Education is key to building a career in architecture

Logan Brennan was the kind of kid who lived to play with his giant tub of Legos and K’Nex building blocks.

“I was always putting something new together. Then I took drafting in high school and learned AutoCAD (computer-aided design and drafting). Becoming an architect just felt like the right path for me,” he said.

A Kennesaw resident, Brennan was surprised to learn he could get the training he needed right in his own backyard. Southern Polytechnic State University offers a five-year bachelor’s degree program in architecture that leads to licensure. To be licensed, architects must complete an accredited professional program, perform a three-year paid internship after graduation and pass the national Architect Registration Exam.

Brennan will graduate this year and already has a job offer from  New South Construction in Atlanta, where he has interned and done 3-D building information modeling work.

The five-year bachelor’s degree is one path into the profession. Another is completing a National Architectural Accrediting Board professional master’s degree program, which is offered at Georgia Tech and at Savannah College of Art and Design.

“I soon learned that architecture is a lot more involved than I thought it was. It’s a challenging program and takes a good deal of time, but if you love it you don’t mind putting in the time to develop the designs and deliverables (projects),” Brennan said.

Prospective architecture students at SPSU are required to complete a three-week workshop the summer before their freshman year.

“It’s a good way to see what they are getting into and if it’s really the program they want,” Brennan said.

“Architecture is a blend of art and science. Analysis and critical thinking are at the core of this discipline,” said Rich Cole, interim dean of SPSU’s School of Architecture and Construction Management.

Architects plan and design the built environment where people live, work and play. They work collaboratively with civil engineers, contractors, urban planners and others to create buildings that are functional and aesthetically pleasing.

“Architects must learn how to communicate visually and verbally, to understand basic engineering and construction skills, as well as social applications and technology. Problem-solving abilities are what they will need most of all,” Cole said. “It won’t hurt to come in with some artistic ability, but the program will teach you how to draw manually and on a computer.”

SPSU’s 438 architecture students come from  across the United States and many  other countries. They spend their first two years in school taking  core courses and a design foundation program. At the end of that period , they present a portfolio of work  to be accepted into the three-year professional courses, where they will complete a number of projects.

Developing a 'design DNA’

“SPSU offers a good balance of theory and practice, and I’ve designed and built models for everything from a temporary pavilion to a single-family home to a midrise commercial building with 15 floors,” Brennan said. “Those three years are where you develop your own design DNA.”

During the fifth year, students learn from practicing architects in the school’s Focus Studio program and develop their own diploma project. Brennan has utilized his interest in  origami  to design new technology for creating space/frame steel structures that are folded instead of pieced together. Requiring less space to store and transport,  these structures would be more environmentally sustainable and cost-efficient.

“There’s a lot to learn in five years, and architects get a very comprehensive education,” said Cole, who has practiced in the profession  for 25 years. “It’s so rewarding to see something go from a rough sketch on a napkin to a building that people can enjoy. You learn skills for life and meet more interesting people than you’d ever hope to meet along the way.”

With a highly trained and multidisplinary faculty and excellent resources, SPSU  will offer a postprofessional master’s degree in architecture, starting this fall.

“It will allow architects and those working in related fields to enhance their professional skills,” Cole said.

The independent-study model will allow students to work with advisors and take courses in the specialties that interest them. They will acquire advanced skills in architectural design, urbanism and emerging new and existing complementary building technologies and research.

Graduates will be prepared to work in traditional architectural jobs for government agencies, construction companies, planning departments, and design and development firms. SPSU will accept 12 to 16 students in the program’s first class.

“Employment in any construction discipline has been dampened by the recession, but the market is getting better for architects. We’re seeing a very good placement record with our graduates,” Cole said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job demand for architects will grow by 24 percent between 2010 and 2020. There were 16,000 job openings listed online in the past 90 days, a 20 percent jump from the same period last year, according to WANTED Analytics.

The median annual pay for entry-level architects in metro Atlanta is $42,395, according to salary.com.