How to Become a Project Architect

Project architects are architects who work specifically on projects and are considered advanced architects. While all architecture jobs are referred to as “projects”, a “project architect” is more commonly an architect who’s self employed or commissioned to conduct project work. Commonly these are highly qualified, experienced architects who make their living working on projects rather than a salaried staff architect.

The work environment

 A project architect may work in a facility operated by project management, or their own studio or office. Project architect work may involve:

  • Specific commissioned work for a project: This may a particular part of the architectural work, like a technical specialty or specific design work.
  • An entire project, if the project architect has the resources to conduct the entire project.

An Example

Some architectural projects are huge, complex design undertakings. For example, a tourist resort may involve:

  • Development plans
  • Promotional architectural mock ups of the final design
  • Graphic representation for advertising purposes
  • Multiple types of building, many of them specialized.
  • Hundreds of individual structures, each requiring formal plans
  • Shopping facilities built into a design in various forms
  • Parking facilities
  • A marina or other geographically related feature
  • Provision of access
  • Safety design features like fire exits
  • Engineering and construction plans for each structure and sub-structure

The nature of the work is dictated by the individual’s specific role. A project architect responsible for the entire project is in fact the senior architect, usually a manager coordinating the work of other architects, engineers, and overseeing the development of the plans from the ground up.

In some cases a project architect may be a design specialist, like an interior structural designer. In a large building, some areas have their own designers, working within the main plan. Technical designs, like industrial buildings, or other buildings with particular functions, may also require the services of a project architect who specializes in those fields. This splitting of tasks on a project is an efficient way of assigning roles. The project architect also has a built in advisory role. Project architects are experts in their fields, and act as the technical advisers in their areas of the project. In the example above, each element of production of architectural plans may call for specialist advice.

Wages and Hours

Project architects are senior qualified architects; earnings start in the upper median range of about $85,000 per year. Contract rates and designers may receive considerably more as commissioned architects or consultants. The hours for an architect may be very variable, often dictated by project schedules.

The career outlook

This is a very different environment from the salaried architect workplace. Project architects are the professional over-achievers of architecture. Many get their start in project work on projects like the tourist resort above, doing the basic plans and learning how the project environment operates. Project experience is an essential requirement of top level architectural roles, and a primary requirement for consultancy positions. Some top level project architects in the consultancy role may receive millions for their work.