How is the course structured?
Bachelor's courses are offered at more than 60 universities, universities of applied sciences, and academies of fine art all across Germany. Initially, the basics of design and construction are covered everywhere. Students learn how to proportion buildings, how rooms are arranged most sensibly according to their function and how a house's character can be altered by the size and shape of the windows. In parallel, their spatial awareness is trained ? through perspective drawing, for example. Technical expertise is imparted in lectures and exercises ? in Structural Design, for example, in which the statics and stability of buildings are considered. Building Physics, Building Chemistry and Building Materials also feature on the syllabuses. Students learn which materials can be combined in construction, and how these react to heat and moisture. Every architect must also understand how heating, ventilation, electrical engineering and water supplies work. Legal and business topics are also covered. Most important of all though is design. Students work with computer-aided design (CAD) software to develop the plans for projects. Prior knowledge of this software is not required: usage is taught in the first semester. Students work in groups a lot; this gives them a taste of professional life, as architects generally develop their designs in teams. Mara Loth, who is in the fourth semester at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, was part of a student project group that designed a multifunctional pavilion for the university's summer exhibition and built this in front of the main university building. "We worked in a team of five," recalls Mara Loth. "It worked really well, although we didn't always agree. Finding a comprise is part of an architect's job." Many students gain practical experience very early on, as was the case for Vsevolod Katsnelson, who is in his sixth semester at the Constance University of Applied Sciences. He already designed a residential district for Singen city centre in the third semester, and was subsequently asked to present his design to the local council: "I was pretty nervous, but it was a great experience." Those wishing to work freelance as an architect in Germany and officially call themselves an architect must be registered with a Chamber of Architects. To qualify for registration, one must have studied for a minimum of four years and afford at least two years of proven professional experience. This either means taking the three-year Bachelor's course followed by the two-year Master's course, or already opting for a four-year course to qualify as an architect with the Bachelor's degree. Almost 20 per cent of universities offer this option. Those wishing to work abroad later on should follow the Bachelor's/Master's route, as at least five years of study is the international standard in architecture.
In the Master's course, students have the choice between general courses in which the fundamentals are developed, and specialisation in specific fields such as Monument Conservation and Urban Planning. Please note: those wishing to take a specialised Master's degree should first check whether they will then qualify to register with a Chamber of Architects. Often this is not the case, as the proportion of architecture studied may be too low.
"The universities attempt to exude a unique profile ? through differences in the structure and methodology," explains Herbert Bühler, an architecture professor at Münster University of Applied Sciences and Chairman of the Conference of Deans. At some universities, for example, cost estimates and the implementation of construction projects constitute key components in addition to Design. To this end, Dortmund Technical University offers Master's courses in Construction Process Management and Property Management, and the University of Wuppertal offers an international Master's degree in Real Estate Management and Construction Project Management in cooperation with the Scottish University of Aberdeen. "New courses are often structured so that expertise in architecture can later be used in other branches," says Tillman Prinz, Secretary General of the Federal Chamber of German Architects (Bundesarchitektenkammer). Hence countless Bachelor's courses already include modules on Business Administration or Construction Law with which future architects can prepare for responsibilities in the management of construction companies, for example. The perception of construction has changed in recent years. "Buildings are no longer considered eternal monuments, but rather products with an expiry date," explains Bühler. Important new fields of study are therefore the Life Cycle of Buildings and Building Maintenance, which includes the refurbishment and modernisation of old buildings. Many universities have introduced Master's courses in Monument Preservation and Restoration; these include those in Berlin, Cottbus, Dessau, Dresden, Halle, Hildesheim, Mainz and Cologne. Moreover, more calculations are performed than in the past: students calculate the construction costs and prepare prognoses, which also take subsequent renovations into account. In addition to Economics, Ecology has also entered the syllabus: how does sustainable building work in practice? Key aspects are the origin of building materials, the internal climate, and the life cycle assessment of construction projects. One further aspect is generation-compatible construction during which architects develop buildings for elderly people.
Aptitude, obstacles and misconceptions
Only those, who are immensely creative, will be successful in this subject. One indicator are good marks in artistic subjects at school. Besides creative skills, a great deal of perseverance is required. "Each design involves countless hours of work," Mara Loth shares. "When a lecturer then says that the design is no good, it can be pretty frustrating. But you shouldn't be disheartened." Although the plans are ultimately created on the computer, a great deal is still drawn by hand first, for ideas can be sketched more easily with a pen than a computer mouse. "The sketch book forms part of the basic equipment and is almost more important than the computer," says Constance University of Applied Sciences student, Vsevolod Katsnelson. "Everything is jotted down there: all ideas, all observations." The degree's technical content also should not be underestimated. Architects must also be good, enthusiastic communicators, and have a talent for organisation and improvisation. The workload at the start of the degree is heavy. Most students have to pull a few all-nighters when there are designs to hand in. "An 80 to 90-hour week is not uncommon at the end of the semester," says Katsnelson. Architecture students not only invest a great deal of time, but also a substantial amount of money, as they must pay for the materials for models, drafting programs and other work tools themselves. Most spend over 250 EUR per semester on work materials. Candidates must pass an aptitude test for some Bachelor's courses, such as those offered at the University of Wuppertal and the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK). At other universities, a portfolio of drawings musts be submitted, as is the case at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam and the Technical University Munich. Professors occasionally invite candidates to an interview to present their portfolio. Many universities meanwhile forgo aptitude tests for the Bachelor's course, as the ratio of candidates to course places is well balanced. Most universities require candidates to have completed a work placement at an architecture or engineering firm before commencing their studies. The requirements for admission to the Master's course differ from university to university. At most universities, simply having completed the Bachelor's degree is sufficient, however some (such as Münster University of Applied Sciences) require interested parties to sit an additional aptitude test, and others have local numerus clausus that mostly require at least a mark of "Good".
"The Architecture degree enables a great deal," says Tillman Prinz from the Federal Chamber of German Architects. Embarking on a career at an architecture firm is meanwhile no longer the general rule. Only almost every second graduate works full-time or freelance for an architecture or engineering firm. In everyday life, the creative component is generally lower than during the course; very few architects actually design spectacular buildings. Instead they spend a great deal of time coordinating. Architects are employed at public authorities, where they manage the construction of public buildings or develop concepts for the refurbishment and use of listed buildings. They often work as site managers on building sites. Or they develop building financing concepts, or work for real estate agents, associations or specialist publications. Around half work freelance. Early on in their careers, graduates are often employed as freelancers with a temporary contract. They gain the professional experience they need to be able to register with a Chamber of Architects in a variety of projects. According to a survey conducted in 2010 by HIS Hochschul-Informations-System GmbH, 82 per cent of university graduates and 77 per cent of university of applied sciences graduates found employment within one year of graduating. The average starting salary for university graduates is 27,400 EUR; for university of applied sciences graduates, it is somewhat more, namely 30,300 EUR. The world is an architect's oyster: "The work market is international," says Münster-based professor, Herbert Bühler. Overseas offices often offer German graduates better working conditions and higher salaries than is standard in Germany.
baunetz.de: Digital architecture magazine featuring industry news, job exchanges and competitions for young talent.
bak.de: Portal of the Federal Chamber of German Architects (Bundesarchitektenkammer) with information on training and universities.
bit.ly/zs11archi: This link will direct you to a list of Chambers of Architects with regional work placement exchanges.
fbta.de: The architecture association (Fachbereichstag) offers a list of all courses in Architecture and related subjects.