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Building a career

There is lot more to becoming an architect than acquiring a degree..

B ehind every building is an architect, making optimum use of space and resources and with an eye on the best aesthetic appeal. A lot which goes into making a building what it is. It is not just laying bricks upon bricks and giving it a plaster and a paint job. It means patience, co-ordination and continuous hard work. The same holds true for anyone aspiring to be an architect, it takes years of dedication and determination to carve a niche for oneself in this highly competitive market.

A prospective architect must have a architecture-specific degree, a degree in civil engineering does not qualify you to be an architect. The basic qualification is a five-year Bachelor of Architecture degree that can be furthered with a two-year Masters programme. Several schools and universities in the country offer courses in architecture.

The best, of course, is the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) in New Delhi. SPA offers full-time programmes in architecture as well as planning and Masters' level programme in architecture, building engineering and management, landscape architecture and planning. Other sought-after institutes are National Institute of Design, and School of Planning, both based in Ahmedabad. With modern technology having made inroads everywhere, most students master Computer-Aided Design (CAD) programmes. Most of the designs are now worked out on the computer, instead of the traditional pencil and line methods. This saves time and also means fewer people on the rolls. In an age when downsizing is more a rule than an exception, it is good to keep pace with the times.
A number of IT educators, like Aptech and NIIT also offer CAD courses. "The market is very tight and it is important to be the best. CAD definitely gives you an edge," says Subir Prasad, a freelance architect.

A number of universities in Australia, UK and the US also offer degrees. The University of New South Wales in Australia offers scholarships too, like the Ronald Lu Travelling Scholarship, the Wightman Postgraduate Scholarship and the Woods Bagot Scholarship.

Having completed the degree and/or Masters course, architects cannot immediately branch off on their own. Most learn the ropes as a trainee or apprentice with an established firm. Any school would hone your design skills and teach you management, but architecture is not just about design. It also means coordination with electricians, plumbers, building materials suppliers, carpenters and contractors. It might sound easy on paper, but good architects needs to know all this. They also need to be resilient and adapt the design according to a client's wishes. A design has to be worked and reworked several times before it is accepted by the client. Then comes the hard task of implementing the design. Most architects work in harmony with the contractors to ensure that work matches the plans.

Initially only exceptional architects get to design an entire building on their own. Most begin with independent designs of a corner, a closet, lighting or air conditioning and then graduate to designing entire floors. It may sound disheartening, but it takes at least a decade to get involved solely in designing. But once a professional gets recognised, there is no looking back. Some work as consultants with big national and international projects, others go into teaching, the lucky ones who have lots of capital start their own firms. Some also specialise in environmental planning, housing or urban planning.

With urbanisation spreading its roots and housing needs increasing everyday, students of architecture have a lot of options. Any architect would tell you there is money in the private sector, but there are opportunities enough for those looking for a secure government job. There are ample jobs in the Public Works Departments, Municipal Corporations, town planning as well as transport departments. "Once you've picked up the basic symmetry you can get into designing different products, not just buildings," says Kiran Sohal. an SPA graduate who now specialises in private houses. So if you've dreams of following in Howard Roark's footsteps, avail of the above tips and they needn't remain castles in the air.

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