How CU Denver Can Help You Become an Architect
A CU Denver Architecture student discusses a project in the Introduction to Architecture course.

How CU Denver Can Help You Become an Architect

June 12, 2024

As climate change reshapes our environment and social change transforms our culture, sustainability and equity have become a central focus for architects, designers, and urban planners. CU Denver’s architecture program has evolved to meet these demands. It equips architects to design built environments that adapt to climate change, promote resilience, raise social awareness, create efficiency, build inclusivity, and rely on a minimal ecological footprint. 

Do you want to help shape your world? Are you driven by curiosity and a desire for innovation? Do you want to design buildings for homes, communities, and cities? In a world facing constant change and evolving challenges, the architecture program at CU Denver uses adaptive learning to help students enter the workforce and create careers fully prepared to address local and global issues with creativity and agility.

Your journey to becoming an architect is unique, and CU Denver recognizes that. We offer you several degree paths, learning experiences, and specializations that fit your skills, ideas, and dreams. Many of these can occur simultaneously and you could gain work experience while earning your degree. 

Here are five steps to becoming an architect:  

  1. Earn a Degree in Architecture: Earn an architectural degree at CU Denver in a program that is led by industry professionals. Find an efficient bachelor’s to master’s pathway to fit your needs. Note: Colorado is one of the few states that doesn’t require you to have an accredited terminal degree in architecture to receive your license to practice in the state of Colorado, but those without a terminal degree are required to gain additional experience hours in lieu of a degree.
  1. Gain Experience: Complete the Architectural Experience Program® (AXP®). This program, which is administered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), requires you to complete approximately 3,740 hours of on-the-job training under the supervision of a licensed architect. Students can enroll in the AXP® as soon as they start at CU Denver and can begin to accrue hours during their first internship. 
  1. Pass the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®): Pass all sections of the ARE, a multi-division exam that is designed to test your knowledge and skills in all areas of architecture. The exam covers topics such as project management, practice management, construction evaluation, and architectural design. Students in CU Denver’s Master of Architecture program can immediately sit for licensure after graduation. 
  1. Obtain a State License: Apply for licensure in the state where you wish to practice. Each state has different requirements for licensure, but they typically include completing education, experience, and exams. Once a CU Denver student has graduated with a Master of Architecture, they can sit for the licensure exam immediately upon graduation.
  1. Join Professional Organizations: At CU Denver, participate in professional organizations like the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS), the National Organization for Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS), and All for Women in Architecture Students (AFWIAS).

Architecture at CU Denver 

The architecture program at CU Denver encourages a culture of curiosity, social justice, environmental responsibility, and innovation. Guided by a mission to address global challenges and five strategic goals focused on intellectual engagement, teaching excellence, research support, and knowledge dissemination, CU Denver’s architecture program prepares students—like you—to become agile thinkers and makers through experiential learning, certification, professional networking, and more.   

We offer building technology courses that have a strong resilience and sustainability focus to them. Our students take construction practice courses, structures courses, and they take environmental systems courses. All those courses focus on materials that are more resilient and sustainable.

—Marc Swackhamer, Professor and Chair of the Architecture Department, College of Architecture and Planning 

CU Denver cultivates architects who are equipped to make meaningful contributions to society and shape the future of our built environment. We cultivate conversations—in and out of the classroom—which invite diverse thinkers to join the design community and to ensure that their work has a lasting impact on the local, national, and global architectural landscape. 

Graduate architecture students take questions during a project critique. 

Bachelor of Science in Architecture 

At CU Denver, the Bachelor of Science in Architecture (BS Arch) program stands as a cornerstone of the university’s architectural education. Taught in a building at a major intersection in downtown Denver and near the iconic Larimer Square, this STEM-designated program offers a studio-based curriculum that blends critical thinking with hands-on design exploration. 

In the undergrad program, our students do a lot of making, a lot of building, a lot of hands-on work that makes them better architects. They understand how materials go together, which materials are sustainable, and what it takes to construct architecture, in ways that other universities don’t.

—Marc Swackhamer, Professor and Chair of the Architecture Department, College of Architecture and Planning 

Program Information: 

  • During the initial three years, CU Denver students delve into fundamental design principles to learn how to apply them to various architectural scales—from buildings to urban environments. 
  • In the final two semesters, students can pursue either the Architectural Studies or the Architectural Design track to tailor their education to their career aspirations. Both tracks prepare students for careers in architecture but also for further studies in other design disciplines, including digital design, landscape architecture, and urban planning. 
    • Architectural Studies: This track provides students with a flexible path, which allows them to build their education through various areas of study in architecture and related disciplines 
    • Architectural Design: This track is ideal for students who want to enhance their design skills through additional design studios. It includes extra coursework in history and technical subjects to support design thinking and practical application. 

Master of Architecture 

If you want an advanced degree in architecture, CU Denver offers a Master of Architecture (M.Arch) program that is accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). This STEM-designated program integrates theory and practice, which prepares students for licensure and leadership roles in the field.  

Graduate architecture students discuss building plans and project design. 

Program Information: 

  • The M.Arch program caters to students with different experience levels. The program offers a three-year track for those without a pre-existing architecture or design degree and a two-year track for those with a related undergraduate background. 
  • CU Denver’s M.Arch program was honored with the U.S. Department of Energy’s  Zero Energy Design Designation. This designation reflects the program’s efforts to prepare students for careers in clean energy-building and sustainability-focused professions. 
  • The M.Arch program is one of the top five design build programs in the country. It was recently presented with an international design and build award—the only U.S. school to win a design build award.
  • STEM designation allows M.Arch graduates to apply for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension program, which allows F-1 students with STEM degrees to extend their stay in the United States by an additional 24 months upon completing a STEM-designated degree. 

Where do Graduates Find Jobs?  

CU Denver architecture graduates create diverse career paths and shape the future of the built environment across industries, cultures, and continents. From prominent firms to entrepreneurial ventures, CU Denver architecture alumni are making their mark globally, driven by the program’s interdisciplinary approach and commitment to addressing societal challenges. Many students land internships while they are in school thanks to a strong CU Denver network. Some common roles for CU Denver architecture grads include: 

Marc Swackhamer, Professor and Chair of the Architecture Department, College of Architecture and Planning 

Swackhamer is a professor of Architecture with a research emphasis in the areas of digital fabrication, digital design processes, and biomimetics. He co-founded HouMinn (pronounced “human”), with Blair Satterfield, a faculty member at the University of British Columbia. Work from this partnership focuses on full-scale prototyping of low-cost, sustainable, and digitally fabricated construction systems. Projects are invested in research and interdisciplinary collaboration. Swackhamer recently launched a post-disciplinary design research laboratory at the University of Colorado Denver called LoDo Lab, which focuses on creating sustainable and resilient systems, and material ecology/decay in the design of our buildings. He studied at the University of Cincinnati and Rice University. 

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