What Are The Different Types Of Architects?

"I have always loved to look at beautiful buildings, and I feel like the world could be a much more beautiful place. I want to become part of the solution by becoming an architect. What different types of architects are there? It seems like a good idea to start charting out my education in advance so that I make the right decisions when I am searching for an architecture school. What educational paths can I take based on where I want to end up in the long run?"

asked by Penelope from Chicago, IL

Your goal is a noble one, and a common reason for others to enter into the field of architecture as well. As an architect, the “type” of job you have could refer to the type of constructions you work on or your specific capacity within a given project. For example, you might be a project manager, a designer, or a business owner. Those are all job roles. You may even be surprised by just how much those job roles differ. Each role has a very unique description, and you may find yourself drawn more to some than others. It is also possible that throughout your career you will work in a variety of capacities.

But you also could define your work by the buildings you create. Let’s take a look at some common paths in the field of architecture and some of the different types of architects:

Residential Architect

Residential architects focus most of their efforts on constructing beautiful private dwellings for homeowners. While a lot of the houses we see in neighborhoods around the world are designed identically or close to it (some people call these “cookie cutter” houses), many neighborhoods allow for customized homes with unique styles.

As a residential architect, you would be working with private clients to help them to design the home of their dreams. You would need to be cognizant of all local building codes as well as relevant neighborhood covenants (some neighborhoods are very strict, while others are not). The home you design will have to conform to all of these local regulations but also fulfill the form and function of a beautiful and inviting home environment for your client. While you probably have not seen nearly as many examples of custom homes as you have of cookie-cutter houses, odds are you have seen at least a few. Inside and out, they beautify the world and the lives of their inhabitants and neighbors.

Many of the world’s most famous examples of beautiful architecture were actually commissioned as private residences for homeowners. For example, Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous American architect, designed numerous homes in Oak Park, IL and throughout the country. These houses stand today as some of the most well-known examples of American architecture, but they were originally built to serve the needs of private clients. Many are still lived in today, while others are open for tours. Perhaps you could become the next Frank Lloyd Wright. Or maybe you will discover another style entirely that is completely different. Architecture is all about finding your own personal vision and bringing it to life—and helping your clients to do the same.

Commercial or Public Architect

If you focus on this role, you may specialize in larger ventures for businesses or government entities, erecting public buildings such as shopping malls, libraries, government facilities, and more. There are also many famous examples of famous public structures, all the more so since so many people are able to experience them. Think back over your life, and you will probably remember examples of impressive train stations, airports, and other public facilities you walked through. Maybe you only spent a few hours in some of these locations, but the memories can stick with you for years to come.

Elegant public buildings help to not only beautify facilities and make experiences more pleasant and enjoyable, but also to fulfill a practical purpose. A well-designed shopping mall makes it easier for buyers to find what they are searching for. A well-designed airport makes it easy and intuitive to find the right gates and to locate shops and restaurants in the meantime.

Public building architecture also helps to define society. Throughout history, different types of architecture have come to symbolize different ideas. For example, in America, many public buildings, particularly government buildings, are built in the neoclassical style, which in turn imitates the buildings found in ancient Greece. This is one way that the buildings in the U.S. capital express the ideas of democracy.

Another good example is the many public buildings built in the style of Brutalism. This style, while cold and austere, had behind it a philosophy of community-based living and sharing. Every public building espouses ideas about how we should live. As an architect of public buildings, you help to instill these concepts in the culture with your work.

Industrial Architect

If you are interested in working on industrial projects, I suggest you check into civil engineering as a major instead of architecture. It is true that there is an architectural element to industrial projects. In fact, architecture can be a major component of these structures, but they are far more elaborate to design than other types of public or private buildings.

Because of this, civil engineering is a more appropriate major for industrial projects like hydroelectric dams, bridges, and other technical projects. These projects encompass advanced knowledge of science and engineering. Without that knowledge, you cannot create structures which are safe and which are able to fulfill technical functions as well as be aesthetically pleasing to the eye. There is also the issue of qualifying for the appropriate certifications to be allowed to work on these projects, without which you cannot hope to proceed.

Should you get a civil engineering degree if you are planning only on working on public buildings (that are not technical in nature) and private residences? There is no particular reason to, unless you have no options. A civil engineering degree is overkill for non-technical projects, and will present you with a great many challenges along the way in terms of coursework and certifications. You will also spend less time on artistic design principles when you are studying how to build dams and bridges. As such, it is a good idea to only major in civil engineering if you are aiming at erecting industrial structures.

Landscape Architect

This type of architecture focuses on outdoor areas. If you go into this specialized field, you might design parklands, gardens, and lawns surrounding college campus buildings and other public destinations. Landscape architects may also work with homeowners and other private parties to design compelling outdoor areas. You might even be involved with the development of golf courses or similar recreational spots.

