If you dream of designing homes and other small buildings but don’t want to commit to the time it takes to become a registered architect, you might want to explore a career in home design in architectural design. The path to becoming a Certified Professional Architectural Designer (CPBD) is within reach and beneficial for many. As an architectural designer, you can be invaluable in helping people who are new to the business of building and remodeling. Although you are not legally required to pass the same licensing exams that architects require, you still want to be certified in your field. Even if certification is not required in your state, having a professional certification will make you more marketable, just like a doctor gets state certification after medical school.
Architectural designers are not the same as interior designers – architectural designers care about safe structures that won’t collapse. Architectural design is also different from so-called design-build. Although involving both types of processes, design-build is a team approach to construction and design, where contractors and building designers work under the same contract. The Design Build Institute of America (DBIA) promotes and certifies this type of project management and delivery system. Architectural design is a profession – a field of study undertaken by those who become architectural designers. The American Institute of Architectural Design (AIBD) manages the certification process for architectural designers.
What is a Home Designer or Building Designer?
Architectural designers, also known as professional home designers or residential design professionals, specialize in the design of light buildings such as single- or multi-family homes. In some cases, they can also design other light commercial buildings, agricultural buildings, and even decorative façades for larger buildings if government regulations allow it. With general knowledge of all aspects of the construction industry, professional building designers can act as facilitators, assisting homeowners throughout the construction or renovation process. Architectural designers can also be part of a design-build team.
Designers who earn the Certified Professional Architectural Designer designation have completed a training program, have been designing buildings for at least six years, created a portfolio, and passed a series of rigorous certification exams. Accreditation by the National Council of Building Designers (NCBDC) allows this type of construction professional to adhere to standards of conduct, ethics, and continuous learning.
Each state establishes the licensing and certification requirements needed to practice architecture. Unlike architects, home designers do not need to pass the Architect Registration Exam (ARE) to obtain professional licenses. Completing an ARE administered by the National Architectural Registration Board is one of the most important steps in architectural life.
The first step to becoming a professional architectural designer is to set certification goals. What do I need to do to apply for certification?
Complete the application and pay the non-refundable application fee.
Receive three confirmation letters from professionals in the fields of architecture and design.
Gain six years of experience – combining education (documented courses) and supervised on-the-job training (forms must be filled out by your manager).
It is best to have some experience and learn the craft of architectural design before applying for certification. So, to start your exploration, start with the six-year experience requirement.
Training Before Certification
Enroll in an architectural or civil engineering training course. You can take classes at an accredited architecture school or trade school, and you can even study online if the school and program are accredited. Find courses and training that provide you with a broad background in architecture, problem solving and architectural design. Instead of pursuing an academic education, you can study architecture or civil engineering part-time under the supervision of an architectural planner, architect or civil engineer. For example, if you are a structural engineer or draftsman, you can better understand the rise and fall of buildings – important to know if you want to start your own architectural design business. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is another great place to get hands-on training before getting certified. Throughout the history of architecture, apprenticeships have been the way planners and architects learned the craft. Today’s world of work offers more opportunities.
On-the-job training is essential to getting certified as a professional architectural designer. Use your school’s career resource center and/or online job listings to find internships or entry-level positions that allow you to work with architects, civil engineers or building designers. Start building your own portfolio of working drawings for the design projects you’re working on. After several years of coursework and on-the-job training, you can take the certification exam.
If you want to get a job and build a career in architectural design, you should work towards getting certified in this field. In the United States, professional architectural designers are certified by the NCBDC through AIBD. You can download the CPBD Candidate Handbook to learn more about the process and apply it to taking the online exam. After submitting your application, you will go through a process from “Applicant” to “Candidate” and finally to “Certification”.
When you apply for certification, you will be asked to provide a letter from a professional who can verify your experience. Once approved, you will have 36 months (three years) to pass all parts of the open online exam. You don’t have to be perfect – past 70% is a pass – but you may need to understand some subjects that are not directly related to architecture, such as some architectural history and business administration. Exam questions cover multiple stages of engineering, design, and problem solving. You will have several approved reference books to refer to when you take the exam, but like solving workplace problems, you don’t have time to find answers – you need to know where to look.