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What Does An Architect Do On A Project?

You might think you know what an architect is and what they do. But we’ve discovered through many years of collaborative projects that a lot of people are surprised by the depth and scope of the architect’s role. So, what does an architect do on a project?

First, let’s define the roles of the different people involved in a building project.

The Players

The Client 

In a residential project, the homeowner is the client. This person has the vision for the house they want to build. They seek out and secure loans or otherwise provide funding for the project. They work closely with the architect to explain the function and aesthetics they’re striving for.

In a commercial project, the developer is the client. This is the person or group with the idea and vision for the project. They seek and secure funding, watch the cash flow, engage with lawyers and bankers, and bring the nuts and bolts of their vision or requirements (such as square footage or number of apartments) to the architect.

The Architect

Based on the vision of the client, the architect defines the vision through an extensive design process. 

You can think of an architect as the conductor of an orchestra; they’re the ones who listen closely to each contributor and coordinate them to create something beautiful.

To do this, an architect synthesizes the contributions of a bunch of specialists into one plan. Who are these specialists? Structural, civil, and mechanical engineers; electrical and plumbing designers; heating and cooling experts; biologists, arborists, and landscape architects; interior and lighting designers — and the list goes on. 

The architect is also responsible for acquiring permits, a series of huge hurdles that, if handled with aplomb, will keep the project moving forward more smoothly.

As the project manager, the architect is the center of the Venn diagram for the entire operation. They communicate with and organize all of the different players, protect the interests of the client by acting as their advocate, and even frequent the building site to ensure that everything is being executed to plan. 

The Builder

The builder builds and executes the vision. They are typically a company with a crew of experts who specialize in all of the different elements needed to build a structure according to the client’s vision and the architect’s design. 

What Does An Architect Deliver?

In architecture parlance, architects deliver “instruments of service.” This means anything that adds definition and intent to the project. 

What does an architect do on a project? They deliver:

  • An architectural plan
  • Specifications
  • Contracts
  • Sketches
  • Color swatches
  • Moodboards

What Doesn’t An Architect Deliver?

Let us clarify something. An architecture firm is not a drafting service. 

Drafting is done by a service firm that takes your ideas and makes them into plans that can be implemented by a builder.

Architects are much more involved in the process. They use their training, experience, and expertise to make the client’s ideas not only workable but better.

This is because architects are all about good design. Good design changes the way you experience space. When you work with an architect, you aren’t just bringing in a hired hand, you’re engaging with an artist, a building science expert, and a thought partner all rolled into one.

Architects help you shape new goals based on the physical space. They use their knowledge of building science to make the structure as efficient as possible and help you make sure you’re spending money in the right places. They help you (and themselves) conceptualize a building’s design through 3D modeling. They sculpt light. They help you understand how to achieve your goals, often by suggesting something you didn’t think of originally.

A Note On Diversity

We can’t talk about what an architect is and what they do without acknowledging that our industry is dominated by an entrenched idea about who an architect is. 

In our collective failure of imagination, and architect is a middle-aged White man sitting at a drafting table.

But that’s not the full picture. And it’s definitely not the most interesting one. We’re bucking this trend by picturing — and being — something different. We’re seeing all kinds of people with creative minds in this space: queer people, Black and Brown people, women.

That’s unusual in our field, but it shouldn’t be. No one demographic has a corner on creativity, expertise, and solutions. We’re better when we make room for more than just one type of person. We’re better when we expand.