Building structures can be a part of this job, even though you are working with outdoor areas. For example, many landscaping jobs entail erecting gazebos and other outdoor structures such as follies. Unlike residential architects and public and industrial architects, however, you will be doing a lot of work directly with trees, plants, and other living materials. As such, your body of knowledge will have to go beyond simple construction. You will have to understand aspects of horticulture, and know how you can integrate living growth into your settings. A well-designed landscape will incorporate plants in a system that is beneficial to them and allows them to thrive.

Interior Design

Although interior design is not actually a type of architecture, you should consider looking into it all the same, because it is so closely connected to architecture. Some building designers are also interior designers, while others do not work on furnishing and other aspects of interior design. Frank Lloyd Wright, discussed earlier in the section on residential architecture, also was an interior designer. He saw his buildings as a single integrated whole, and strived to create furniture that evoked the same elements as his buildings. He worked on creating seamless living spaces which flowed throughout the interiors of his buildings. Because he had knowledge of both interior design and architecture, he was able to unite them fluidly to bring his entire vision to life.

For this reason, it may be worthwhile for you also to cultivate study in both fields, and learn interior design along with architecture. In fact, some architects also learn to tie in landscaping with the rest of their design skills. By doing this, you can create spaces which flow both indoors and outdoors for the best possible effect. It is often the effect of the whole that leaves such an impact on visitors.

How many different specializations you want to integrate into your work is really up to you. Some architects do best if they are extremely specialized and focused on one aspect of design, while others excel by learning how to integrate different aspects of design. You may work well controlling all elements that go into a building or you may work better in an environment where you are sharing the responsibility of design with a number of other architects.

You will also need to figure out where you fit best on a team. Do you work better taking cues from a lead architect, or would you like to be the head architect, calling the shots? You probably will not jump into that kind of position straight off the top. You will need ample work experience first. Architecture is a tough and competitive field. And the more radical your ideas are, the more challenging your path is likely to be. It is usually the more unusual ideas which capture or imaginations.

Green Design

One aspect of design you may want to pay particular note to at this point in time is green architecture. Green architecture, as you probably imagine, is exactly what it sounds like—building structures friendly to the environment. Green buildings are built with solar panels, underground rooms (to keep cool) and other innovative features that reduce energy costs and allow for sustainable living. They may also have a more organic design which is consistent with the natural environment and which fits in seamlessly with the surroundings in a nonobtrusive way.

Green design is a really big deal nowadays as more people are becoming aware of the consequences of the industrial lifestyles we have been leading for more than a century. A lot of residential clients are looking to implement green features into their buildings. Some public building commissioners may also be looking to make a green statement, particularly with government buildings. Corporations that want to present an eco-friendly image may be looking to hire architects who can help them reduce their footprint.

Finding Where You Fit

How can you decide where you fit into the world of architecture? I recommend checking out some books on architecture and getting inspiration from your favorite architects. You may also want to plan a trip to go and see structures that inspire you. A lot of famous public buildings offer tours, and even some famous residences which are no longer in private use. If you cannot afford that kind of trip, look for local landmarks which can teach you something about architecture and inspire you to discover your own personal style. While you are at it, sign up for technical drawing classes if your high school offers them. This offers you a great first step to learning the technical aspects of architectural design.

Figure out what kind of work you find most compelling, and then have a chat with a college advisor who can help you to plan your educational path. You will probably major in architecture, but a degree in interior design or civil engineering might be more appropriate, depending on what you want to do. You also might pursue a concentration or a master’s degree in landscaping or some other specialization. Good luck, and enjoy beautifying the world someday with your expertise and aesthetic judgment!

Career Spotlight: Architect



An architect is a person that designs buildings, both commercial and residential. They need to think not only about the aesthetics of a building, but also its functionality and safety. Architects work[...]

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Join The Discussion - 14 Comments

  1. Emily Elgin says:

    She answered your question about the different types of architectural jobs. One of the best schools for architects is Clemson University and Virginia Tech.

  2. Jo Mangnall says:

    I’ve always been inspired by architecture, historical, modern, interiors and landscapes. It’s been a life long dream that I just couldn’t quite reach. My particular interests as mentioned in your ‘What are the different types of Architects’, are Residential, Commercial Architecture and Interior Design. As I’m in my early 30’s, well over the college and university going age, and with a high school graduation certificate that’s more than 10 years old, I was hoping for any advise on how I could start towards a career in architecture and who would offer these through online / correspondence studying.

    • mike says:

      I’m in the same boat. If you have started working on your dream then I would really appreciate it if you can share your insight.

    • Justin Rifenburg says:

      It’s never too late to go back to college.

  3. Richard Armiger says:

    I remember well trying to decide what type of designer I might be. I knew I wanted to work in design, knew I wanted to make, and having grown up in a Marcel Breuer house (not mine, my pal’s dad’s) knew I was passionate about architecture.

