisingly, architects are not the only people responsible for a building’s construction. Aside from the client, there are numerous lawyersconstruction managers, surveyors, contractors, local government officials, tradespeople and structural engineers you will need to liaise with, each with their own unique interests and concerns. Knowing how to communicate effectively with each one and ensuring everybody’s needs are met is an understated but vitally important part of the role. The successful delivery of a project can often depend on it.

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6. Teamwork skills

On a similar theme of collaboration, the ability to work well with others is an essential component of an architect’s armoury. Although the actual design work may be done in solitude, at any one time you will need to liaise with:

  • your internal team, whether to produce blueprints on an existing job or to pitch contracts to potential clients
  • the construction team, to ensure adherence to your designs or to discuss the availability and cost of materials
  • the client, to establish practical functions and the direction of the project
  • surveyors and planning officials to satisfy legislative demands and to maintain the integrity of the local environment

That’s just a snapshot, too; there are many other frequent occasions where you will be required to work as part of a wider team, often drawn from different industries and backgrounds that you may not necessarily be familiar with.

Sharpen your teamwork skills through a course by the University of Colorado Boulder

7. Commercial awareness

Although commercial awareness may sound like the latest CV buzzword, it is an important aspect of any professional’s skillset. Understanding the industry (or industries) that you operate in can allow you to connect with the right clients and secure the right projects. It also allows you to understand other stakeholders’ needs better, ensuring that those aforementioned collaborative partnerships will run a lot more smoothly.

8. Artistic skills

Away from the business side of things, you will, of course, need to sit down at some point and actually draw something. Whether this is through ‘old-school’ drafting techniques or the use of Computer Aided Design (CAD) software, you will need to be familiar with the processes and methods used, including how to scale accurately.

9. Problem-solving skills

In the history of plans, few have ever succeeded without a hitch somewhere along the line. As you can imagine, large-scale building projects are no different. When a design-related problem arises, you need to be flexible and adaptable to resolve it quickly and efficiently, whether it be a legislative issue or a material supply issue. Either way, having an alternative solution to hand is an essential skill.

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10. Visualising skills

When given a client brief, top architects are already starting to picture in their head what their creation will look like; visualising is a skill that all artistic and design-based professionals need to possess. Of course, once various changes have been made and certain hurdles overcome, the end product might be different, but if you can’t envisage your design in the first place, then how will it ever translate onto paper – let alone real life?

11. Engineering skills

As any architect or engineer will quickly tell you, there are distinct differences between the two professions. However, they both need to have a basic understanding of each other’s capabilities to work together. An architect cannot submit a design to a structural engineer if it’s not physically possible to implement; therefore, some understanding of basic physics and engineering principles is a must.

12. Leadership skills

As previously mentioned, there is no one central figurehead of the construction process; as it’s your design, though, you will need to explain, dictate and delegate certain aspects to various contractors, as well as junior architects and technicians. This requires basic leadership skills that will develop with experience, although you could also choose to pursue a project management qualification to accelerate the process.

Improve your leadership skills through a course by the University of Illinois

13. Attention to detail

Whether hand-drawn or otherwise, architectural drawings are painstakingly detailed pieces of work that a wide array of construction workers rely on as a guide. Therefore, one misplaced window or a hastily conceived plumbing arrangement can cause problems – and, subsequently, delays – further down the line. As a result, attention to detail is an important part of the role, as you won’t be able to cut any corners or leave anything to chance.

14. Computer literacy

As with any job in the 21st Century, you’ll need to be tech-savvy. Although some architects still draft construction plans and designs by hand, most have moved to digital technology, primarily because it enables the ease of sharing drafts and prototypes with clients. As such, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with software like computer-aided design (CAD) and building information modelling (BIM).

15. Building and construction knowledge

Anyone who designs buildings without construction knowledge is, essentially, just a 3D artist. As such, architects need to have a thorough understanding of the materials, methods and tools used in the construction or repair of buildings and other structures to integrate that knowledge when drafting designs.

As you can see, becoming an architect requires more than just a simple touch of imagination and flair; you need to be business-minded, open to change and a natural leader, too. You also need to possess a veritable array of transferable soft skills, not to mention a grounded education in the defining principles of mathematics and engineering.

Of course, this unique blend of skills is honed and crafted over a period of time; architecture degrees typically last between five and seven years, after all. But if you’re confident that you can demonstrate the potential to acquire these skills, then there’s no reason why a successful career in architecture can’t be yours.

What other skills do you think an architect should have? Let us know in the comments below!


This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 14 August 2018 and contains revisions by Chris Leitch.