Most architectural design is done at firms that specialize in this work. Some firms assign different specialists to each step of the job: design, specification writing, structural calculations, drafting, landscape design, and so forth. Other firms create teams that collaborate on all steps of the process from start to finish. Some firms use a hybrid approach.
Many architectural firms are headed by a licensed architect who is the principal of the firm. About 20 percent of architects are self-employed. In other firms, two or more principals form a partnership or corporation and share ownership interest. Drafters, technicians, and other workers at the firm who are not partners are usually salaried, but some firms have profit-sharing plans.
In some states, the firm itself must be registered. The amount of supervision required by a licensed architect varies from state to state. Some states require a licensed architect be involved in all projects; a few states require only that a licensed member of the firm be listed as the "architect of record" for each project. For licensure, architects usually need to earn a professional degree from an accredited university, serve a few years as an intern in an architectural practice, and pass the Architect Registration Examination.
Larger firms tend to employ architectural managers to supervise projects and specialized workers to perform tasks such as drafting, interior design, or landscape design. Smaller firms are more likely to contract out specialized tasks to consultants or other firms.
Architects, drafters, and other members of design teams now employ computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) software rather than the pencils and drawing boards of the past. The CADD representation of a building not only renders the appearance of the structure but also contains information about the materials and construction methods required. A three-dimensional CADD rendering can allow the architect to visualize a structure from multiple perspectives, including interior views.
Architectural drafters use their knowledge of building techniques to furnish structural details for the designs of architects. Some architectural drafters specialize in a type of structure, such as houses or stores, and others specialize in a building material, such as steel or reinforced concrete. Many hold two-year degrees; some employers require a bachelor's. Certification from the American Design Drafting Association is an advantage.
The grounds surrounding a structure are often designed by a landscape architect, who holds a bachelor's or master's degree and must be licensed. Licensure usually requires an appropriate degree, and many states also require passing an exam. Some firms use a landscape designer, a nonlicensed specialist who needs less education. Both types of workers need skill with CADD and knowledge of plant materials.
Interior designers deal with the finishing touches in buildings, such as the paint, lighting, carpeting, and furniture, making the interiors attractive and functional. These workers typically hold a bachelor's degree, but states vary widely on requirements for licensure or registration. Interior designers often specialize, for example in kitchens or commercial spaces, and certification by a professional or trade group can demonstrate that expertise.
In addition to CADD, an important technology that is affecting the work of all of these designers is building information modeling (BIM). This software can add the fourth dimension of time, enabling the architectural team to visualize the design as it will be implemented through the various stages of construction and use. It can also allow the designers to model the flow of energy or air through the structure or the circulation of the structure's inhabitants, and it can help the designers predict future repair and maintenance costs.
At the end of the decade, the use of newer technologies continued to increase. The American Institute of Architects' Firm Survey Report 2018 noted: "Building information modeling (BIM) is almost universally used at larger firms, and is increasing its saturation at smaller and midsize firms. In the coming years, a similar pattern of adoption is likely for emerging technologies like virtual/augmented reality, 3D printing, and 4D/5D modeling."