    That was the easy bit. Then it got complicated…

    The replies thus far are very good, and though it’s (arguably) too early in a career to narrow the field as to what ‘style’ of architecture, that part is definitely something to begin to give a lot of thought to, to begin to develop your own ‘taste’ as it were.

    Consider a subscription to a specialist professional architects monthly (I’d steer clear of the interior design monthlies initially….) but better – hopefully you’ve access to a decent local library! The Architectural Record in the US is a good rag, but you MUST look to the Asian and especially European monthlies as well. Most are bilingual. I like D’aujourd’hui and El Croquis.

    I find each country’s architectural magazines a bit ‘prejudiced’. Some are very prejudiced, not just to their own countries architects (thats fine) but especially so with regards to whatever styles are currently in fashion (not so fine) therefore I strongly recommend looking worldwide. 

    The planets inhabitants are desperate for architects to embrace sustainability properly and green issues, but here too keep an eye out for which folks jumped on the ‘bandwagon’ versus the real innovators.

    Keep your wits about you when looking remembering that, like so many other businesses in the new capitalism, architects have PR people pushing their own work forward (and shoving the less highly funded outfits to the sidelines). 

    So try and seek out the ‘quitet ones’. Some personal favourites are Sean Godsell in Australia and Witherford Watson Mann and Timothy Hatton in London, Kengo Kuma in Japan, and the admittedly well known designer John Pawson. Oh and Hawksmoor….

    Thereafter you might find you’ve steered yourself towards a bit of hero worship, or at least a short list. Thats good. Perfect even… so consider an apprenticeship or internship – but consider with much care if it’s unpaid! That can work extremely well in rare cases. Don’t let them take advantage! 

    Now that, happily, there are so many architecture museums worldwide, look also at these for guidance. The Canadian Centre for Architecture is very highly recommended but seek out a many as possible. I’ve yet to find a list online. Perhaps you can start one!

    Lastly, YouTube actually has some decent interviews with known and unknown talent, but its tricky to locate it amongst all the kitty juggling, 

  4. Dawson says:

    I am in grade 7 and I’m actually pretty serious about being an architect. The different types really helped and I am choosing between 2 to follow.

    • Fred says:

      What are the 2 you are choosing between

  5. Jude says:

    Hi! My name is Jude. I’m in 9th grade and i find being an architect is fun. I like to draw things when i was little and i find drawing very fun. So I decided when i was in 7th grade that i was going to be an architect. I want to build Huge Bridges and Design Houses for people etc. But I can’t decide if I’m going to be and Industrial architect or a Residential architect or Public/Commercial architect. So I’m trying to research and find where i fit in based on what i like to do.

    ::So I need suggestions of what subjects should i focus on and what subjects/classes should i take.

    • nate says:

      I am a senior and i took all the intro to engineering and architecture. I am majoring in architecture and these classes are how i got here so if your school has them id recommend taking them.

    • Tim says:

      It would be very rare to be able to design huge bridges and houses. Bridges are typically designed by structural engineers who specialize in bridges. Residential architecture is a much different field.

      Education for an architect needs to be broad. Take math and science (physics) but also take art and history. If your school has industrial arts take drafting and any class that teaches you about buildings. Knowing about construction….how things go together….is very important.

  6. Richard says:

    This list leaves out the fact that 90% of all “architecture” really is not architecture but rather is mostly mundane and unimportant work (but work all the same I suppose, if it pays the bills) that will neither get you recognition or fame, even after doing such trash work for a quarter of a century. Do yourself a favor, if you have to do trashy work (retail is a good example), do it while you’re young and get it out of the way. Don’t get stuck doing it in your 30’s and 40’s.

  7. Tim says:

    There are architects who specialize in hospitals or schools or government facilities and architects who do whatever they have the opportunity to do. If you’re young and thinking about architecture don’t try to decide what “type” you will be. Get a good education at an accredited school and look at job opportunities. There might be a successful hospital firm or a good sole proprietor doing high end residential. Give it a try

    Also remember it’s about scale. If you want to design rooms and draw furniture look into interior architecture. If you want to design buildings look into architecture. If you want to design parks and bike paths and draw plants go for landscape architecture.

  8. Isaro says:

    I am a senior in high school and Architecture is a huge passion for me. Unfortunately, there is not good quality architecture programs where I live and leaving the country is not really an option. I was hoping I could take it online but I was told that there is a lot of hands-on work required to get a degree in architecture. I don’t know of any other options. Advice?

  9. Jevi says:

    I am a senior high school student and architecture is a huge passion for me. I didn’t know what kinds of architecture there was until now. I was suppose to choose but I can’t decide what kind of architecture I want to pursue.

    Can you offer suggestions of what subjects I should focus on and what subjects/classes I should take?

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