What does an Architect do?
(or, what can an architect do for you?)
To many, when you hear the word ‘architect’, the images that come to mind are a well-dressed person with neat framed glasses with a roll of drawings in one arm. Some may also think of the iconic buildings that have been designed over the years; high budget designs that take your breath away and receive public recognition and fame. Or even in pop culture, George Costanza from Seinfeld idolizes this profession so much he makes a false persona for himself named “Art Vandelay”. But what really does an architect do? And more importantly, you may be asking the question: “Why should I hire and architect?” In this post, we go over five short points that an architect can bring to the table.
1. Building Specialist- Think of an architect as someone who is well versed in the art and science of a building. Just like you would hire a doctor to diagnose the problems with your body, an architect is brought on first, to “diagnose” what issues are going on with the building. In more plain terms, when you have a need to expand a space, remodel, or build new, we work with you at the start to plan the most effective route to your goals. We have extensive training in technical matters that pertain to your building’s structure, the mechanical systems, code information, and the cost of materials. All of these factors are looked at closely in the first few meetings, so that no surprises are encountered in the final construction.
2. Produces drawings for construction- The bottom line for all architects’ duties is to produce a set of working drawings and documents that will act as the set of instructions for the general contractor to build from. This is the core of our work, and requires the most amount of time and effort, and serves as a road map and reference point for all construction activities. Inside this set you will find the necessary visual information which includes plans, elevations, sections, details, code compliance (see below), and important notes to the builder. Building without a set of plans is like going hiking in the woods without a map- not advisable.
3. Safety Insurance- As stated by the American Institute of Architects: “The essential purpose of licensing architects is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public and shield consumers from unqualified practitioners.” There is inherently a lot of risk when constructing a building of any size, so taking these matters into consideration is of utmost concern. Over time, a stringent set of codes and rules has been adopted for each jurisdiction, which governs the limits on building size, location, daylighting, fresh air requirements, and bearing weight just to name a few. This code compliance is your warm blanket of assurance that the building will be safe, stay rooted, and not fall down.
4. 3D and Space visualization- Perhaps the most overlooked set of skills that an architect has is the ability to think spatially, and more importantly how something will look after completion. Whether it is an inherent ability or something we are trained to do, thinking spatially about a building is paramount to having a successful space that feels good to be in. Not only should you think about how it looks, but also how the sound behaves, the texture of surface feels, and even how it ages over time. A well-tuned in architect will be able to think about and anticipate these characteristics of your building, that can turn an ordinary space into something magical.
5. Building permit assistance- Tied to the local codes in many states, and also to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of the public is ensured, a building permit is required to start construction. This is the process that checks the architect’s set of plans against the required code to ensure the building is meeting the minimum requirements for safety. In most states, a licensed architect is one of a few options you have to obtain a building permit. As this process can often be long and arduous, the architect can act on the owner’s behalf to get this permit pushed through to completion. This task is usually the lowest common denominator in hiring an architect, but be aware that other work must come before this step.
The decision to hire an architect is a major step in getting your project off the ground, yet can bring about additional anxieties that go with investing so much money. I always advise my clients and people considering construction to engage with the architect as early as possible on a project. He or she will act as your agent/advisor throughout the entire process, helping you to earn as much as possible from your building investment. Though this list is just a short one on the qualities an architect can bring, it is these tangible and non-tangible qualities that will help keep your project on track, on time, up to code, and under budget.